Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage: an Exemplary Ecofeminist Text
by Dorothy Nielsen
The first time I ventured to use the term "ecofeminism" in public, at the 1992 Learned Societies’ Conference in Prince Edward Island, a more experienced feminist colleague uttered what I took to be a friendly warning: that’s a bad word where I come from. Five years later, the bias in literary studies against this theory has not diminished, even though ecofeminism has taken root on both sides of the border,1 and even though criticism based on other ecophilosophies has flourished.2 The recent (and substantial) Ecocriticism Reader avoids any mention of the offending term, despite the inclusion of Annette Kolodny’s piece "Unearthing Herstory," which blends ecology and feminism in an analysis of the "American pastoral" (175), and of Vera Norwood’s "Heroines of Nature," which directly mentions Carolyn Merchant, one of the chief ecofeminist writers (325). Granted, there are good reasons for this bias. Feminist critics charge ecofeminism with gender essentialism (specifically with subscribing to the idea that women are inherently more nurturing than men), and they worry that ecofeminism feeds the backlash by implying that men and women, determined by biology, belong in separate spheres. However, this antipathy distorts by oversimplifying. True, there is an essentialist strain of ecofeminism that argues for universal connections between woman and nature. And certainly even analyses by those writing in an anti-essentialist strain (that is, those who reject fixed categories of gender) still sometimes evoke stereotypes.3 But what critics of ecofeminism tend to overlook is the extent to which most of these writers have challenged static notions of woman and man and have explored the role of culture in shaping gender.
In light of this movement’s varied strategies, Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984) may be read as an exemplary ecofeminist text. The phrase applies first for a reason not necessarily connected to the issue at hand: because the novel is an exemplum, or moralized story written in the form of an extended, allegorical fable.4 More to the point, the term is appropriate because Not Wanted on the Voyage fuses environmentalist and feminist themes. Retelling the biblical story of Noah and the ark, it exposes the complicity of patriarchal systems in ecological degradation and it implicitly warns that as long as we think dualistically, objectifying nature and women along with people of non-dominant races, we doom both ourselves and other life forms.5 My main reason for calling the novel exemplary, however, is that it performs the double gesture so typical of ecofeminist texts, of blending a celebration of traditionally "feminine" characteristics with an attack on static notions of gender. I will use the term "cultural feminism" to refer to the ’seventies movement—also known as radical feminism—that set out to transform society by valuing the traits of interdependency and nurturing. Mrs. Noyes is a paragon of cultural feminism because her psycho-biological interconnections with the material world cause her to champion children and non-human animals. It is usually assumed that cultural feminism relies on the concept of eternally nurturing womanhood, and at first it may seem that the novel implies that Mrs. Noyes’s attitudes depend on her sex. On further analysis of Not Wanted on the Voyage, however, it becomes apparent that this celebration of a mother-champion does not assume an essentialist version of woman. Mrs. Noyes’s own idiosyncrasies challenge static models of femininity and masculinity, as do most of the other characters: the nurturing Ham who defies his father’s version of masculinity, the timid Emma who, despite her weakness, ends up saving those who rebel against patriarchy, the intellectual Hannah whom Noah admits to the otherwise male bastions, and even, ironically, the "macho" and hyper-macho Shem and Japeth who become parodies of Noah’s version of masculinity. Finally, Lucy, the transvestite fallen angel, epitomizes the novel’s deconstruction of gender. Lucy’s campy version of womanhood destabilizes fixed categories by crossing and recrossing gender lines. Moreover, Lucy’s choice to align herself with the nurturing faction in the novel subverts the traditional Judeo-Christian affiliation of women with the devil because the novel re-visions the original Lucifer story without guilt-by-association. By rewriting the original evil rebellion as a life-affirming challenge to patriarchal exclusion of diversity, the novel elevates all those whom patriarchy has relegated to the lower orders.
Considering this paradoxically double feminist gesture performed by Not Wanted on the Voyage, it is not surprising that Findley criticism comes to such varied and opposing assessments of the novel, from seeing it as radical, to viewing it as conservative, to reading it as reactionary.6 After all, ecofeminist texts like this one dare to negotiate a truce between two warring feminist factions. I have been asked why I would want to write on these works that exist in this no-woman's land of theoretical eclecticism that engenders such critical variance and provokes such academic antagonism. My answer is that ecofeminist arguments interest me precisely because their seemingly self-contradictory combination of a deconstruction of gender oppositions with a celebration of all that has been despised as "feminine" has radical potential. It allows us to reclaim the strengths of traditional "feminine" values at the same time that we reject limiting categories of "woman." Findley’s novel, along with many ecofeminist texts, rejects these static gender notions most forcefully by its ecological view of the human subject as physically interconnected with non-human nature. In other words, it risks using problematic celebrations of female ecological champions as part of a broader critique of the Cartesian dualism that has propped up a definition of women as the passive and nurturing sex.
The term "ecofeminism" names a cluster of divergent and even contradictory theories. What the two main varieties of ecofeminism share is an examination of the ways in which Western traditions have defined the connection between women and the material realm. All ecofeminists agree that feminine metaphors for the earth have been used to sanction both the domination of groups of women and the destruction of the biosphere. As Judith Plant puts it, ecofeminism takes "the feminist critique of human relationships and [puts] it side by side with an analysis" of human-to-nonhuman relationships, "showing that both women and the earth have been regarded as the object of self-interested patriarchs" (2). What the two types of ecofeminism do not agree on is what to do with this basic analysis of the harm that these metaphors have done.
Over the past thirty years, ecofeminist analysis has therefore branched out in two distinct directions, each paralleling a different kind of feminism. In some cases, it has led to a belief in a "natural" affinity between women and the environment. This most commonly-known position follows the mood of the cultural feminism of the 1970s, which was not content with the search for equity and insisted instead on a radical conversion of patriarchal systems to traditionally "feminine" values. To these cultural ecofeminists, preservation of the environment depends on what some of them assert are universally "feminine" characteristics—nurturing and an awareness of the interconnectedness of life. Charlene Spretnak cites neuropsychological research that she believes has "demonstrated that females are predisposed from a very early age to perceive connectedness in life," a trait that she claims has made us "more empathetic" and "more aware of subtle, contextual ‘data’ in interpersonal contacts" (129). While I do not find this kind of research convincing because it cannot isolate the biological from the cultural influences on gender, I quote Spretnak’s remarks as an example of one pole of ecofeminism, which unfortunately is mistaken for the whole movement. For Spretnak, the "authentic female mind" will be the "salvation" of our ecosystem (132).
In sharp contrast, writers such as Carolyn Merchant start from the premise that any connection between women and the environment is culturally produced, and conclude that we must deconstruct it along with the binary oppositions that prop it up: masculine against feminine; culture against nature; mind against body; reason against emotion. Merchant and other ecofeminists like her do not aim to overturn these existing hierarchies by replacing "masculine" values with "feminine" characteristics, but rather endeavour to show that definitions based on binary oppositions are reductive. So, for example, they do not want to exchange reason for emotion; instead, they want to show that to define reason as antithetical to feeling (that is, valuing) and intuition has dangerous consequences. In the introduction to The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (1980), Merchant declares her intent is not to assert the "existence of female perceptions or receptive behaviour" but "instead to examine the values associated with the images of women and nature as they relate to the formation of our modern world and their implications for our lives today" (xxi). Far from a celebration of the pairing, her analysis does not seek "to reinstate nature as the mother of humankind nor to advocate that women reassume the role of nurturer dictated by that historical identity" (xxi). Rather, she wants to critique conventional notions of woman and nature: "[b]oth [the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘woman’] need to be liberated from…anthropomorphic and stereotypic labels" (xxi).
Merchant traces the two concepts in Western literature from the classical period through the eighteenth century. Her work explores the change from organic to mechanistic metaphors for nature, and argues that the shift was used in legal, scientific, and business texts to reinforce the denigration of both females and the environment. She demonstrates that early sanctions against environmental destruction tended to be cast in organic, "feminine" metaphors. The organicism entailed a certain amount of respect for the environment. Eventually, however, a shift to mechanistic images for the earth resulted in additional vilification of women and the earth. These images were co-opted as authorizations for exploitation of the environment. The idea that the earth was inert was only compounded by its being associated with the traditional realm of "the feminine" because women were also, to use nineteenth-century legal jargon, dead in law. Like the ideal woman, the ecosphere became an Other to be possessed and a mystery to be penetrated. Conversely, because women were associated with nature, depictions of the earth as a resource to be used up reinforced the construction of woman as a sexual object. Even though Merchant argues that mechanistic metaphors have been co-opted to justify destruction of the environment and that earlier feminine organic images reinforced sanctions against destruction of ecosystems, she carefully avoids implying that simply resurrecting organic or "feminine" metaphors is the answer. For Merchant, images such as "the weather forecaster who tells us what Mother Nature has in store for us" are as harmful as "legal systems that treat a woman's sexuality as her husband's property"; both perpetuate "a system repressive to both women and nature" (xxi). A comparison of Spretnak’s article to Merchant’s book shows that just as cultural and equity feminisms sometimes seem to have nothing in common except their name, so cultural and anti-essentialist ecofeminisms can seem like polar opposites.
In order to demonstrate that anti-essentialist critique of gender-norms exists along with the more well-publicized cultural ecofeminism, I have chosen two writers who have enabled me to isolate the two ideas. But that separation is atypical. The majority of ecofeminist texts include a mixture of critique and celebration. Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her (1978) provides one of the best examples of this theoretically eclectic approach. The first half of the book brilliantly deconstructs the concepts of woman and nature in Western cultures, in a parody of the "objective, detached and bodiless" (xv) style that typifies patriarchal suppression of body, feeling, intuition, and interdependency. The second half of the book attempts to reverse the damage done by misogynist ontologies by celebrating women and their bodies, the earth, and non-dominant races. In contrast to the style of the first half, here Griffin employs l’écriture féminine, or writing the body: a fluid style with active voice, a break-down in the division between thought and emotion, and a plural first-person pronoun. This style implies an ecological and feminist definition of the human subject as interconnected rather than separate.
Woman and Nature exemplifies the double gesture of ecofeminism partly because Griffin actually divides her volume in halves along theoretical lines. I read this book as an ecofeminist primer. It was the first full study of the connection of women and nature and, therefore, it set up many of the problems with which subsequent writers have grappled, including all issues connected to marginalization according to hierarchy, such as race-, class- and gender-discrimination. Griffin’s broad exploration has prepared the ground for ecofeminist analyses of patriarchal uses of law, religion, science, and for an examination of techniques of silencing the marginalized. Despite the value of Griffin’s Woman and Nature, Findley’s book remains the quickest study of the theoretical eclecticism so typical of ecofeminist texts because, as a fable, it can so vividly and succinctly present the ecofeminist argument that by excluding diversity and privileging the supposedly "masculine" value of power-over the Other, patriarchal cultures have sanctioned destruction of our ecosystem.
In its exploration of the relationship between a mistrust of human diversity and a failure to recognize the innate worth of non-human beings, Not Wanted on the Voyage touches on all the main ecofeminist themes that I have just named. It also examines two more ecofeminist issues. First, it presents opposing types of spirituality (that is, transcendent and immanent) and, secondly, it illustrates problems inherent in a scientific method that objectifies the Other. Furthermore, the novel adds yet another angle on diversity/Otherness with the theme of homosexuality.
Not Wanted on the Voyage illustrates the basic intellectual mechanism for this exclusion of Otherness: a system of definition based on binary oppositions that privileges mind over body, reason over feeling and experience, spirit over matter, light over dark, and that also pits subject against object, angel against devil, us against them. Noah derives his authority from association with the top half of this hierarchy and he either denies or subjugates the lower half of each binary. As the human male of the elect culture and race, Noah holds the ultimate authority in Yaweh’s realm. Noah’s race is preferred to those from across the river; male is set above female; Noah’s sons (the two aggressive ones at least) are pitted against all "enemies"; his species dominates all others; his edicts surpass all other religions. Yaweh’s plan for the ark ostensibly supports diversity by including the entire Noyes family and both male and female of various species. In practice, it actually limits diversity, by leaving out those not wanted because they are of the wrong race, or culture, or religion, or because they are physically weak or old, or simply because they are considered redundant. In short, only the male elect of the dominant race have intrinsic worth; all others derive their worth from relation to the elite.
The organization of the ark midway through the journey provides a kind of tableau of this method of subjugation by binary definition. Those with connections to the mental realm may dwell above deck in the light. This category includes not only Noah, but also Shem and Japeth, whose militaristic and management capabilities prop up the system that supports the mental realm. Noah imprisons most of the females—including the foreigners Emma and Lucy—along with the male who possesses the so-called feminine values of nurturing, interdependency, and life-affirming wonder (Ham) in the darkness with the non-human animals below deck.7 Lucy aligns herself with this realm by marrying Ham before the voyage begins; therefore, aptly, the women, nature-lovers, foreigners and animals belong to the realm of the devil, just as the Chain of Being has pictured them.8 Light/dark symbolism supports this hierarchy as is typical in Western thought. Light stands for the transcendent realm of goodness and God, for all that is considered rational, male, cultural; darkness stands for the devil’s realm of evil, for which women and nature are seen to have an affinity. Noah allows only one woman, his daughter-in-law Hannah, on deck. As an intellectual, she can sympathize with her father-in-law and act as a religious assistant; however, since he expects her to cook and serve despite her lack of either inclination or talent for those tasks, we can discern a male-female hierarchy even above the deck. Mrs. Noyes and Lucy realize the violent implications of Noah’s arrangement at the dinner table early in the voyage when the "lower orders" are still allowed up for meals, before they have been locked below. By Noah’s command, he himself, along with Shem, Hannah and Japeth, sit on one side and Mrs. Noyes, Lucy, Ham and Emma on the other. Noah comments that "four and four make eight" which at first seems to Lucy and Mrs. Noyes like a humorous tautology; but suddenly "…both were brought up short by the realization Noah was stating more than a mathematical fact. He was drawing a line between them—right down the centre of the table: we and thee, he was saying, us and them—four and four make eight." (208)9 Noah’s version of humankind mirrors the Chain of Being that his ark embodies. To his thinking, the elect of humanity should have little or no connection to the non-human side of "nature." Noah goes to great lengths to deny any reminders of his own animal-side, especially the evolutionary evidence that the "ape-children" provide. He has insisted on the killing of his own son, Japeth’s "ape-like" twin, so that his lineage will not be tainted. He also marries Japeth to Emma, because he knows her sister Lotte is one of the "ape" children, and thus any unfortunate offspring of Japeth can be blamed on Emma’s ancestry. To Noah, these children are not human; although Mrs. Noyes has named their son Adam and had broken the rules and allowed the child to live (149), Noah insists that the baby did not have a name (163), and he has no compunctions about having Lotte killed (169).
Noah’s sacrifice of Adam symbolizes the denial of the biological aspect of human beings inherent in Western thought. The Platonic, Augustinian, and Cartesian definitions of human all rely on a split between mind and matter, and all privilege the former and distrust the latter.10 This transcendent view of "Man" may take into account the mystery of human consciousness, but it does so at the expense of human materiality. In the face of Noah’s stubborn denial of his own materiality, Not Wanted on the Voyage insists on what characters like Lucy and Ham and Mrs. Noyes already know: that a bifurcated version of reality stultifies and destroys life. Although Noah never recants, the novel exposes his patriarchal version of completely transcendent human as immoral and ecologically destructive. Yaweh cannot abide Otherness, difference, darkness, so he simply attempts to obliterate it. Not Wanted on the Voyage presents a parable that links destruction of life to loathing for (or even simple disregard of) Otherness—a parable that ties ecocide and genocide to projection of one’s own materiality onto the Other. This novel evokes Nazi concentration camps, genocide of Native populations and African slaves, and North American and European witch hunts.11 It also echoes ecological slaughters, such as the random killing of buffalo in the late nineteenth century. Finally, images of raining of ashes evoke the genocidal and eco-suicidal nightmare of nuclear war.12
The sheer inaccuracy of Yaweh’s and Noah’s beliefs sharpens the pathos involved in the tragic destruction of the world. One irony that exposes Noah’s error is that those lower orders who presumably are closer to body than mind use their intellect (albeit an intellect that includes both feeling—in the form of the valuing function—and intuition) as they plot for the animals’ survival and their own eventual escape to the upper deck. Just as the supposedly material realm exhibits mental activity, so the patriarchal values of mind cannot exist in the idealist vacuum that Noah presumes he inhabits. The novel exposes Noah’s realm of reason as a self-deluding construct, even—to use Diana Brydon’s words—a "form of superstition" (39), which he cannot uphold without the assistance of his thugs, Shem and Japeth. In a further irony, the attitudes and incidents that weaken the wills of those on deck, and therefore aid the triumph of the lower orders, arise from hunger, sexuality and birth; in other words, out of the very materiality that Noah is bent on denying. Shem becomes obsessed with food (the return of the repressed) and gains so much weight he can no longer fight effectively. He then becomes preoccupied with personal cleanliness. Hannah’s experience with childbirth distracts her from the fight. Even Noah is weakened, partly by his depression over the death of Yaweh, but also largely because of his despair over Hannah’s limitations as a cook. Finally, Noah’s sexual relationship with Hannah results in the birth of another "ape-child" who links him to his own materiality, and this reminder enervates him further.
The dismantling of mind/body dualism also supports a deconstruction of the matter/spirit dichotomy typical of mainstream Western religions.13 While Noah’s ontological order divides physicality from spirituality and assigns it a lower rank, Mrs. Noyes (and Lucy and Ham) integrate the two, finding their spirituality in their interactions with the material environment. Ham’s intense love of life leads him to prefer his "sanctuary," (24) the cedar grove from where he watches the stars, to his father’s sacrificial altar; Mrs. Noyes prays with the sheep, to the river (153) and, on the final page, to the absent clouds and the empty sky.14 The opposition between nature and culture is also dismantled by Noah’s failure to split the world of the mind and religion and law from the world of those who tend the animals, keeping the latter in the dark. Findley avoids turning "the natural" into that very dangerous static category that has been used against blacks, women and other minorities.
Brydon finds that in Not Wanted on the Voyage Findley's liberal "tolerance for difference" (42) and "distrust of hierarchy and patriarchy" (42) still rely on a conservative myth of true origins. She detects a conflict between values arising from a foundational natural realm (represented by Mrs. Noyes) and "modernising forces" (represented by Noah) (39). I agree with Brydon’s reading in so far as it reminds us that ecological thinking can be co-opted into tory as well as liberal agendas. (In Landscape and Memory Simon Schama points out a far more extreme and disturbing example, when he examines Nazi’s reverence for the fatherland [78-79; 118-119].) It can be argued, however, that the novel actually questions the idea of an original realm of nature. Lucy’s story of a rebellion that predates the creation of earth pictures not nature but instead Yaweh’s (and therefore Noah’s) dualistic patriarchy as the earlier domain from which Mrs. Noyes and the rest of the marginalized creatures attempt to progress. Mrs. Noyes does not inherit her values of nurturing from the "natural" plane, because, unlike her nurturing vision, the forest works by predatory laws that fill the animals’ lives with fear (see, for example, the scenes on pages 43-44). The novel does not depict a struggle between progress and nature: progress in science (illustrated by Ham’s observations) and progress towards tolerance (marked by the revolution against being locked below deck), being in the realm of the human-animal, are natural.
The novel repeats its rejection of mind-body and nature-culture dualisms over and over from every conceivable direction, especially from the angle of gender. Early in the novel, Noah’s sex-theory manifests itself in his confrontation with Ham over the sacrificing of a sheep. For Noah, a male is by virtue of biology aggressive and prefers edicts to empathy with other living creatures. To Noah’s grave and violent disappointment, Ham does not fit his father’s masculine ideal and Noah takes sanctimonious delight in forcing him against his will to perform the ritual killing. Ironically, Ham’s scientific proclivities mark him as his father’s son; he has spent countless hours lovingly observing flora and fauna and recording the trajectories of the stars (24). Noah’s rejection of Ham sharpens the contrast between two different ways of doing science presented by the novel: Noah objectifies the Other, and has no hesitation killing and maiming in his experiments with Mottyl’s kittens, whereas Ham treats the Other as a subject, with its own innate worth. Empirical methods can actually reinforce this prejudice against the body by objectifying the topic of their study.15 Not Wanted on the Voyage demonstrates that patriarchal systems elevate what are considered "masculine" strengths, and exclude anything considered "feminine." They therefore reduce reason to a hyper-rationality that ignores experience and feeling as possible sources of knowledge. Scientific method, when stripped of its sense of wonder, becomes a means to objectify and control the Other.
Although Noah eventually relegates this son to the lower orders, he remains as oblivious to the self-contradiction implied in this act as he does to all the other challenges made to his dualistic version of gender. Noah’s delusions of superiority look ridiculous largely because he bases his hierarchy on ideas of woman and man that even his own exceptions undermine. Hannah, like Ham, contradicts Noah’s stereotypes and therefore demonstrates the untenability of a static theory of personality based on sex. Being the only human being who fully shares Noah’s vision, Hannah earns the privilege of remaining on the upper deck; however, as I have noted, Noah still expects that despite spending all her time in intellectual retreat and despite always having been exempt from domestic chores, Hannah will have domestic skills. Hannah’s position shows Noah’s denial of reality. She is female; therefore, she must be able to cook. It takes him months to attend to the evidence presented by his digestive system and ask Mrs. Noyes to give Hannah some cooking lessons (220). The novel never settles into the fixed categories so beloved of Noah. The stillbirth of Noah and Hannah’s child at first seemed to me a typical punishment for a female character’s lack of other-directedness and for her preference for the intellectual realm, and thus a scene that contradicted the gender deconstruction. Yet, what Noah tells Hannah at the moment of birth makes this reading impossible; he reveals that Mrs. Noyes—who unlike Hannah has never strayed from the domestic realm—had a dozen stillborn babies herself (340).
Even the characters whom Noah does place according to his own gender vision subvert his system. Emma the smallest woman (girl) among them, in a kind of David-and-Goliath or lion-and-mouse move, performs the final act of courage that frees the captives, fighting Japeth in order to open the door that confines them below the deck (325-27). Japeth, who seems to be the epitome of machoismo and thus a sign of the truth of stereotypes, also subverts dualistic versions of gender. His militarism results not from biology but from events. He used to be other-directed, but lost his trust when he was almost stewed by the Ruffian King (23). Furthermore, his obsession with enemies parodies machismo, which Findley presents as a form of dementia when Japeth cannot recognize the passivity of the dolphins but slaughters them by Noah’s order, because Other equals enemy (237).16
Noah places Mrs. Noyes exactly where she belongs in his cosmological schema: below deck with animals and Lucifer. Because as I will argue Mrs. Noyes—the other-directed, nurturing mother— does not imply an essentialist version of woman, she demonstrates that a female ecological protagonist can exist in a text that deconstructs the woman-nature connection without being illogical. Mrs. Noyes merits the title of ecological heroine primarily for her defense of diversity demonstrated by her struggles on behalf of those not wanted on the voyage. She becomes an ark to carry the Fairies across the river to serach for resin in an attempt to save themselves (155). She sneaks Mottyl aboard in her apron (188). She rescues Emma’s "ape"-sister, and brings her aboard after blackmailing her husband, by threatening to tell the secret of their own Adam. Yet Mrs. Noyes is not an ecological champion because she is female; she is an ecological champion who happens to be female. If Findley made Mrs. Noyes the only nurturer, then the text would perpetuate a stereotype of woman as "natural" environmental leader; but he does not. Although the majority of human characters above deck are male and the majority below are female, the exceptions of Ham and Hannah, along with Japeth’s childhood propensities, make it clear that biology does determine other-directedness and an ability to recognize the value of interdependency.
Moreover, despite Mrs. Noyes’s affirmations of life, Findley does not stereotype motherhood as a passive, nurturing and gentle state. True, She speaks up for all the forms of life that Noah scorns. And certainly, she joins Ham, Lucy, Emma and the animal characters in actively battling for the life of many of the creatures excluded from the ark. It is also true that she is the novel’s primary defender of ecological principles, since it ends with her point of view, and since the narrator focalizes most often through her. Anne Bailey points out many of the traditional features of this character:
Maternal self-sacrifice is often needed to smooth the channel of communication and soothe the fears of death. For instance, exhausted, wanting to "sink" and "stop" (NWV 230), Mrs. Noyes nevertheless gathers her strength and leads the animal in song so that Mottyl can find her way back to her nest and to her children. On another day, she swallows her fears and takes two fearful bears in her arms, rocking them to sleep like babies (NWV 233-34). (180-81)
For Bailey, gender essentialism undermines "the deconstructive potential" of Not Wanted on the Voyage (189). Yet Mrs. Noyes contradicts the stereotype as often as she repeats it. She combines traditionally "feminine" and traditionally "masculine" traits. From the beginning, and increasingly as the novel progresses, she is often unkind and she is hardly passive. The first few pages contain many signs of her imperfect nurturing and rebellion against Noah: she yells at Emma until her voice is hoarse (8); she protests against Noah’s choice of Ham to sacrifice the sheep (13); she challenges her husband’s reading of the peacock’s cry as a sign from Yaweh (13). Her rebelliousness echoes that of the Mrs. Noahs from medieval mystery cycles, but with one major difference.17 The Corpus Christi plays of medieval England cast her as shrew, but Findley subtly undoes that stereotypical version of a rebellious wife. Whereas characterization as shrew depends on the audience identifying with the husband’s values, in Not Wanted on the Voyage the reader is manipulated into sympathizing with Mrs. Noyes and rejecting Noah’s ideology. In sharp contrast, the Corpus Christi plays use Noah’s wife as an exemplar of the "sin and chaos" that arises out of any attempt to usurp authority from above one’s "proper degree" (Kolve 147).
While it might first seem that Not Wanted on the Voyage pits maternal or "feminine" against "masculine values," in fact the novel critiques the idea of fixed "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics. There are women and men who are other-directed; there are men and women who objectify the other. Not even in te case of Hannah does Findley present a maternal essentialism. Giving birth does not convert her to Mrs. Noyes’, Emma’s, Lucy’s, and Ham’s acceptance of children like Adam and Lotte. Hannah screams when her own "ape" baby is born, "though not because it was dead" but instead "for the horror of what it was in which she had invested all her ambition and all her secret love" (341; emphasis mine). Unlike those below the deck, who battle for Lotte’s life, Hannah finds her own "ape" baby below her ambitious standards, because the child would never have assured her of a permanent place in the halls of privilege. Even when she kisses the baby’s body before performing a burial at sea, Hannah thinks of the baby more as Noah than Mrs. Noyes would, "as though it might have been human" (345). Just as Noah objectified his slain son by refusing to acknowledge his name, so Hannah carries her child with a demeanor "so severe—so formal—that she might have carried nothing more than a package—an object only—nothing that might have lived…" (344). All of which is not to say that there is no value-battle in the novel. Findley pits ecological thinking, with its focus on interdependence and diversity, against patriarchal thinking, which values monocultures and views the Other as object. There are tendencies among Findley’s men and women to come down on the side of patriarchy and ecological living respectively, but a complex mix of biology, event, family and wider environment shapes these tendencies. Women are not automatically closer to nature.
At most, the figure of Mrs. Noyes might be said to flirt with the connection of woman and nature, since destabilization of gender precludes interpreting her as a sign that biology determines personality. The character of Lucy effects the most radical destabilization. Lucifer is male, as his brother Michael the archangel reveals (107). But this shapeshifter decides to appear on earth this time as a woman. Lucy’s amorphous human gender—"might as well be a woman as anything else" she thinks, even though she’s also been pope and king (107)—suggests that "femininity" and "masculinity" flow not strictly from biology but from complex societal causes. (This constructionism applies to homosexuality and heterosexuality as well: in this incarnation Lucy [dressed as she] marries a man, but we can assume she [or he] has been the male partner of females in other lives, such as that of king). Lucy’s first female costume of kimono, kohl, "black black hair—white white face" (107) evokes, as Bailey points out (189), the geisha; it is as hyper-feminine as Japeth’s pose is hyper-masculine. As Peter Dickinson argues, by criss-crossing categories of masculine and feminine, this kind of camp completely destabilizes the idea of fixed gender. Further disrupting any fixed identity, Lucy’s great height belies her human and female garb. She is male angel successfully enacting the role of wife dressed as female but beyond even average human male height. Her second human female costume, the "gown of long bronze feathers" (283) in which she leads the battle, reminds the reader of her incarnation as a cormorant much earlier in the novel, and also evokes another campy "feminine" figure, the feather-dance stripper. In this manifestation, the narrator and all of the characters except Noah still see Lucy as female. Noah, in contrast, considers her a man (309).18 Is Lucy embodied as female or male? On this point, the novel remains as vague as Lucy’s answer to Michael’s inquiry about how she will handle intercourse with Ham: "I don't think that's any of your business but, if you must know, I’ll make it up as I go along" (108).
Lucy also deconstructs racial essentialism. Her first female costume marks her as a "foreigner," as Michael the archangel complains. Noah, too, finds her foreign and brazenly "lower class" appearance distasteful; he feels Ham could have done better given more time to choose (120). But Lucy does not accept a racial universal which posits the elect as the fixed norm and those from a different region the static other. The archangel Michael ask her why she has chosen to appear as a "foreigner" and she answers "and what may one ask do you mean by a ‘foreigner’?" (107). Even more basically, Lucy destabilizes the standard Judeo-Christian view of evil, and thereby removes another prop for the connection of woman to nature and evil. In Findley’s version of Genesis and the Lucifer story, Lucifer has jumped out of heaven rather than having been forced out because he wanted darkness along with light. Lucifer’s first "sin" was to ask why, a question Yaweh could not abide (108). Lucy’s struggle against Noah parallels and reverses the first rebellion. Here again, she does not want to replace one monochromatic world with another, so she fights to escape the total darkness. She desires a world that is tolerant of both light and darkness (284).
The final scenes, because both factions remain on deck, demonstrate the untenability of binary versions of gender and of all those dualisms that support it. Even so, Not Wanted on the Voyage does not end in a simple reversal of Yaweh’s and Noah’s hierarchy, but in a temporary disintegration of it. The novel does not picture a permanent utopia in which the "feminine" replaces the "masculine." Instead it envisions a provisional truce; a non-dichotomous realm. Although this fable teaches that patriarchy breeds violence, intolerance, and causes social and ecological suffering, it does not counsel the elimination of traditionally "masculine" traits of aggressiveness, reason, intellect.19 Lucy’s advice on the battlefield demonstrates the untenability of assuming a simple contrast between a gentle nurturing "feminine" realm and an aggressive "masculine" order. As she tells the "feminine" Ham, when he objects to fighting his own brothers: "[w]ell, my dear one…I'm sorry to have to say this to you—but the fact is, if you aren’t willing to kill them—we aren’t going to win" (300). While the novel does use a fairly black and white version of good and evil (Noah’s faction condemns diversity as evil, whereas diversity is the only value that can protect survival) it does not settle readily into this simple dichotomy either. Noah evokes sympathy as the novel proceeds and the reader witnesses him suffering paranoia (272), toothless (310), agonized over the death of his God (293, 350). Unlike traditional fable, Findley’s novel gently rounds out most of the characters. Noah surprises by means of his insight into Lucy’s angelic identity even as he is suffering breakdown (313). Moreover, through Mrs. Noyes’s worries about Japeth and Shem, and through entering Japeth’s point of view in his trauma with the cannibals, we are led to sympathize with two others who belong to Noah's faction.
The uneasy truce at the novel’s end reinforces its rejection of authoritarianism and static categories. Lucy values process, and so rather than advocating any new static system, she instead promises only to start a "rumour" (284) of another, more tolerant world.20 Her hope lies not in discovering a fixed, better world, but in improving this ever-changing one as she goes along. Therefore this fable must use an anti-utopian form, because utopia attempts to capture a static slice of ideal time. If the postdiluvian world pictured at the close of Not Wanted on the Voyage does not completely reverse Noah’s patriarchy and offer a vision of perfection, it still presents a major shift and a sense of tragic loss, a reminder that this rebellion against intolerance has only been achieved in the face of an ecological crisis. The sheep’s permanent loss of the ability to sing symbolizes the kind of irreversible destruction in the extinctions that have resulted from the flood. It is as if every time a creature becomes extinct, some magic has disappeared from the world. Allegorically, the rebellion of the lower orders and the death of Yaweh imply another significant change. They suggest that once you disrupt binary thinking (even temporarily), patriarchy cannot sustain itself. Furthermore, the end of the novel questions both Noah’s version of goodness and the opposite against which this concept is defined; therefore, the construct of evil must also pass away, which may explain the gradual failing of Lucy’s powers (321). The final stalemate presents an ongoing dialectic between authoritarianism and tolerance for difference, a continual battle between the tendency to construct goodness as monocultural and the ability to recognize the eco-suicidal implications of that rejection of diversity. Lucy recognizes Noah’s rainbow as only "as pretty as a paper whale" (351), drawing attention to the untenability of the Covenant that Noah constructs in order to sustain his authority (351). His pronunciation of a promise by Yaweh that there will never be another flood is revealed to the reader as a sham, since Noah’s God is silent (350). The fraudulent promise symbolizes the ephemerality of any truce between patriarchy and diversity. In the face of this starkly realistic acknowledgment that utopia will never be achieved, the novel ends with a rugged optimism, with Mrs. Noyes asserting the will to rebel against intolerance. "Damn it all—I guess we’re here to stay," she tells Mottyl (352), implying that as long as human beings survive, there will be those who fight for diversity.
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In Essentially Speaking (1989), Elaine Fuss argues that not every seemingly essentialist move ends in a conservative, static stereotype. In the case of Not Wanted on the Voyage, a female ecological protagonist does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that biology is destiny. Still, it might appear strange to find a nurturing mother in a novel that otherwise so thoroughly questions fixed categories. Why do ecofeminist works tend toward this double gesture of celebration and decnstruction?21 I propose it is because they are both valuable tools for battling sexism and for promoting ecological thinking.
Cultural feminists have had two important reasons for expanding liberal feminism’s goal of equality in the professions and for retaining the category of woman despite antiessentialist critiques of fixed categories. On the one hand, they have realized that equality does not necessarily change the patriarchal institutions that are based on qualities of competitiveness and aggressiveness extolled in our society. In fact, equality might just as easily convert those who are admitted to the privileged ranks to authoritarian models of behaviour. In order to reverse the systemic violence perpetrated against those marginalized because of race, class, or gender, there must be a general conversion to those values that have been considered "feminine." Yet this will never happen so long as we hold in contempt these values and the women (or, very infrequently, the men) who have been trained to live them. Which leads to another reason that cultural feminists acclaim female traditions and roles. They have realized that as long as the work that a majority of women in history and the contemporary world have done (domestic work including child care) is viewed as second-class, the vicious cycle continues. Ranking so-called "women’s work" as second-rate leads to the denigration of women, because whether we continue to do the work or not, we are associated with those women in the past and present who have and do. Conversely, any work women may come to do beyond the domestic sphere loses importance simply because women perform it. The vast inequality of pay for equal work, along with the ghettoization of formerly male jobs now done by females (family medicine for example) provide evidence for this trend of diminishment in importance.22 In the struggle against sexism, anti-essentialist feminism provides the vital knowledge that static categories of gender are not only tenuous but also dangerous. Liberal feminism also makes a necessary contribution, by fighting for women’s social and political equality. And cultural feminism bestows an indispensable tool as well: the means for a shift in values so that the supposedly lower half of each binary receives its due.
Moreover, both celbration of female ecological champions and deconstruction of gender contribute to an examination of the attitudes that have been allowing the world to close its individual, political and corporate eyes to accelerating destruction of the ecosphere. Inertia in the face of massive institutions that have great power goes some distance to explaining humanity’s collaborative suicide. Yet to make sense of such insanity it helps to look at the cultural roots. Human beings can only easily deny self-destruction if they can ignore the scientific truth that instead of transcending nature, they are interconnected with it. It is tempting to forget the future when convinced of an urgent need for aggression, control and hoarding. Ecological facts demonstrate the opposite needs. They demonstrate that even economically speaking the good of the many is the ultimate good of the individual and "his" offspring.23 In other words, the traditionally "feminine" values of interconnectedness, nurturing and other-directedness have survival-value for individuals and the entire human race. Conversely, the social and political equality of women along with an understanding of the role of culture in shaping gender promote respect for these values. If humanity achieves this vast paradigm shift to ecological thinking in time to ensure human survival, it will include not only a return to so-called "feminine" values, but also a valuing of the Other that rests on the deconstruction of the limiting binary oppositions that are used to dismiss diversity. Thus both of Findley’s moves—to celebrate interdependency in the figure of Mrs. Noyes, and to destabilize gender—are liberating, ecologically.
As an environmentalist and an eclectic feminist, I find the novel Not Wanted on the Voyage inspiring because it rejects patriarchal ideas of femininity and advocates a sense of self that is interdependent with human and non-human nature. It proposes respect for the body and the mind, and promotes exploration into their interconnectedness. It refuses to split the biological from the cultural, and it advocates an immanentist spirituality. It suggests we need to retain a sense of wonder in science. Thus it argues for an end to reason for reason’s sake, without a basis in experience and without being grounded in the values of tolerance, respect for diversity, reluctance to use violence, and concern for the dispossessed. As for Mrs. Noyes, I acknowledge that if the book is read without a recognition of its deconstruction of the categories of gender and culture and nature, she is problematic indeed. Even so, Findley’s destabilization of fixed binaries justifies his flirtation with an essentialist stereotype. The portrait of Mrs. Noyes destabilizes gender because it rejects the Cartesian view of an essentially immaterial self, which is a belief that perpetuates the idea that only the ruling-class-and-race male—by virtue of his association with intellect—is fully human. If, as Mrs. Noyes along with Ham and Lucy believe, no human being transcends their body absolutely, if we are all material beings to a significant degree, then there can be no such hierarchy.24 In short, Findley’s fable knocks the dualistic underpinnings out from under sexism and racism, and forces us to acknowledge the psycho-biological importance of the environment.