“Moving on” by Diane Cook has every character in this story struggling to grasp onto what is left of themselves before it is completely taken away. Strong imagery helps depict the widow trying to clutch onto her past when she says,
“ I stand in the closet and smell his clothes. I can cook dinner for two and throw the rest away, or overeat, depending on my mood.” (44).
Her smelling his clothes and doing extra work for someone who is deceased shows that she misses him dearly, and seems lost without him. In the book, she is being told to follow a routine and structure and is almost “broken” when that routine is stopped. Like a broken machine, she is taken away for cognitive repairment. She is removed from her home; as if it were no longer useful. The placement team moved her to a group home for widowed women, and she numbly followed. In this center, it is required for them to forget their buried husbands and get ready to embark a new ideal marriage, with an ideal family, in an ideal home. They are obedient to this form of “repairment”, which influences them to conform to a unnatural perfect society.
As the widow faces authority each an everyday, it renders me to question why she never fought against that. The world she lives in forces upon rules and expectations that pulls away from the natural self and free will. They have been given regulations to perfect their daily living: “We have been given schedules and rules and also suggestions for improving our lives and looks.” (45). What do they mean by “improving”? The widows are constantly trying to improve their self image in order to gain more self worth; taking suggestions and following courses to serve their next families with supposed idealized potential. With this; there also seems to be a model for both the men and women in the story: “We are encouraged to take cooking classes, sewing classes, knitting classes, gardening classes, conceiving classes…” (45) They, as in the participants of the shelter, seem to be taking the traditional roles of females and idealizing them, making specific courses geared towards perfecting these roles as a woman. Interestingly, in this dystopian future dated expectations and views are still normalized, which is ironic as it the story is held in the future.
Jobs and work status also seem to be very important in the group as the men can “choose” their wives, the “perfect” woman with a high paying job. The story rejects all imperfections, mental and physical ones. When one of the woman’s face was slashed by a razor blade during a tantrum, the possible husband saw no potential with the woman because her skin was now deemed as flawed: “placement team contacted the husband to be with the news, he rejected her.” (47). The characters in the story are morphed into the stages of grief so quickly, as if the process of grief can be timely. They aim to avoid rejection from men to have the “perfect” life and future. This categorizes gender and life styles. After all, this may be understandable to some extent, as the “perfect woman” is also valued in todays society. In fact, the male attributes to the males in this story are also in favor to a “perfect” man:
“ The man is too smooth; his teeth are very straight and white, and there is a glistening in his hair from the gel that has hardened. I can tell he probably uses a brand of soap I would hate the smell of. He looks as if he doesn’t need to shave everyday. My husband had a beard.”(46).
The physical features of the man clashes with the woman natural wants. As she is describing the male model, the imagery of this perfect man isn’t particularly described as handsome, but more as idealistically impeccable. As she says “ I can tell that he probably uses a brand of soap I would hate the smell of”(46) it sets a tone of hatred for the model. Although the man is good looking he is also cold and distant in comparison to her previous husband, who’s imperfections are preferred. This is also reflective of the flawed society that she lives in. Throughout the story we get tones of coldness, rigidness and structure in order to live perfectly however; humans don’t need perfecting. To show how humans naturally love imperfections, humans yearn for warmth, natural human connection and free will.
The society is so restrictive that; the widow yearns for her own voice and free will: “ I would give anything to run through a field and not stop. I have never been the running through the fields type.” (49). Her domestic nature is not of running through fields, but yet she desires to. She even questions her domestic nature when the finds herself curious about the future of someone else: “ I secretly hope that she, whoever she was, made it, and I feel twinges of curiosity. but their just twinges. not motivation. what I want, I cant have.” When the protagonist talks about her “ twinges” of curiosity, it highlights the fact that she has certain emotions that are repressed. I question if she is unknowingly following obedience or perhaps everyone knows the injustice with the reality they live in. As she refers to them as “just twinges” it means she is disregarding the importance of them, and in result also disregarding the other oppressions she deals with. The widow desires for the other women to make it towards freedom. If she was truly in favor of the system, or as mentioned “the manual”, she wouldn’t have been be in favor running away. The widow is not necessarily in agreement to her environment yet wants to conform to it. I get the feeling that “the manual” is the only thing that gave her any sense of direction- it completely disabled her from making her own decisions. So disabled in fact, even the deepest emotions such as grief over your deceased husband cant render to her senses. “There are other ways to be happy. I read that in the manual. I’m trying this out. My case manager said it healthy.” The other ways to be happy will never bring her true happiness because true happiness is dependent on the individual- and cannot be socially implicated or imitated. When the widow thinks of other ways to be happy, it is always straying away from their social expectations.
At one point in the story, she is being offered to several other men. “Another man follows me around trying to grab my hand; he whispers that he has secret riches no one knows about”. (56) This quote left me wondering about what the secret riches could possibly be. Given that the man mentions that nobody else knows- perhaps he is offering her an unknown future, an adventure. On the other hand, he may as well just be trying to sell himself to her, to convince her that he is a fit partner through exploiting their mutual repressed desire for freedom.
One would like to believe that they would never abide to such strict rules and to let government take full control, and even say it impossible. Lack of rebellion proves furthermore the extent to their power of authority.
Restriction doesn’t seem to be acknowledged in the book, instead it is normalized. The characters seem to try to repress natural emotions such as grief in order to constantly move forward. Are they actually moving forward? It is not very humane.
There is almost nothing “human “ to this book, as not one social interaction was made out of choice, more of need to socialize with the other women. However it is still described as . “In many ways, this most humane shelter.” (47). The widow probably found more solace and comfort through real human interaction than within the program set out for her. The widow described the other woman as “down to earth”, which is a very heart felt quality. This proves that they still have the capability of feeling, therefore must still feel the need to run away. So why don’t they? Perhaps its because like our current injustices that people face everyday, our free will is simply just undiscovered. When I question why this “perfect” society is wanted by these women, I realize that it is because these roles gives them purpose.
“Moving on” was quite an interesting read. Its reflective on the working of human emotions and our society as a whole today. The society in the story is contained and controlled by rules and regulations that determine their self worth. Without this control, it would be a mess- because it will take away their purpose for living, and we all need purpose. Works cited:Boyle, T C. Best american short story 2015