Woman: witch or nurturer?
In the first half of Younger Brother, women are portrayed as witches and other less flattering incarnations. They are painted constantly as scheming, lying, poisoning, or tempting creatures. Yet, when hunger nearly kills Younger Brother, it is a woman who saves him by giving him the gift of meat for his consumption. With all these contradictory images of women, the result is that women are a little bit of both--witch and nurturer.
Although the term “witch” comes from the Western way of thinking, Native Americans believed in evil-doing characters (they did not, though, to specify them as being female.). Younger Brother makes sure that they burn--body and possessions alike. It is clear that both the crushing woman and soup-brain woman are castigated for their powers and potential powers that threaten the livelihood of man. One woman uses her magic to make her legs stronger and more powerful than a man’s. Another uses her brain to poison the thoughts of man. The two latter woman with the vagina dentata is capable of physically killing him. These women prove they are capable of independence. Men do not rule these women; instead, they rule the men.
In no way do these women resemble mothers or grandmothers. They are in fact the exact opposite. These women do not represent life and new birth. Instead, they inhabit a place of darkness surrounded by black magic and death. None of these women has children, none of them has a husband. Nothing that they do can be attributed to nurturing. They are instead destroyers of life. They imprison, poison and castrate men, killing any chance of the formation of new life. All of these women’s actions are geared towards the cessation of all that is living. Without men, these women bare no children, without children, nurturing ceases to exist and mankind dies out.
However, womankind is redeemed with the appearance of the woman with the many animals. She takes pity on the “old man" Younger Brother pretends to be, by allowing him to nourish himself with the flesh of animals. Nature is further feminized when, on the island, Younger Brother is awakened by the sound of the three turnips rising up from the ground; an obvious birth image. These two archetypes of woman as both nurturer and destroyer, paint a stark disparity of female being.
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