He and I by Natalia Ginzburg
In Natalia Ginzburg’s life there is a fine line between a woman and a man’s place. Reading the story “He and I” as a feminist critic one can use character analysis, symbolism, and relationships to reflect the amount of male supremacy Ginzburg faces daily. Deemed unintelligent and forced to be dependent on her husband, she pursues an insufficient lifestyle to which she doesn’t belong. This short story shows the boundary lines women face against men and how these lines constrain her. Characters in the text, symbolism, and faulty relationships define the oppression between man and woman.
By analyzing characters in the story, the reader captures a firm grasp on the position of women from both a male and female standpoint. Natalia Ginzburg, the author of the story and the main character herself, writes about various ways she faces oppression from her husband. Just about everything she does is considered a nuisance to him. It’s a constant competition for her to gain the same amount of intelligence he has. Whether it’s experience and education to having different tastes in food she feels obligated to live up to his expectations. In the story she writes, “I think he likes me to be dependent on him for some things” (426).
Her husband Leone feels that she should be reliant on him and he himself implies throughout the story that she’s incapable of becoming self-sufficient. Akshay Ahuja, a feminist critic, wrote about Ginzburg’s essay “He and I” and said, “It becomes apparent that Ginzburg is writing out of a belief of not in her extraordinary perseverance but her complete ordinariness, the opposite of narcissism” (Ahuja). The differences between Natalia and her husband are put on blast which makes her uncomfortable in her own skin. On the other hand, her husband Leone is completely narcissistic. He’s confident with who he is and who he is, is better than Natalia. He doesn’t appreciate her and anything that she stands for.
The way Natalia writes about him in the story makes her sound inferior to his every move. For example she says, “He has done all the things that I have done and many others too (427). She never let’s herself one up him and gives him credit for the things she has done as well. They are two completely diverse people and that aspect contributes to the separation between genders. Just as analyzing the characters in the story, symbolism plays a huge role as well in deciphering the variations between the male and female perspective.
In the reading Natalia mentions the Montesi Trial and how Leone and herself had arguments discussing it. The Montesi Trial involves a young woman named Wilma who dies a fatal death by drowning. The reason given for her death involves suicide and unhappiness of marriage. However, sources say that Wilma was a role model for young women like her who were struggling to find a better status in life. The irony that Natalia would bring up a woman in the story like that leads the reader to believe that they are quite similar people.
Ginzburg writes, “Just as I am beginning to feel at ease and to enjoy myself, he gets impatient and drags me away” (426). Natalia herself is suffocated by the pressures by the characteristics of the idealistic woman in her husband’s eyes. The dissimilarities between them both leave her without confidence in who she is because she feels she does everything wrong. Feminist critic Peggy Boyers talks about Natalia in a review of her essays and says, “The desire to “belong” is never more than a memory in her work, and yet the memory is so alive for her that Ginzburg still feels its power” (Boyer). For example, Natalia knows the difficulty of her situation and still stays with it.
Another attribute presented in the story that is symbolic is when she writes about his love for music. Natalia doesn’t share the same feelings for it and he doesn’t appreciate that. In the story she writes, “If he hears me he mimics me; he says that my singing is something quite separate from music, something invented by me” (427). Leone doesn’t want her to have a mind of her own. When she says ‘something invented by me’ she gives an example of how she’s not allowed to have an imagination because it’s unacceptable or foolish to him. Symbolism of music and the Montesi Trial allow the reader to understand the constraints of the anti-feminist society.
Although symbolism and the analysis of characters play an important role in the story, the relationships between Natalia, Leone, and her family also give good reasoning as to why she lives through a suppressed life of anti-feminism. Throughout “He and I” she writes about herself as if she’s an ordinary woman but is the complete opposite. Before the story “He and I”, Natalia grew up in a close-minded space. Her father never allowed her to be a writer. What was expected of her was to become educated and cultivated.
She writes about herself in the story, “But there is one corner of my mind in which I know very well what I am, which a small, a very small writer” (422). When reading this, one can only assume that her parents contributed to what she thinks to be failure against a male’s success. In addition to her family, Leone and herself have a complicated relationship in which it’s hard for a reader to understand. She talks about how different people they are but at the same time praises him for being better at some activities. Leone doesn’t accept her for who she is and Boyer describes this when saying “It seems that there was little tolerance for merely thinking or unclear expression of any kind” (Boyer). By the end of the story she mentions a walk she once had with him along the Via Nazionale.
It was a time when they were still young and in love. She mesmerizes about when they were “two friends talking, two young intellectuals out for a walk; so young, so educated, so uninvolved, so ready to judge one another with kind impartiality; so ready to say goodbye to one another forever” (430). At the beginning of the excerpt she’s confident in who she was, and who they were but by the end of the walk they are two different people. They lost sight of one another and she allows herself to put him on a pedestal. The relationship’s she’s made with the people in her life haven’t helped her succeed the male supremacy in her life.
Natalia Ginzburg does an outstanding job portraying the female verses male mentality. The characters, symbols, and relationships in the story prove discrimination from a feminist point of view. The story expresses the importance for the line between genders to be erased. The female population needs to break out of the constraints holding them back from their freedom to be who they are. Without breaking free they will end up like Natalia, suppressed by a anti-feminist attitude.
. Works Cited Ahuja, Akshay. “The Little Virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg.” The Occasional Review. Web. 02 May 2011.
<http://occasionalreview.blogspot.com/2009/01/little-virtues-by-natalia-ginzburg.html>. Boyers, Peggy.
“An Introduction: Natalia Ginzburg in Her Essays.” Enotes. Web. <http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/ginzburg-natalia>.
Ginzburg, Natalia. “He and I.” He and I. 422-30. Print.
“Ginzburg, Natalia.” United Architects – Essays. Web. 24 Apr. 2011.