Very often, traumatic events in a person’s life can stay with them for significant amounts of time after the event is over. Juliet, by Helen Fogwill Porter, tells the story of a woman burdened by the troubles of her past. Juliet cannot seem to escape certain memories of her child. Throughout the story, these memories are sparked by certain objects and words.
The title character in “Juliet” reflects the title character in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. The lives of both characters are significantly influenced by the restrictions of social institutions. It is through this connection that the theme of oppression is revealed in the text.
There are several parallels that can be drawn between both characters and the journeys they take through the course of the story. A key similarity is their struggle against public and social institutions. This struggle is a very important element in each story. In Fogwill Porter’s story, different items throughout the day trigger a range of memories, mainly from Juliet’s childhood. Juliet strings together the events of her day, building the phrase “letter. Juliette. Rake.
The louse Rake,”(Fogwill Porter, 283) When put together, these signifiers ultimately reveal a very painful memory. This memory epitomizes Juliet’s struggle to fit in, as she is severely bullied by her classmates. Juliet’s struggle to fit in is a result of expectations as to how she should look and dress laid out by her peers and the rest of society. She describes herself as “dirty, sloppy, streelish, untidy, unhandy.” (Fogwill Porter, 285) Juliet’s lifelong hesitation to tell anyone about the horrible letter she receives from the “popular girls”, demonstrates the extreme oppression she feels from these social orders.
Juliet’s inability to forget about these events is the true source of oppression. While recalling one memory, she says “I couldn’t pretend that I’d never found a louse or a nit in my thick, tangly hair. That’s the real reason I never told anyone.”(Fogwill Porter, 285) Another social implication is that to be popular, you must be rich. This is demonstrated when the author describes the group of girls bullying Juliet as “girls whose fathers are well-off.” (Fogwill Porter, 284)
In “Romeo and Juliet”, Juliet is also struggling against social institutions brought on primarily by her family. Her family prevents her from being with the man she loves. Although the struggles faced by both Juliet’s are very different, the connection the author makes to Shakespeare clarifies that the source of oppression, confusion, and the fact that she cannot seem to escape her past, in Juliet’s life is her subjection to social idealisms.
There are also a few differences between the two texts that further reveal the theme of oppression in Juliet. In Fogwill Porter’s story, the title character begins the story as a confused, unstable woman, and through memories, the reader learns that she has been like this for the majority of her life- significantly demonstrating feminine weakness. Shakespeare’s Juliet may begin the play as a naive young woman, but she soon develops and becomes determined, strong, and sober-minded.
Fogwill’s Juliet seems to do quite the opposite. The result of these significant personality differences is how the characters respond to their oppression. Although Shakespeare’s Juliet takes her own life, it is an act of courage, showing she is no longer willing to subject herself to the restrictions society has put on her. The other Juliet completely buries herself in this oppression, and years later is still burdened by the restrictions of her past.
Another key difference between the characters is the way they treat their heritage – which is, in essence, another result of their difference in personalities. Romeo and Juliet rebel against their heritage- going against century-long tradition and the word of their parents. Ideally, shedding their names would solve their problems.
Fogwill’s Juliet clings to her past- her name in particular. Juliet was named after Shakespeare’s Juliet, as a result of her father’s fondness for Shakespeare. Her name is extremely important to her, and she becomes irritated when it is spelled “Juliette”. She says, “Most people spell my name correctly. I make sure of that. Two or three times throughout my school years I had to correct teachers.” (Fogwill Porter, 282) The misspelling of her name brings back painful memories several times throughout the story, indicating how important her name, and her heritage, are to her.
One important aspect of Juliet’s heritage is her family. The fathers play very different roles in each tale. The contrast in these characters helps to further develop the reader’s understanding of the theme of oppression in the text. It is said in “Juliet” by Helen Fogwill Porter that the father figure should be strong, masculine, well-off, and strict. Juliet’s father is none of these things. Juliet mentions that her father “was inconsolable when anything bad happened to one of us,”(Fogwill Porter, 281), revealing a very weak character.
In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, the father is society’s ideal father figure. He is dominant, strong, and masculine. This is yet another example of how Juliet is repressed by her struggle to comply with social idealisms. The difference in fathers most definitely contributes to the difference in personalities, and ultimately the difference in reaction to this struggle against social institutions.
In “Romeo and Juliet”, the character of Juliet is a strong woman. She is oppressed by social institutions, but rebels against them, ending her life in an ultimate act of courage. In “Juliet”, the character of Juliet is not a strong woman. She is oppressed by social institutions, and completely subjects herself to them, drowning in memories of her past and the burdens of this oppression. This theme of oppression is made clear by the parallels and differences that can be drawn from each text. Overall, Helen Fogwill Porter demonstrates the overwhelming effects that oppression caused by social institutions can have on a person.