Circe Finding Herself Within a Patriarchal World

Circe Finding Herself Within a Patriarchal World

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Throughout most of history, women have been objectified and oppressed simply because of their gender. These patriarchal ideas are still shown today through many examples; one being the basic idea of ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to abortion rights. Although the novel, Circe, is not set in the present day, it still applies many of the same patriarchal ideas that are seen today. In the novel Circe by Madeline Miller, Circe is put through many relationships that push her to find her self-worth, allowing her to become stronger within her relationships with different people. The use of power, location, and different characters help Circe to see her true self and stand up for herself as a respectable character.

At the beginning of the novel, Circe is introduced to her family in an unwelcome manner. While in the location of Helios’s house, Circe is seen as lesser than her other siblings. Helios described his daughters, before Circe, as “sweet-tempered and golden as the first press of olives. Men and gods paid dearly for the chance to breed from their blood, and my father’s treasury was said to rival that of the king of the gods himself” (Miller, 5). Circe’s siblings are golden children to Helios and Perse but Circe is different in many ways making her alienated from the rest of her family. When Perse found out that Circe was going to marry a mortal prince, “the revulsion was plain on her face” because the gods saw mortals as less than them, making Circe less than them as well (Miller, 6). Not only did the idea of marrying a mortal make her different, but also the fact that she had a mortal voice and yellow eyes rather than a godly voice with gold eyes like her siblings. The text states that “an aunt stayed on hoping to curry favor with my mother and named me Hawk, for my yellow eyes, and the strange, thin sound of my crying” showing that her eyes and voice were strange compared to the other children Helios and Perse had produced (Miller, 6). This start to Circe’s life left her feeling worthless due to the lack of support that she was given in Helios’s house, but this would soon be changed.

Later in the novel, when Circe is still living in Helios’s house, she takes the risk of helping Prometheus heal his wounds after being beaten for helping mortals. Circe is unaware of why mortals are looked down upon by gods so she is very intrigued by them. She goes to Prometheus to learn more information about mortals, which helps her understand a little more about herself. On her way back from talking to Prometheus, she stated, “I waited for someone to remark on my absence, but no one did, for no one had noticed. Why would they? I was nothing, a stone. One more nymph child among the thousand thousands” (Miller, 23). Even though she is alienated from her family, she still expected someone to notice that she was gone yet nobody did because she was overlooked for being different. At this point, she still does not know much about herself because she is mainly trying to blend in but she does know that she is different and is interested in learning more about herself and everything around her. She still does not have much sense of self but will begin to explore more after she is forced into exile.

Circe begins to learn more about herself and what it means to be a witch while she is in exile on the island of Aiaia. She is not in any relationship when she starts off on the island yet she does have many visitors from ships that are passing by. At first, she is excited to have guests and generously welcomes them to her home until the moment when the men found out that she was a single woman living alone. This realization led to Circe being sexually assaulted by the men, saying “I remember what I thought, bare against the grinding stone: I am only a nymph after all, for nothing is more common among us than this. A mortal would have fainted, but I was awake for every moment” (Miller, 188). This moment was one of the lowest points in the novel because Circe had briefly given up on her self-worth. She thought that she deserved what had happened to her due to the fact that she was a nymph and did not have godly powers like the rest of her family. This is when Circe started turning all of the gentlemen who would visit her into pigs. She used her spells to not only protect herself but also instill fear among the men, allowing her to feel more powerful than them. The scene where Circe is sexually assaulted may have been the lowest point in her journey but she used that experience to push away from her past and focus on herself.

Years after Circe was put into exile, she came across Odysseus who had a relationship with her. This relationship ended with Odysseus going back home to Ithaca to Penelope, his wife, while Circe stayed in Aiaia and had their child. After having had a few relationships since she was in Aiaia, Circe decided that she would focus on her relationship with her son, Telegonus, protecting him at all costs. Circe had created a spell that protected the island to keep her son safe; once it was complete, she stated, “We were free. Not just from Athena, but from all of them. The spells hung on me, yet I felt weightless. For the first time, Aiaia was ours alone” (Miller, 255). This spell helped Circe and Telegonus create a stronger mother-son bond due to the safety and security that they felt living in Aiaia. Originally, the gods still had power over Aiaia but due to Circe’s protection spell, they had no power over her or the island anymore, giving Circe more power than ever before. She used these years to raise Telegonus and learn more about her witchcraft capabilities, and she was eventually able to use this newfound power to stand up against her very own father, Helios.

Towards the end of the novel, Circe decided that she had finally found who she truly was and wanted her exile to be over. She had summoned Helios to Aiaia by breaking the ‘chain of fear’ that the gods had created against themselves and everyone else. Circe had threatened her father to end her exile by saying, “And if you do not see my exile ended, I will expose you again. I will tell Zeus what I did” (Miller, 360). This interaction between Circe and Helios is much different compared to her interactions with him earlier in the novel because she had flipped the power dynamic between herself and her father. This bold move on Circe’s part helped to end her exile and live a free life, out of the control of her family and the gods. Circe being able to stand up for herself makes her a more respectable character, giving her more self-worth compared to the beginning of the novel when she was constantly undermined because she was different. After Circe is freed from her exile, she is able to live a free life and make her own decisions under her own control.

During the last scene of the novel, Circe takes complete control of her life by deciding that she wants to be mortal, like Telemachus. In this scene, she states, “All my life I have been moving forward, and now I am here. I have a mortal’s voice, let me have the rest. I lift the brimming bowl to my lips and drink” (Miller, 385). This is a perfect ending because the audience has seen how far Circe has grown through different phases of her life to get to this moment of complete self-worth and self-awareness. Circe knows what she wants to do with her life, and what she wants to do is to grow old with Telemachus so she makes the decision to become mortal so she can experience life with him. This final relationship allows Circe to live and grow to her full potential, explaining why the novel ends at this point. After all, this novel is about Circe finding herself through different locations and characters which is shown through some of the characters mentioned above.

In conclusion, Circe starts the novel as an outcast who did not feel as though she had any purpose in life but as the novel progresses, she learns her self-worth through the locations and characters that she interacts with. The characters who she interacts with are mostly, if not all, male characters showing the patriarchal world that she lives in. Throughout the novel, she breaks the barriers against these men, becoming more and more like herself. As she learns who she really is, she finds her ability to stand up for herself as a respectable character and becomes who she is meant to be.

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