Simone de Beauvoir

Thursday, July 8, 2010


A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir

This small paperback, a mere 123 pages in length, is the firsthand account of the death of her mother. I chose to read this book for a number of reasons, the least of which was its length, which explained how I was able to read it in two nights. I’d never read any of Madame de Beauvoir’s work prior to this one and was interested as to her style of writing as well as her work in general. A Very Easy Death presented a way to appease my curiosity in addition to provide a possible connection between Simone and me. That it did.

I saw a number of commonalities, and in the end, I realized that despite language, lifestyle, and beliefs, Simone de Beauvoir and I do have commonalities. For example, we are both daughters, and although she had one sister, I have two. We both lost a parent rather suddenly; mine in less than twenty-four hours and hers in less than a year. Both our deceased parents died as a result of the same malady.  It is the relationship between mother and daughter that struck a chord with me. 
The mother-daughter relationship is as complex as it is simple. Simone describes hers as “a dependence both cherished and detested.” Well said, Madame de Beauvoir. Luckily my blog is not a psychological endeavor so Science and statistics will not be included: I will speak from personal experience. Furthermore, since the comments and thoughts are mine, I have the benefit of not citing any works, which, dear reader, is a complete joy!

According to my research, Francoise de Beauvoir was domineering and her religious beliefs clashed with those of her atheist daughter, Simone. It has been said that Francoise wanted the lives of her daughters—Simone and younger daughter, Poupette—to be the way she envisioned them and befitting the bourgeois lifestyle in which she grew up. To return to the list of commonalities with Madame de Beauvoir, suffice it to say that reading about her “daughter-hood” was akin to reading about my own .

To me, there is no greater weapon of mass destruction then imposing your will on someone else. I draw your attention to the strained relationship between mother and daughter de Beauvoir. The younger de Beauvoir wanted nothing to do with such traditions and way of life that her mother preferred. My mother wanted a traditional lifestyle for me as well: earn a college degree, get married, have babies while being the best wife (i.e., supporting my husband’s career through proper social behavior and attending events as the dutiful wife), raise the child(ren), send them off to college and watch the circle continue.

Since tradition was all I’d known, I didn’t have the opportunity to take in the bigger picture—that of Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and all our “Foremothers” who pioneered the path of equality for women. I was raised on all those “happily ever after” stories. Too bad they don’t come with “troubleshooting” instructions since I never had a fairy godmother, seven short guys, a mermaid’s tail, or even a wicked stepmother to feed me apples.

I wanted my parents to be proud of me, and associating pride with love, I tried my darnedest to achieve that pride. When I went to college, I set about finding my college sweetheart so that we could live “happily ever after” despite my lack of a mermaid tail. The man I met and dated was a brilliant scholar, clearly on the corporate ladder and destined to achieve greatness. He earned his undergrad and graduate degrees quickly and with honors, and went about finding his niche. I earned my “Mrs.” Degree by choosing a man of whom my parents would approve and proceeded my walk down the traditional path. I packed my bags and followed along as the young wife. My parents approved of him whole heartedly. Why wouldn’t they? He was intelligent, ambitious, good-looking, and would take care of me “til death do us part”.

Update: we are both alive, but the marriage is not. Our daughter just graduated from college and our son completed his freshman year. He socializes with my family.

It is now, many years later, that I am living a somewhat non-traditional lifestyle. I am finishing the degree I started way back when and I’m certain of my major. Really! Granted the chances for a job were far greater had I graduated “on time”, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. To me, being non-traditional means attending the collegiate commencement exercises of your child and finding it an inspiration to attend your own.

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