The Role of Women in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
What is the role of women in the novel? What does this tell us about the Kravitz world?
In Mordecai Richler’s novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, women are represented to have a lower class than men. The women who are present in the novel include Yvette Durelle, Ida Kravitz, Minnie Kravitz, Linda Rubin and Sandra Calder. Each of these female characters are seen as helpless individuals unable to bear for themselves and left unsuccessful without men. Through Duddy’s never ending quest to own land to ultimately be successful, Richler depicts women in a negative way.
They are seen as instruments to help men succeed and every so often used as traps for others. Therefore the women in this novel do not have lives of their own as they are portrayed solely as part of other men’s lives. Such exists because the lives of the women were not once explored throughout the novel, it was always through the eyes of a man and since the women are not explored, therefore this results in a male dominated novel. Women are portrayed to be items of sexual desires; worthless and unworthy of a man’s second thoughts. As was the case with Max, his wife and Josette.
Josette is one of the whores whom Max is pimping for and is described as being a “handsome whore with splendid black hair and enormous breast. ”(22) Such indicates that she is revered only for looks and her sexual abilities. Another such instance is when a women was being described by Max only for her features while they were at the bar “…sitting beside him is the greatest little piece you ever saw. Knockers? You’ve never seen such a pair. I mean just look at that girl…” (20) Furthermore, Josette’s feelings are disregarded and ignored even though she is human and has every right to be treated fairly and humanely.
Max grabs her forcefully and practically drags her. “You’re hurting me …” (24) She is thought to be someone who can only perform sexual tasks and the readers read that she has no place in society outside or other than that. Max’s poor treatment of his whores, Josette included, likely influenced Duddy’s poor opinion of women. The way he regards women and the way he is with them is reminiscent of his father being a pimp and man-handling Josette at the beginning of the novel, as such treatment has likely been occurring since the death Max’s wife and Duddy’s mother Minnie Kravitz, if not starting with his treatment of her.
In sense, it could be argued that Max disrespects his deceased wife by resorting to pimping, using Josette as an instrument to pay for the bills and having a successful family. This revels that Max does not possess the feelings a man should have for his wife. There were types of woman seen in the novel which were those who could not be trusted because they were only out for themselves. Such women were not treated well and are to be hated and laughed at for their stupidity. One of such women, Linda is featured very briefly during Duddy’s time at Hotel Lac des Sables, who Irwin Shubert convinced to go out with him.
She is described in great detail; with more attention on her appearance and no mention whatsoever of her having a personality or feelings at all. “Soft, curvy, and nifty enough for one of those fashion magazines…” (78). She uses him and is still thought to be more worthwhile than the caring Yvette, and is thrown around later on. Sandra is the girl Lennie attempts to perform an abortion for, and consequently nearly loses his place at school. Her father is on the board for the university and he can convince the board to allow Lennie to stay.
She is only depicted as being weak and whore-ish, being impregnated by her boyfriend, Andy Simpson. Not much is known about her, but she is seen as being emotional, desperate and hysterical. Riva Kaplan is Lennie’s girlfriend and though much is not known about her either she is said, by him to be quite the terrible person. “She’s not better than a whore” (186). He fights with her and she is not mentioned again, indicating that a woman who fights and stands up for herself against a man is to be left and disposed of, not reasoned with or listened to. Furthermore, Duddy was never fully loved by his family.
There is no concrete evidence that shows any of them ever cared for him or wanted to take part in his life. Though Lennie seems to somewhat appreciate Duddy, he is still somewhat distant to him and he focuses on his own studies and life. The first person to truly love him, for who he was, unconditionally, was his “Girl Friday”, Yvette Durelle. She is treated and shown to be beneath the men she is around, and is to be dominated and ordered around without defiance. Duddy’s girlfriend, Yvette, was the first person, male or female, to ever truly love Duddy for who he was, faults and all.
Yvette gave Duddy many chances to be with her, but he consistently turned to his desire for land and money in place of her. “Three weeks. Duddy, if you start running again, I’ll leave you” (291). The last chance she gave him he ignored, and he preferred to stay alone and unhappy (whether conscience of it or not) with his precious land than the woman who loved him. The only time Duddy seems to show any feelings of affection towards Yvette was shorty after they had relations, just before he was shown the land by her.
Her purpose to him then was clear; she would be used for sex and for the acquisition he his precious land. The fact that she stayed with him through his emotional abuse towards her indicated that she was weak and subservient, as all women are to be. His inability to appreciate women can be traced to his opinion of himself, his family, or both simultaneously. Specifically concerning Duddy Kravitz, many women were portrayed as traps, nags and instruments helping him succeed. There was woman in particular who helped Duddy to exponential levels and who ultimately led him to be ‘successful’.
Yvette never lived in her own right or more than the foil for Duddy’s ambition, which in the end, consumes everything else in the novel. Therefore Yvette’s portrayal is entirely dependent on Duddy. (Richler never explores her family in Montreal) Yvette is seen as a trap to Duddy, despite wanting to pursue his land, he does not want to commit to Yvette and be trapped by her. She does not want Duddy to fulfill his dreams because she would rather settle down and start a family. Consequently Duddy’s lack of interest in Yvette is shown when “I feel so good, she said.
Do you feel good? He could watch the lake over her shoulder and in his mind’s eye it was not only already his but the children’s camp and the hotel were already going up” (Richler, 100) As a nag, Yvette constantly suggest her opinion to Duddy; as a result this frustrates him and her “I’ve seen you do lots of dishonest thing, Duddy, but never in my life did I expect you to cheat a boy like Virgil” (216) Duddy’s French Canadian girlfriend, Yvette functioned not as a person in her own right but simply as a moral conscious for Duddy.
This shows that Yvette acts as authority figure in Duddy’s life, something he lacks. Yvette also acts as a mother figure in Duddy’s life. Duddy does not show an interest in Yvette; although she harasses him constantly and keeps showing her affection, it irritates Duddy because he is just using her. Yvette is used as an instrument as although she shows genuine love for Duddy, he never seems to have feelings for her.
Since Duddy is a minor he employed Yvette as tool in acquiring his land, and manipulates her to his liking. She is an instrument used to get Duddy his land so he can fulfill his dream. Such goes to say that women during the 1950s were to be disregarded and called upon only for tasks, relations and served only as indicators of a man’s wealth and worth by her attractiveness.