The theme of conformity in “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin
In Ira Levin's novel "The Stepford Wives," the theme of conformity is presented through the lens of a seemingly idyllic suburban town in which the women have been replaced by obedient and docile replicas. Through the use of a satirical tone, symbolism, and character development, Levin illustrates the dangers of blindly conforming to societal expectations and the detrimental effects it can have on individuality and personal agency.
The novel is set in the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, a seemingly perfect suburb where the women are all perfect housewives and the men are all successful businessmen. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that something sinister is at play. The protagonist, Joanna Eberhart, is a successful photographer who has recently moved to Stepford with her husband and children. Joanna is initially drawn to the town's beauty and charm, but soon begins to notice that something is off about the women in Stepford. They all seem to be robotic and subservient to their husbands, with no interests or opinions of their own.
The theme of conformity is introduced through the stark contrast between Joanna and the Stepford wives. Joanna is a strong, independent woman who challenges societal expectations and resists conforming to traditional gender roles. In contrast, the Stepford wives are perfect examples of conformity, conforming to the traditional domestic roles and completely subsuming their individuality. This contrast is made even more stark when Joanna's friend, Bobbie, begins to conform to the Stepford ideal and become a perfect housewife, losing her own identity in the process.
Levin also uses symbolism to reinforce the theme of conformity. The symbol of the "perfect housewife" is used throughout the novel to represent the societal pressure to conform to gender roles and domesticity. The Stepford wives are perfect embodiments of this ideal, with their flawless appearance and unwavering obedience to their husbands. The use of the "perfect housewife" as a symbol highlights the ways in which societal expectations can be suffocating and limiting, forcing individuals to conform to a narrow set of expectations rather than allowing them to express their own unique identities.
In addition to symbolism, Levin uses character development to further explore the theme of conformity. As Joanna becomes increasingly suspicious of the Stepford wives and the men who control them, she begins to resist the pressure to conform and fights back against the forces that are trying to suppress her individuality. Her journey highlights the importance of self-expression and the dangers of conforming to societal expectations without question.
Overall, in "The Stepford Wives," Ira Levin presents a powerful critique of conformity and the societal pressure to conform to traditional gender roles and domesticity. Through the use of satire, symbolism, and character development, he highlights the dangers of conforming blindly and the importance of individuality and self-expression. The novel serves as a cautionary tale, reminding readers of the importance of questioning societal expectations and staying true to one's own unique identity.