In ‘Woman’s World’, Rawle presents a fictionalised personalisation of grief in the construction of Norma’s character exploring the origins and complexity of identity. This is especially clear in the passage from pages 265 to 267 – when the origin of Roy’s transvestism is explicitly revealed for the first time as more than just curiosity. Norma is not just an alter ego of Roy – but rather, his dead sister and her character are born out of his suppression of grief as a child.
The typography is particularly striking at the beginning of page 265 at “Mary went a bit strange after my accident.” It is a loaded sentence – not quite an understatement but perhaps a euphemism for Mary shutting down in ‘bit strange’. Furthermore, the text itself is a bit strange and wonky – perhaps sort of like Mary herself. It is poignant and sad with the thought of a young child having to deal with such trauma on his own. Many times throughout the book has the disjointed crooked text represented an emotional shift for Norma; in times of distress, her language gets more disjointed, enhancing the feeling of uneasiness or rather more simply enhancing our ideas of the complexity of Norma’s character as multidimensional and convoluted.
However, the complexity of Norma’s character is also largely born out of the temporal context. As shown when Roy said “Nothing about the whole matter was ever properly discussed” shows how he was not able to vocalise his grief – and as such, Norma was born. Furthermore, the statement is ironic as the words ‘whole matter’ – referring to Norma’s death – is a euphemism in itself; avoiding the topic of death. Same goes for the start of page 265 when Norma says ‘my accident’. These euphemisms are ironic as they are implying the fact that death is a taboo topic; while reinforcing that same implication. The differences in temporal context also are shown when Mary draws the curtains in the middle of the day – an explicit symbol of death. This symbolism is particularly striking for the audience as Norma previously explained the significance of drawn curtains during the day, so the reader already knows what this means. As such – the taboo topic of not only death but cross-dressing helps reiterate the intricacy of Norma’s character as a transvestite born out of trauma. Rawle particularly uses this to highlight the similarities in a modern contemporary context – subjects such as sexuality and identity are not necessarily taboo but are still not completely accepted.
The simile “it was as if Mary had shut up shop and moved out, leaving her cold empty carcass behind to cook the meals and vacuum the rugs.” is soon followed by “They were like those paper dress-up doll outfits that had the fold-over tabs – flat and lifeless because there was no doll to put them on”. These two similes have a common thread of emptiness and absence – the word ‘carcass’ connotes an empty shell – death, even. The word ‘doll’ connotes something fake and compounded with the word ‘lifeless’, the pair of figurative language features work to create a subdued, muted tone. Perhaps unrelated is the fact that Norma’s complicated origin is reflected in the use of the word ‘doll’: Roy laying out outfits like Norma is a doll to be dressed up (as she is fake) could contribute to Norma’s identity: as a woman who dresses up and wears a lot of makeup to feel feminine, it could be argued perhaps that she is like a doll to Roy. He dresses her up and pretends she is real – despite knowing that she is actually just a fictional character. This idea is reinforced by the metaphor: “it is hard for any boy to shut the wardrobe door on his little sister”, again linking back to the idea of dressing up with the use of ‘wardrobe’ as this excerpt is narrated by Norma – commenting on Roy.
Furthermore, the image on page 267 must be discussed as a feature of this passage. The most obvious visual meaning could be that it serves as a barrier between Roy’s analepsis flashback and current present-day events. To extrapolate this further, it highlights the evolution of Norma’s character and her growing identity.
The final sentence “What was he doing with the suitcase?” has a hidden meaning: in a way, Roy not only questions what he is literally doing with the suitcase but also with Norma – especially as the suitcase holding clothes represents Norma to both Roy and Mary. Again, linking back to Norma’s role as a woman – she is defined by her clothes, revealing some of Roy’s misguidedness in understanding women and further exhibiting more depth to Norma’s character as more than simply clothes and makeup.
The whole passage evokes pathos – ie, a feeling of sadness and pity in the audience as it reveals the sad way from which the comic character of Norma died. Or rather, a lonely child who felt guilty about his sister’s death and who grew up with this guilt manifesting in a fake persona of Norma – who ironically is a very comic character with flowery, extravagant idiolect – derived from adverts, as it was Roy’s only source of knowledge about the ideal woman. At first, her characterisation seems over the top with her continuous references to her femininity, but in this passage, we can see that it is Roy’s way of affirming to himself that Norma is real. The line “Even as an eight-year-old, Roy knew it was somehow wrong to get rid of everything, to remove all trace of someone’s existence” does this well, as the age highlights Roy’s youth and innocence. Furthermore, the capitalised ME in “He could imagine it was ME standing there”, highlights Norma’s absence and Roy’s wistfulness.
As this passage explores the origins of Norma as a result of suppressed grief, the temporal context and her true purpose, the complexity of her character is clearly revealed in this passage.