Norma primarily defines her femininity through her women’s magazines; ultimately with her whole characterisation (most noticeably her voice) shaped by the language, she reads. In this way; her definition of femininity is incredibly limited – believing she has to constantly reference her womanliness to convince both others and herself. Norma also consistently speaks about her appearance – “As a woman, you must never look any less than your best”, as 1960s women’s magazines were largely stereotypical, abut the importance of looks and outfit and makeup; with particular emphasis on being delicate and – stereotypical notions of femininity that are clearly reflected in Norma’s character and her idiolect. As she is quirky and eccentric, the language from magazines and advertisements that seems so odd in a novel is strangely appropriate for her character; such as when she explains “as any wife will tell you, the art of dusting is to remove the particles of dust completely, and not simply to disturb them and leave them to settle elsewhere. All dusting should be done methodically, working from top to bottom of the area being dusted.”
Also, the shiny artificial tone that comes from having all the language from advertisements also fits the story, as Norma is trying too hard to overcompensate for something, that her character seems plastic and fake. Perhaps most obviously, the disjointed mismatching of words and fonts as cutouts add to a sense of disorder and chaos; and simply create a visual for the reader in addition to the strange expressions that Norma tends to use.
Norma has an interesting relationship with both Mary and Roy. We are introduced to Mary as “the housekeeper” when she is, in actual fact, Norma’s mother: “It always irks her when I call her Mary. I don’t know why, it is her name”. When we find this out we are curious as to the seemingly cold relationship between the two; further reinforced by Roy’s mysterious absence. All in all, Norma seems to be a very isolated character; arguably highlighting her extravagance even more. Furthermore, especially in the first five chapters, the only time we see Norma’s interactions are with Mary; creating an uneasy atmosphere and hinting that something’s not right and building tension simultaneously.
Norma’s reactions with strangers do tell us a lot about her as a character. Majority of her reactions involve some form of Norma believing she is admired; with an ambiguous response from the recipient; the mailman, Mr White, or Mr Hands. All these responses could be read two ways; flirtatious, or mocking; and it is clear that Norma believes all the men are admiring or flirting with her. For example, in the scene with the postman; Norma recalls him saying “A parcel for the gentlemen of the house..” Whereas Norma assumes she looks so feminine and alluring, it could also be read as the postman mocking Norma’s obvious male-appearance – which Norma misreads.
With this, the reader quickly learns that Norma is quite oblivious to normal social convention, which, at first, we put down to her social isolation. But it seems like Norma is actually less oblivious to other people’s reactions and more choosing to believe what she likes. And as the book progresses, we can also see that the interactions also are not as clear as Norma tries to make them seem. We eventually see that the huge emphasis on femininity that is so easy to brush off is actually both Norma’s way of overcompensating to make herself feel more feminine – and the strangers mocking her ‘womanliness’ because ironically, she has a lack of it and therefore is extremely exaggerated and over-the-top.