By the Yolk of an Egg:
A Character Analysis of “Antoinette” in Fay Weldon’s “Pumpkin Pie”
Fay Weldon, who began her career in writing as an advertising copywriter in the 1960s, appropriates the use of food and cooking in most of her literary work; her preference in writing of women-centered stories stereotypically matches the domestic activity. However, Weldon’s work is not simply a celebration of gastronomical creations and the common positive associations with food—for the most part, Weldon expresses her staunch feminist beliefs by connecting the passive and gentle process of cooking with the discontent women experience on various levels. By presenting and ultimately deconstructing the domestic ideal of women through the culinary art, Weldon demonstrates the innate female power to protest against sexism, class issues, and injustice. This is apparent in her story “Pumpkin Pie”, where the quiet and submissive maid Antonia finally rebels against her rich employers, the Marvins, by serving a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving Dinner. While it was a sumptuous, well-made pie, the fact that it was made of real egg yolks sealed the deal; John Junior Marvin, recovering from a heart attack, is prohibited from digesting egg yolks. Considering the invisible narrator’s pronouncements regarding the divide between rich and poor, and the pretentious rules of Honey Marvin, it is clear that Antonia exacted her own version of justice by using her authority and knowledge in the kitchen.
The disparity between the rich and the poor can eventually lead to feelings of being abused and manipulated. Honey Marvin’s obsession with image practically keeps Antoinette on guard at all times; the superficiality of the former—showing practiced generosity and feigned concern for her household help—merely covers an authoritarian rule that limits Antoinette’s own choices, and relegates her to a level beneath Texas, the family dog who is treated much like a Marvin. Considering Antoinette practically runs the whole household, only under the quirky dictates of Honey Marvin, it is logical that she would expect to be treated more fairly. But Antoinette’s character of quiet obedience keeps her from reacting against the situation, until the dinner incident.
Judging by one’s physical appearance and education is an expression of insecurity and shallowness. Scarred and overweight, Antoinette is relied on by Honey but never presented to her rich friends, as this would tarnish her image. Antoinette is slated to stay in the background, in the kitchen where she cannot be seen; her purpose is only to take orders. When Honey tells her, “’you must have thoughts’”, with regard to the home’s furnishings, it refers not to Antoinette’s real opinion but a validation of her employer’s choices. Being poor and uneducated, Antoinette is seen by Honey as but a pawn paid to assist her in the continuous quest for image excellence. While these qualities are within Antoinette’s reality, being forced to stay within these limits can compound her growing discontent with her job at the Marvins’.
Humans are not always willing to be controlled, even at the point of survival. With Thanksgiving being an occasion meant for family, Antoinette’s personal—and largely more relevant—issues need to take a backseat to Honey’s expectations of a superb dinner. On top of detailed rules regarding hygiene and partaking of food and discards, Antoinette is expected to show more concern for the Marvins than her own family; this, naturally, will lead to anger and disgust, knowing that her family’s sustenance depends on her obedience.
Abuse and manipulation create discontent; being judged by one’s physical appearance and education instills anger; and being controlled effects rebellion—which are deeply rooted in the naturally submissive character of Antoinette, born out of her relationship with the Marvins. The only way to avenge herself is to employ the one source of power she has over her employers—her familiarity and affinity with food. Because Honey is adamant about keeping her weight down, and John Junior is under specific food restrictions, it is undeniably the best means for Antoinette to show her true views. This is still within her obedient nature, only skewed by what could be seen as an unintentional mix-up—but in reality, a lethal dose of judgment against the prejudices and inhumanity she had experienced.
Weldon, Fay. “Pumpkin Pie”. Moon Over Minneapolis. New York; Penguin Group,
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