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Where The Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) puts these women’s issues under glaring spotlight

Tan Kit Yung

Tan Kit Yung

Mar 8, 2020

· 5 min read

Just this week, I decided to crack open a fiction book for the first time in years. Where The Crawdads Sing, a 2018 best-seller by Delia Owens, had been on my reading list for a long while, so I read it! And boy, this novel was amazing. I finished it in a single sitting!

After finishing the read, I scrambled online to check out discussions around the book. Like all bestsellers, opinions around the story are rather divided. But apart from the murder that is central to the book’s storyline, what gripped me were the social issues that Owens threw into the spotlight through Kya’s (the main character) narrative.

SPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to read the book and don’t want to spoil anything for yourself, click away now! I will be contextualizing the points here with snippets of the text. This also means that if you have not read the book, I’ll give you context, so you won’t be lost.

In light of International Women’s Day, here are 2 key women’s issues that Owens touched upon in Where The Crawdads Sing — domestic violence and sexual assault.

Domestic Violence

Where The Crawdads Sing sheds light on how domestic violence can tear an entire family apart and haunt them for the rest of their lives. In particular, Kya’s mother (aka ‘Ma’) was the victim of her drunk husband’s (‘Pa’) beatings, and eventually left the household. It was later revealed that she had become isolated and lived in darkness and the constant fear that she abandoned her children, but she could not go back for them as Pa threatened to beat them till they were disfigured.

Kya had to deal with the issue of domestic violence, with all her siblings leaving her alone with Pa. The book, however, also shows how a relationship can be mended (or developed?) with such an abuser, depicting how she and her dad eventually grew to have a connection in a short span of time.

Owens also gave the backstory of Pa an Ma, showing how a young man and young woman’s life could be ruined by broken promises and easy-way-outs.

He enrolled in night classes to finish high school but usually skipped out to play poker and, stinking of whiskey, came home late to his new wife. After only three weeks, the teacher dropped him from the classes. Maria begged him to stop drinking, to show enthusiasm for his job so that her father would promote him. But the babies started coming and the drinking never stopped. Between 1934 and 1940 they had four children, an Jake was promoted only once. … With Maria standing by silently, he sold all her fine furniture and silver, then packed his family onto the train and moved them to North Carolina. … He’d convinced Maria that living in a cabin … would be a new start. … But Jake never improved the shack or finished high school. Soon after they arrived, he took up drinking and poker at the Swamp Guinea, trying to leave that foxhole in a shot glass.

Sexual Assault

Owens also brought into focus the growth of a young woman. Having grown up all alone, her interaction with 2 boys was almost natural (biological, I might say). The introduction of sexual desire, which Kya only discovers through her interaction with the 2 boys, instead of through sex education or “the talk” by one’s parents, showed how raw and natural the whole process was.

Sex-hungry males, Kya observed in nature, took advantage of females to copulate. This similar scenario happened to her too, where Chase, one of two of her lovers, tries to get into her pants on their first date (this was also the second time they’ve ever spoken. How audacious!)

The story takes a dark turn when Chase tries, in a rather disgusting, lust-filled manner, to engage in unconsented intercourse with Kya, to which she fights back and this results in her being punched in the face.

She reared up, pushing him with both hands. Suddenly he slugged her face with his right fist. A sick popping sound rang out inside her head. Her neck snapped back, and her body was thrown backward onto the ground. Just like Pa hitting Ma. Her mind blanked for second against a pounding pain; then she twisted and turned, trying to squirm out from under him, but he was too strong. Holding both her arms over her head with one hand, he unzipper her shorts and ripped down her panties as she kicked at him. She screamed, but there was no one to hear. Kicking at the ground, she struggled to free herself, but he grabbed her waist and flipped her over onto her stomach. Shoved her throbbing face into the dirt, then reached under her belly and pulled her pelvis up to him as he knelt behind. “I’m not lettin’ ya go this time. Like it or not, you’re mine.”

Kya eventually gets away, and chapter 41 describes her feelings after the incident.

She couldn’t tell anybody. Jumpin’ [a good friend of hers, who owned a store where she often got supplies] would insist they call in the sheriff, but the law would never believe the Marsh Girl over Chase Andrews. She wasn’t sure what the two fishermen [witnesses] had seen, but they’d never defend her. They’d say she had it coming because, before Chase left her, she’d been seen smooching with him for years, behaving unladylike. Actin’ the ho, they’d say. … Her face darkened to green-purple now… In sudden clarity Kya saw what Ma had endured and why she left. “Ma, Ma,” she whispered. “I see. Finally I understand why you had to left and never come back. I’m sorry I didn’t know, that I couldn’t help you.” Kya dropped her head and sobbed. Then jerked her head up and said, “I will never live like that — a life wondering when and where the next fist will fall.”

One last point about sexual assault in the book — is the fault never with the male? Chase is found dead one morning, and everyone thinks he was murdered by Kya (without good evidence). The Sheriff (male) and townspeople who came forward with statements (male, and of the females, most were rich) mostly only mentioned good things about Chase, never once bringing up rape and only lightly touching on the topic that he was a player. Eventually, the whole town is convinced his death was attributed to foul play, pinning the whole crime on Kya.

Of course, the book covers many other themes such as loneliness, acceptance, adversity, racism, bullying and white supremacy, but I refrain to comment on those for now. Where The Crawdads sing sheds light on women’s issues in an incredibly engaging and natural fashion. It’s interesting (and scary), that I could definitely see all these situations playing out in real life.

Give it a read and let me know what you think!

I’m currently trying to get back into the habit of reading books and writing more (thus the book reviews)! I have been relatively successful so far. If you’re curious, you can view my reading progress on Goodreads:

Chuyên mục: Kiến thức

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