Little girls, nuns make good reads

By Mia Proli Gable

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Don't think me strange, but I like to read books about little girls that want to be nuns.

Religious fervor has always fascinated me, especially in women who are completely dedicated to the Catholic Church. Maybe, because I'm a woman and I grew up with Catholicism, I find it so perplexing that women would want to sacrifice their lives and personal freedom to bow to something they cannot prove and regards them as second-class subordinates to men.

But, at the same time I know how hard it is to be

a woman. How sometimes I am sick of being leered at and continually having to prove myself as capable of mind, instead of capable of body. These are the conflicts that arise out of books about little girls that want to be nuns, and it is why they intrigue me so much.

Perhaps my most favorite I-want-to-be-a-nun story is Household Saints by Francine Prose. It centers around an Italian neighborhood in New York City during the 1950s. From the start of the book the reader is immediately thrust into the conflict between fate and luck. Theresa is the only child of Catherine and Joseph Santangelo and, despite her mother's attempts to thrust her into the modern world, Theresa chooses to wrap herself in religious fervor. The dream of the future that her mother implanted in her turns to a yearning for the old world. By the end of the story, it becomes evident that it is better to let a child pursue her own interests rather than be forced into following the conservative or liberal beliefs of her parents.

Then there is Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen, which takes place in a convent in upstate New York in 1906. The incidents in this novel center around miracles and questioning whether they are really possible. Mariette has wanted to be a nun since she was a little girl. Upon entering the convent, she immerses herself in her service to God, but her fellow sisters seem to question her passionate devotion. Mariette says she has conversations with Jesus and experiences times of ecstasy that are accompanied by stigmata, the wounds of Christ. Here again the problem of suppressing one's desires surfaces.

For a different twist on the same theme, there is Tracks by Louise Erdrich. This story takes place from 1912 to 1924 in a turmoil-ridden Native American community. One of the speakers in the story is Pauline, who is part of the community but says she is truly a product of the white race when she learns that the convent she has joined will not accept Native Americans. The conflict in this novel is again between old and new traditions. But here, Christianity is the new tradition.

In all three novels the women do things in their attempt to be holy and favored by God, like wearing thorns on various parts of the body, even wearing shoes on the wrong feet in remembrance of Jesus' walk with the cross. All in all, they raise issues of freedom to do what one wants to do, conflicts between 'old world' and 'new world' and the position of women in it all.

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