The Novel Circe by Madeline Miller

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 There are many themes present within the famous mythological events of the novel Circe by Madeline Miller. The story is told through a female lens as the author achieves a strong feminist story that manifests the power dynamic between men and women. As the story unfolds, Circe’s desire for change comes into conflict with her allegedly eternal ‘fate’ as a goddess. It’s not only until when Circe grows up that she learns to embrace both her power and the past mistakes that cause her indignity. The novel Circe shows the development of a strong female character fighting major gender dynamics and using a painful maturity to create a new fate.

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The discrepancy between men and women is prevalent and the mistreatment of women is common to both godly and mortal society throughout Circe. Young Circe quickly learns that her father is cruel and intimidating and that the women in his court are degraded to just their beauty and ability to reproduce. However, Circe’s sister Pasiphae’s ill-treatment by King Minos and Circe’s own experience with the sailors proves how mortal men can be just as brutal. The story then reaches its turning point when Circe learns how to protect herself and obtain the power she needs to stand on the same pedestal as men. Ever since Circe was born, she grew up observing the double standards that exist between the men and women around her. Circe saw how Helios’ lovers were often taken advantage of because of his absolute power in the palace. On the other hand, Circe had to also watch the unbearable sight of her mother having little control over her own life and struggling to earn Helios’s attention. As she grows up, Circe learns and accepts that Helios’s social authority and sexual liberty are nearly endless. Circe then reaches multiple points in her life where she is being directly oppressed. For example, she had been brutalized by visiting sailors which reveals to Circe that being a single woman makes her vulnerable to sexual attacks from men. She then discovers the beauty of defense and uses the resources that she has at her disposal. Circe has her magical powers, her knowledge of the plants on the island, and the innocent expectations of hospitality to empower and protect herself. At the end of the novel, Circe leaves Penelope with the responsibility of providing the care and mentorship to all “bad” daughters that Circe never received, thus ending the systematic society of abuse and sexism.

Circe feels she doesn’t belong in the house of Helios because despite being half titan and half nymph, she is viewed as plain and powerless. The scorn by her family for her dullness was the motivation for Circe to seek companionship elsewhere. She then finds company in a young mortal named Glaucus. Circe knows that the two cannot be together while he is human so she uses her powers to turn him into a sea-god. Just when Circe believed she had a happy ending, Glaucos cast Circe aside due to his newfound immortality. Her jealousy and betrayal cause her to transform Glaucus’ betrothed Scylla into a horrific sea monster resulting in exaltation from Helios’ palace for her witchcraft. This is only when she discovers her new fate in honing her sorcery with the herbs on the island of Aeaea. Circe is now independent with her witchcraft when she encounters the legendary Odysseus. The consequences the two share test Circe’s persistence, courage, and powers in ways that change her world forever.

The reader can gain a newfound respect for neglected young women in a male-dominated society by Circe. At the beginning of her story, Circe is naive and entirely dependent on others. She desperately longs for love and acceptance from others and admires those who dare to challenge the authority of the gods. Her punishment of living in isolation could be viewed as a reward for harnessing her witchcraft results in the freedom of her influential, divine family. She takes pleasure in leaving her mark on the world and finds power in the act of creation. Circe ultimately learns that only she can shape her destiny. 

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