Good wives are submissive wives who remain preoccupied with domestic chores all day and looking pretty for their husbands. Triggering, is it not? Especially living in the 21st century, if you hear someone utter such nonsensical views it may even drive you to murderous thoughts. And yet, that is exactly the kind of woman the Stepford wives were.
You may or may not have come across the phrase “Stepford wife” in memes or other posts on social media. A Stepford wife, as mentioned above, is a phrase used to refer to married women whose lives revolve around their homes, husbands, and children. They are women who have no dreams, aspirations, or freedom of their own.
But the important questions to ponder are, where does this terminology originate from? Who were the Stepford wives? Why were they the way they were?
Novel: The Stepford Wives
The women of the fictional town Stepford, in the book, Stepford Wives, are the perfect wives in every way: they look pretty, they meticulously maintain their homes, are dutiful and submissive to their husbands, and have no sense of independence, dreams, or passion. The ideal “Housewife.” But are they human?
This novel, written by Ira Levin, falls under the category of a thriller and suspense genre despite its innocent name. The story revolves around the women of a town called Stepford, who are too perfect in their ways to be true.
This perfection also bothers our protagonist, Joana, who is quite unnerved and sets out to find the truth and the horrifying secret behind the idyllic facade of the perfect town. Moreover, the story also captures Stepford’s men’s obsession to control every aspect of their wives’ lives, quite literally.
We are sure you’re anxious with curiosity to know the details but before we unpack the story of the book Stepford Wives for you, let’s first learn a little about the genius author who crafted this nerve-wracking story and gave life to the concept of a “Stepford Wife”.
Note: If you have not already read the book keep a lookout for the *Spoiler Alert* signs throughout this article. We definitely do not want to ruin a worthwhile read for you.
About The Author
Born in New York on the 27th of August, 1929, Ira Levin started her journey as a television writer. Later in his life, Ira delved into the thriller-packed world of books and soon his exceptional talent led him to become a best-selling author with his very first novel, A Kiss Before Dying, in 1953. However, this was only the beginning of his fruitful career.
Ira produced many more thrilling works including Rosemarry’s Baby (1958), The Stepford Wives (1972), and The Boys from Brazil (1976). Later, Ira’s works were also turned into feature films which became a hit. In fact, the movie Stepford Wives had two film adaptations: the version produced in 1975 and the 2004 remake.
Ira Levin also won the Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar Allan Poe Award twice in his career. His novel, The Stepford Wives, which was published right after the second feminist movement in America was a significant source of his fane.
This novel wonderfully captures the mystique and essence of the feminist movement by taking us through a plot where men discover the ultimate method to control their wives and turn them into submissive sexual and domestic slaves.
A Summary Of the Book Stepford Wives
When Joanna moves to Stepford with her husband Walter and two children, she cannot help but notice the unusual perfection of the town which borders on the line of creepiness. Joana is unsettled by what seems like the unnatural flawlessness of the women in Stepford, their obsession with housework, and their unsettling sexual submissiveness to their husbands. The film Stepford Wives does a great job depicting this creepy behavior.
While the Stepford wives, on the one hand, lack any intellectual hobbies or interests whatsoever – which is a stark contrast to Joanna’s passion for photography – the husbands, on the other hand, exercise all the control.
In fact, they even have a club called the Men’s Association where women are forbidden. Not to mention when Joanna hears the leader of the club, Diz Coba, saying “I like to watch women doing little domestic chores.” Ridiculous!
Joanna, with the help of two of her friends, Bobbie and Charmaine, tries to encourage women to create a Women’s Association and form a club of their own but to no avail, as the women are all dead set on their roles as “good housewives.”
*Spoiler Alert* However, things take a turn for the worse when Bobbie and Charmaine, after returning from a trip, start acting exactly like the rest of the women in Stepford.
All alone, Joanna continues her search to find out the reason behind this attitude, suspicious that the men’s club had something to do with it. Her solo investigation into the matter reveals to her how all these women were once women of passion and dreams and how things changed ever since Betty Friedan came to talk about feminism with them.
*Spoiler Alert* Help from an ex-boyfriend (a chemist) leads Joanna to the ultimate truth. She discovers that the Men’s Association is behind this robotic change in the women of the town.
*Spoiler Alert* Joanna finds out that with the help of the club leader, Diz Coba, who formerly worked at Disneyland as a creator of animated characters, the men of Stepford are killing their wives and transforming their bodies into lifelike robots!
With Walter, her husband, having joined the Association as almost a religious member, things get even more troublesome for Joanna. Like the rest of the men, Walter is also invested in the idea of a wife who has no opinions and does whatever her husband wants her to do.
Moreover, in a new plot twist, we find out that Joanna’s two children are nowhere to be found. Already under much fear and stress, she is crushed to find her children missing till a small hope lights up in her. Maybe Bobbie could be caring for them!
*Spoiler Alert* With some small hope, Joanna goes to Bobbie, and in an attempt to prove her humanity she stabs her with a kitchen. However, Bobbie neither feels it nor does she bleed, proving her robotic and mechanical interior to Joanna.
*Spoiler Alert* In the last chapter of the book, we see Joanna desperately trying to find her children and flee the town, however, she too is caught and transformed into a robot. The readers figure this out by the book’s description of her perfect and flawless behavior in a supermarket.
Concluding the Tale of the Stepford Wives
*Spoiler Alert* To sum up, this nail-biting suspense and thriller book (the novel behind the concept of Stepford wives) tells the story of a fictional town where men are murdering their wives to transform them into robots and thus, turn them into ideal submissive wives. They are shown as feeling threatened by the independence and freedom of women and want to control them. In fact, they are aroused by the robotic nature of their wives and lust over the sexual submissiveness of a wife they can command using a remote.
This book captures the mindset of men at the time of the second wave of the feminist movement in America. It emphasizes the need for such a revolutionary movement by highlighting the lengths that men could go to stop their wives from being independent.
The book, as well as the film Stepford Wives, is a perfect depiction of the way society perceives women as humans and as members of society. Their only role is to be perfect housewives with no intellect and flawless appearance.