Book Report: What “Saint Joan” Was/Wasn’t

Finished Saint Joan just in time for book club tonight. A few thoughts:

Shaw’s introduction lays out [among other things, not all flattering to the author] a pretty feminist ideology, but as ReaderAnn pointed out, “Because God told me to” isn’t really agency, and rejecting “woman things” to live like a man hardly makes her a feminist role model by today’s standards. But for the 1920s, this would have actually been fairly forward-thinking. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve progressed since then, how much more complexity we can handle on the subject.

Actually, the play’s text has a lot more to say about everyone around Joan–feudal bigwigs, church bigwigs, military–than it does about the girl herself, and to be honest, they’re a lot more interesting. Shaw goes as far as he can from romanticizing Joan, instead painting her as so narrowly driven, so simple minded, and so often obtuse, that she’s hard to relate to at all.

But I admit I found that simplicity compelling. Shaw paints a world of shifting power and priorities: Feudalism vs. nationalism and Catholicism vs. direct-line-to-God, plus leaders who lack leadership and soldiers whose motives have little to do with victory.

So in all that muck, I can totally see the appeal of someone who comes in, proclaims “This is black, this is white, and this is God’s plan. Let’s go.” It’s SO easy to get behind, because it frees you from any responsibility or complex thoughts- falling in line is effortless, especially with friggin’ Joan of Arc out there leading the way.

But of course, it’s completely dangerous. The rigid black/white, good/evil worldview is what makes me so uncomfortable with some forms (certainly not all) of organized religion. That’s not how the world really is, but people identify so strongly with these frameworks that they will fight to the death (their own or others’) to hold onto them. And don’t all fundamentalists believe they are doing the right and good thing?

So where does that put Joan? I like her, I really do, and she is easy to romanticize because she lived such a long time ago, but that doesn’t make her any less unsettling.

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One thought on “Book Report: What “Saint Joan” Was/Wasn’t

  1. the phrase “friggin’ joan of arc” will live on in my memory and be trotted out whenever i can find a conversational space for it. ❤

    come to wyoooooominnnnng… there are mountains, gandalf! mountains!

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