The Clock Winder starts in 1960 and ends in 1970. Within the period of ten years the novel talks about the change in the lives of the Emerson family with appearance of a skilful girl who becomes the quintessential part of their routine. Elizabeth is introduced through a pure coincidence when she attempts to give hand to Mrs Emerson.
The concept of time first comes out with the title “The Clock Winder” which suggests the idea that the writer is going to depict the passage of time and also a key which is used for winding a mechanism like clock. Both of the abovementioned subjects are handled with great caution as the novel covers a time span of ten years, moreover; Elizabeth who is the major character of the novel functions as a clock winder.
In the first chapter Elizabeth’s encounter with Mrs. Emerson brings the notion of two generations who are separately influenced by the background they are brought up and also the circumstance they are in, which in a way they are sharing together. Elizabeth who is a young girl comes from North Carolina, California. She is an advocator of the hippie movement of the 60s which supports freedom in behaviour, life style, clothing in short everything. Elizabeth who wears pole jeans and boots exemplifies the non-conformism of her generation. She takes up the responsibilities of a man and starts working as a handyman for Mrs Emerson who fires Richard, the ex-handyman. Although Elizabeth is paid for this job, gradually she becomes a person in the family who is in charge of everything relating to Timothy’s, Matthew’s and Andrew’s lives.
Mrs Emerson is presented as a person who lacks self-confidence and self reliance. In all her life she never decides for anything independently. She depends on others and mostly on her husband. Therefore, his death comes as a stroke to her. Even she does not have the ability to wind the clocks which she inherited from her husband. Only her husband could understand the system. Mrs Emerson finds herself in the middle of disorder until Elizabeth appears. She comes as the life saver of the disorganized life of the family. With her youth, energy, cleverness and practicality, she reorganizes the disharmony shared by everybody. Unlike Mrs Emerson who even cannot take a step on her own, Elizabeth travels from California to Baltimore to find a job and bravely thinks of going back to Baltimore to spend her holiday with someone she chooses from the bulletin board.
The sunny, bright image of California is reflected in Elizabeth’s personality and thus behaviours. It is as if she illuminates the place where she is in with her brightness. Her courage and intellect prove her to be stronger than the men in the novel. Although she has to leave the college she is attending she never gives up and takes the risk of going to another city and trying her chance there. Moreover, her clothing reflects her non-conformist attitude.
Mrs Emerson who is a southerner shows a sign of courage at the beginning of the novel by getting rid of the handyman Richard although she knows quite well that she can do nothing without him. Yet this brave attempt leads to Mrs Emerson’s helplessness in face of loneliness. She suddenly finds herself in the middle of things. She regrets the fact that her husband is not with her in the most crucial moments. This depiction of the southern woman as opposed to the free spirit of Elizabeth is very outstanding in terms of the setting of the novel.
Contemporary women writers who write about the 60s and 70s include the Hippie Movement into their works. Women writings on the whole deal with the problems of women, their assimilation and integration in the society which exists as a result of the aim of giving shape to a feminist ideology. Therefore, the theme of separation of women in a male-dominant society is frequently used by the woman writers. Most of the time the novels end with the female character’s self realization which adds to her progress in becoming an equal individual with the male character.
However, these feminist messages are mingled with other movements and notions according to the social, political and economic background of the writer. For instance in Praisesong for the Widow, Marshall uses her own black background in the novel, which makes it not only an autobiographical but also an interesting book. While delicately talking about the feminist issues in the background she handles the identity problem of a black woman in a materialistic white society. Not only Avey Johnson’s as the female protagonist but also Jay Johnson’s self denials are given which add another dimension to the novel. That is, by dealing with the change in a male black character, Marshall brings the problems of blacks, their difficulty in assimilation and integrity with the problems of blacks, besides feminist issues and self discovery of a black woman.
Anne Tyler, just like Paula Marshall adds other dimensions to her novel, The Clock Winder by introducing the effects of the Hippie Movement and clash between the tradition and unconventional ideas. The depiction of the protagonist Elizabeth is juxtaposed with the depiction of other female characters like Mrs Emerson, Elizabeth’s mother and her sister. She comes our as an unconventional female whose interests are mostly in the male world. She is portrayed as a girl who does not give importance to her clothing even when she is going out with the opposite sex and who is fond of carving which is suitable hobby not for girls but for boys. Her so-called “aimless” attitude towards life and her idea of living the moment and not bothering about the next hour, let alone the next day remind of the carpe-diem philosophy which in fact form basis to the Hippie Movement. Although these can be the first points which attract the attention of the reader at first sight, beneath this surface observation lies some subtle but at the same time strong feminist touches.
Elizabeth’s first appearance at the beginning of the novel is through some hard work, like carrying the furniture which is again part of man’s job. She refuses to be a maid in Emerson’s house but insists on taking the job of the handyman who is fired by Mrs Emerson. Her skill in mending things and carving woods is a kind of protest of the feminist movement against those who believe that only men can do such things. Although her clothing reflects the effects of the Hippie Movement again Tyler tries to show that there is an enormous change from skirts, corsets and high-heeled shoes to the faded blue-jeans and sports shoes. Elizabeth in a way protests the conventional way of dressing for women which again results from the feminist movement.
On the other hand, her outlook to life reflects the feminists’ ideas that women can also live like men and take decisions on their own. Elizabeth leaves her family and takes a long journey first from North Carolina to Philadelphia and ten to Baltimore. She acts in a way supporting and following the Hippie idea of living the day and not making any plans but on another level the way she chooses to travel -i.e. the cheap ride- tells a lot about her independence and freedom which the feminist movement tries to scatter among women. She takes the risk of travelling with a man whom she knows nothing about and gets Baltimore with cheap ride.
As a result, it can be said that Elizabeth is the representative of the feminist movement with her clothing , style of living, ideas, interests and behaviours. It is evident that she reflects the effects of the Hippie movement of the 60s,but she is depicted as someone who can even replace Mr. Emerson who is the only person who understands the clocks. She becomes a handyman and takes care of everything in the house. Tyler probably tries to show that such a woman can also attract the attention of the opposite sex since the male members of the Emerson family are closely interested in her. The end of the novel also justifies the idea that Elizabeth still carries her feminine features and decides to get married in spite of all her revolutionary attitude. Tyler, in the end comes to compromise that a woman can marry and at the same time survive her conventional side.
The Clock Winder by Ann Tyler U.S.A: Knopf, 1972Dr Gül Kurtuluş