In this book, author David Hadaller postulates that fictive gynicide as a ritual sacrifice of women occurs in the novels of William Styron as a means of revealing the very nature of social systems of oppression and dehumanization. Women are victimized, and Styron unflinchingly records their suffering to bring their voices out of the silences that have marginalized them. As such, Peyton Loftis in Lie Down in Darkness may be among the quintessential American heroines produced by male authors, because Styron articulated through her the angst of twentieth-century America.
The other female voices in Styron's ensuing three major novels are violated, both physically and psychologically, by those men and women who, wittingly or unwittingly, enforce the structures of a pervasive patriarchal social consensus. The most egregious example is that of Sophie Zawistowska in Sophie's Choice, whose roles as Aryan dream girl, dutiful housewife, and sexy "survivor" eventually lead to her desperate suicide. Gynicide and psychogynicide are Hadaller's terms for the deaths female characters suffer as a result of the interplay of social forces in Styron's fictive discourses. Based upon the work of M.M. Bakhtin, Hadaller's rigorous and systematic evaluation of the important female characters in Styron's major works explores how women are silenced both by suicide and by male violence in the form of gynicide. Hadaller employs feminist dialogics, a method that is particularly useful in examining both gynicide and its variant psychogynicide, a psychic death-in-life.
Feminist dialogics concentrates on those women who are forced by patriarchy into submissive roles either by brute force or by social coercion or both. The four major novels of William Styron present the reader with a carnival of voices that are nonetheless engaged in a serious, often fatal, polemic with the overwhelmingly patriarchal society that defines and manipulates them. Hadaller explores in detail Styron's well-known and successful narratives, but Set This House on Fire is especially reexamined in terms of recent critical assumptions that find the novel to be a work of understated power and complexity. The Confessions of Nat Turner is similarly reapproached as a tour de force that is itself a study of the rigid structures of the patriarchal American slave economy. Hadaller's study reveals the depth of understanding Styron brings to his presentation of women in each of his narratives, but also challenges those critics who would falsely label Styron a misogynist.