A new Gaea hypothesis: the creation of new feminist archetypes in the work of John Varley
This thesis examines the use of the earth goddess figure in John Varley's Gaean Trilogy (1979-1984). In the figure of Gaea (Varley's alien goddess villain), the reader is presented with a host of popular culture feminine archetypes with connotations connected to the long-standing tradition of associating femininity and materiality, and Varley's literary examination, operating through the exaggeration of these archetypes, displays their essential flaws. The ultimate antagonistic functions of these archetypal figures, relative to the human characters occupying the world underwritten by them, suggests that Varley uses such figural archetypes to deconstruct, via their varied failures, both the archetypes themselves and the evocative symbolic contexts associated with them, therein demonstrating their inherent limitations and providing a cautionary tale that highlights the fallibility of projective archetypal construction-even seemingly positive ones. By examining these archetypes as performances of gender, the thesis illustrates Varley's integration, at the end of the 1970's, of second-wave feminist theoretical ideals into science fiction (a genre with a long history dedicated to the experimental examination of all social typology) initially sets up and then subsequently breaks down the archetypal villain, thus pursuing a political dimension as well. The narrative experiment in typology promotes a turning away from the ancient symbolic associations of femininity to explore a new kind of goddess, one not reliant on pre-existing archetypes but one more attuned to the emergence of "gender" itself as a construct used to define the feminine itself.