August 15, 2012 by Vicki
What is the purpose of life? According to Marilyn French’s The Love Children, the purpose of life is to create happiness for yourself and for others. At first glance this seems to be a very naïve and frivolous statement. Yet, as we can see through the course of the story, creating happiness requires hard work, dedication and the making of very difficult choices.
The story centers on the life of Jess Leighton who grows up in the United States during the 1960’s. Jess’s older self narrates the story and admits when she is being naïve or innocent like most of the teenagers of the age. On the surface, Jess and her friends live the American dream. Jess lives in middle-class home with two educated and working parents. They make enough money to have someone else clean their home and cook their meals. Jess has every option of being able to pursue higher education and does indeed go to college. Her friends also come from upper middleclass families and share the same morals and values that Jess has. Underneath the surface, however, lurks the downfall of each of their happiness’s.
Jess Leighton’s father is a controlling rage-aholic who eventually drives her mother to divorce him. Jess’s father is verbally abusive and psychologically abusive toward both mother and daughter. He constantly accuses the mother of having affairs and denies her right to privacy. He calls his own daughter a slut and holds her accountable for her mother’s perceived digressions. Each of Jess’s friends also holds a secret horror ranging from incest to the suicide of a beloved father.
In the midst of this confusion and hurt, Jess struggles to create a happy life for herself and for those she cares about. Her quest to create happiness leads her to living in a commune where she discovers her passion. Each of her friends also fights to make their personal horrors have a happy ending for themselves and for others in the same position. To this end, some of her friends become psychotherapists while others become doctors. By taking the horror of their lives and making the result positive, they take back control of their own lives.
Creating happiness therefore requires one to claim one’s own life. We cannot create happiness for others if we are not happy ourselves. We cannot be happy unless our lives are our own. Other books that we have read, such as Eat, Pray, Love and Women who run with the Wolves, have shown us both how difficult claiming your own life can be and also the means that different women have used to achieve this end. In The Love Children, we see another woman struggling to achieve selfhood and demand equality within her society; a woman who has been damaged, healing herself and reaching out to heal others as well.
If we can be honest with ourselves; the one thing that we all want is a happy life. I don’t mean the type of happiness we see at the end of movies because that type of happiness never lasts. I mean a happy life where we can be content about what we have accomplished and achieved. A life where we know ourselves, and we know our own worth, no matter what society or even our families may say about us. Marilyn French’s The Love Children covers a lot of different issues but, her overall message seems to be that the purpose of life is to create happiness. Wouldn’t you agree?