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Fair and Tender Ladies

Updated on November 9, 2014

Lee Smith

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Fair and Tender Ladies

Ivy is a character who embraces her life in steps regardless of shame or guilt. When Beulah tells Ivy that Violet Grayheart is rough, Ivy thinks, “Rough! Well I don’t care a fig for rough, since I am ruint anyway which is worse, but I held my tongue” (158). Regardless of her perception, she does not allow it to overtake her life and live drowning in guilt. She embraces motherhood, and later goes on to marry Oakley. She embraces her life’s steps with grace regardless of how she feels or is supposed to feel about her sexual activity.


She embraces several next steps in her life without regard for her perspective which could be one of the causes of her depression. Over the years, she loses a sense of who she is through her role in the family, so she just moves on to the next step with Honey Breeding. As egregious as this step may seem, it is necessary, for the alternative to continuing to live in a depressive state may have had a different outcome and not for the better. Although she ends up getting sick from staying in the mountain with Honey Breeding, she does renew her body, an irony. The berries make her sick, but she loses a good deal of weight (271). This being the next step that she gracefully embraces in her life, she says: “I would have stayed up there. I would of stayed with him until I starved to death and died, I reckon, living on love. I would of stayed right there with him if he hadn’t made me leave, and that’s a fact. It doesn’t even make me feel bad to say it. There has got to be one person who is the lover, and this time it was me, and one who is the beloved which was Honey” (Smith 272). Here she expresses that regardless of leaving her husband and children if this were the next step in her life then it was to be embraced.


Although Ivy blames herself for Lulda’s death, she feels that what she did was necessary in order to move on with her life. She admits, “I am changed in some way. It does not have a thing to do with Oakley either, and never did. I believe Oakley knows this. I has only to do with me” (Smith 284). This move had to do with Ivy recapturing her own space in life which she had become estranged from over the years. The fact is that Oakley never seems to lose his sense of space in his life even with the addition of several children. His space is consistent and unmoved. This sense of consistent space is what allows him to accept Ivy back. This does not mean that he does not recognize the benefit of having her back with the family; however, this benefit also rests with his consistency. After giving her time to cry over Lulda’s death, he approaches her and simply say, “Get up, Ivy, and take care of your children” (276). He realizes that in practical consideration he needs her to help with the children; however, he also realizes that she needed this time. This is apparent in his change in behavior that is noted, for now he is more affectionate and attentive to her. In essence this regeneration that Ivy experiences becomes entrenched in her family. This could be viewed as a punishment and as a blessing because the memories that this entrenchment brings to her periodically are bittersweet. Ivy and Oakley play games with their children that Ivy learned while with Honey Breeding. These are reminders of her affair; however, when Ivy makes a remark regarding honey, the reader sees that it is in reference to Honey Breeding: “This is the best honey yet” (286). In essence, this affair enhances their lives to some degree.


I think that if the story were told from Honey’s perspective the outcome would have been much different. For example, I think that he would have left his family without any self-induced or otherwise induced encouragement from another individual because he is simply an individual who has the potential to love and share the same space with others for limited amounts of time. This is expressed in Ivy’s own understanding of who he is: “He said he had tried to live in a house with women twice, that is with two different woman, and he said that they were real nice women and in fact he had married one of them, but in each case there come a morning when he woke up and looked around and knew it was time to leave there” (Smith 271). A major difference between Ivy and Honey is that Honey accepts who and what he is consistently. He allows people into his life of course with the acknowledgement that their stay will be short lived no matter how much he likes them. He even says, “That is just the way I am” (Smith 271). However, Ivy makes decisions, regardless of their consequence, good or bad, and intends to adhere to those decisions. She leaves her family, and she admits that she would not have gone back had Honey Breeding not encouraged her to return. Honey Breeding would not have been able to be influenced either way. Given the evidence, he would have stayed estranged from his family.


Smith offers the readers an alternative view of female sexuality through Ivy’s eyes, for the perception in our society is to immediately persecute a mother for leaving her family in such a way. We do not offer rewards for such behavior even when it seems that the woman does the best thing for her family in light of the circumstances. The societal perspective is that the woman should “tough it out” because we will forever have “mama’s babies and daddy’s maybes”. This means that regardless of whether a father stays in his children’s lives or not women are expected to stay consistently no matter what, and if they do not, they are the worst people on the planet. Smith challenges this notion and crosses societal gendertypes in Fair and Tender Ladies.


Smith, Lee. Fair and Tender Ladies. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. Print.

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