The Female Persuasion

by

Meg Wolitzer

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The Female Persuasion: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Zee’s parents have allowed her to take their Volvo to college but have instructed her not to let anyone else drive it. Ignoring their warning, Zee allows Greer to borrow the car and drive it to Princeton to visit Cory. It is February, and Zee and Greer are now very close friends—this is not the first time Greer has borrowed to car to drive to New Jersey.
As Zee and Greer’s friendship deepens, it seems that Zee is doing most of the emotional and physical support within the friendship. Zee is willing to do anything to help Greer, even if there’s a risk to Zee’s own happiness and well-being. This echoes the way that Zee encouraged Greer to ask her question during Faith’s lecture.  
Themes
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At Princeton, Greer and Cory retreat to Cory’s messy dorm room and lay down on Cory’s bed. Greer asks how things are going and if Cory still feels “self-conscious” and out of place on campus. He admits that things are better, though he is still occasionally ashamed by his parents’ working-class occupations: his mother, Benedita, is a housecleaner and his father, Duarte, is an upholsterer. Cory tells Greer about a very snobby, wealthy girl he knows, whose name is Clove Wilberson, and informs Greer that she’s “lucky” to be at Ryland. Greer is offended, as the disparity between their schools is still a “sensitive” topic for her.
Although Cory is genuine in reassuring Greer that the Ivy League isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s still a difficult topic for Greer to broach. She feels that Cory’s prestigious education is tipping the scales in terms of the power dynamic in their relationship, driving a wedge between them and creating a constant reminder that she is not as smart or worthy as he is.
Themes
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Though Greer is still uneasy about being at Ryland, the campus has become more welcoming as the year has gone on. Now, when she visits Cory at Princeton, she wonders what she is missing back on her own campus. She feels that the change is in large part due to Faith Frank, who encouraged Greer to discover new things and make her world “dynamic.” Greer fantasizes about writing to Faith to thank her for her words that night in the bathroom. Although Zee encourages her to use the email on the business card, Greer doesn’t think that Faith wants to be “pen pals with a freshman at a shitty college.” Greer is doing well in classes, but no amount of praise or attention from her professors at Ryland feels as good as the brief recognition she got from Faith.
All it took was a few kind words from Faith in a public restroom for Greer to significantly change her opinion of Ryland. Those few words from Faith have inspired Greer to do more, be better, and focus on her future no matter her present circumstances, ultimately demonstrating the immense power that Faith has over Greer.
Themes
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Greer has been spending lots of time with Zee, but also with Kelvin Yang and his roommate Dog—two boys who live right upstairs from Greer. They go to parties together, take weekend trips to rallies in DC, and hike in nearby parks. Greer, influenced by Zee, has become a vegetarian and has taken up a volunteer position at a local women’s hotline. Greer and Zee have long conversations about feminism, sexuality, and what it means to be a woman. Zee interrogates Greer about her desires, and Greer begins investigating what it is about Cory that attracts her. Ultimately, she decides that she can’t understand the intricacies of desire, and that her love for Cory is a good enough answer.
Besides being influenced by Faith, Greer is also deeply influenced by Zee. Greer’s newfound vegetarianism and job at a women’s hotline demonstrate that Zee’s radical political stances and thoughtful approaches to feminism, desire, and moving through the world responsibly are rubbing off on Greer. Their friendship is deeply rooted in their respective perspectives on the nature of friendship, community, and what it means to be good to other women.
Themes
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Activism Theme Icon
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In Cory’s bed at Princeton, Greer and Cory begin making out but are soon interrupted by Cory’s roommate. As the two of them take out books and both begin to read instead, Greer reflects on the history of her relationship with Cory, and how they have become as “tangled together and indivisible” as they are now.
Greer and Cory clearly want to be together—they are making a long-distance relationship work, even at a young age. As Wolitzer explores their backstory, she introduces themes of family and community.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Greer had an isolating childhood; her parents, longtime hippies who took odd jobs and sold protein bars to make ends meet, did not care about fitting into the community of Macopee, the small, working-class western Massachusetts town of Greer’s youth. Greer’s mother, Laurel, is a clown who performs at libraries, and her father, Rob, is a housepainter. As a young couple, the pair had led an itinerant existence living in a converted school bus on the West Coast. When they became sick of that lifestyle, they found themselves caught between “bus life” and “regular” life, resigned to normalcy but always longing for something else. Growing up, Greer often felt lonely in her disorganized house and isolated from her “uninterested” parents, so she retreated into the world of books.
Greer’s new approach to activism and feminism makes sense in light of her childhood, which always required her to take initiative not just in her own education but in her own day-to-day life. Her parents are removed and distant, caught up in their half-baked dreams and rejection of societal norms. Greer’s journey thus far in college reflects her drive to secure an education and a support system for herself.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
When Cory Pinto showed up at school in the fourth grade, Greer was excited to finally have a classmate as passionate about learning and reading as she was. Greer and Cory found themselves outpacing their classmates academically and were paced alone together in the highest reading group. However, while Greer was shy and quiet, Cory was popular and confident, and Greer felt “mowed down” by Cory as they were, over the years, constantly thrown together by virtue of their shared intelligence.
Greer has always perceived intelligence as a means of power. In her lonely household, reading was what gave her a sense of inner strength. When Cory arrives, however, his outward friendliness contrasts with Greer’s quiet studiousness, and she feels small and powerless once again, overshadowed and bested at her own game.
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Once, when Greer visited Cory’s house to work on a project, she was overwhelmed and upset by the differences between their families—Cory’s parents hung his artwork and projects on the fridge, and his mother made Greer and Cory a fresh snack. Greer, embarrassed and feeling pitiable, finished the project hurriedly and went home—she would not return to the Pinto house for eight years.
In her younger years, Greer envied Cory not just for his smarts, but also for the tight-knit, normal family life he had. Greer felt the imbalance of power between her and Cory, even at a young age, and removed herself from a friendship with him to avoid the sting.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
By the time both of them were seventeen, Greer and Cory ran in different social circles and had little to do with one another, but they were still united by academics. One afternoon, while bonding over how difficult one of their tests in school had been, Greer reluctantly invited Cory over and was embarrassed when they walked into the Kadetsky kitchen to the overpowering smell of marijuana. The two of them sat in the den, discussing their parents and their lives. Cory lit a candle and burned himself on the wax—he then asked Greer to drip wax on his torso, and she obliged, surprised by how much she enjoyed the feeling of having power over Cory.
As Cory and Greer near the end of their high school careers, they reconnect in a meaningful way, but power dynamics are still an inextricable part of their relationship. When Cory visits the Kadetsky house for the first time, Greer makes herself vulnerable to him. However, Cory willingly invites Greer to sensually drip candle wax on him, allowing her to regain power over him.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Soon after that, Cory and Greer began a romantic and sexual relationship. After a few weeks, they were spending all of their time together, sharing their insecurities about their home lives, and struggling to understand who they were becoming to one another. The two of them fought sometimes, and Greer occasionally found herself taking on the “predetermined female role” of an “emotionally fragile girl[friend].” At first she balked at the role, but she then took comfort in realizing that she was part of a “long chain of women” who had performed or inhabited that very role.
As Greer begins navigating her first romantic relationship, she comes to understand that power dynamics are an unavoidable aspect of heterosexuality. She often finds herself feeling blocked into a prescribed “role” as the woman in the relationship, foreshadowing her later interest in feminist thought.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Greer loved spending time at Cory’s house because it was warm and different from her own. In addition, Cory’s bright and intelligent baby brother, three-and-a-half year-old Alby, was remarkably fun to be around. Greer and Cory both doted constantly on Alby and played with him and his pet turtle, Slowy.
Greer and Cory both loved Alby very much, and it seems that Alby brought an air of levity into the pair’s relationship, strengthening the bond between them.
Themes
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Back in Cory’s dorm room at Princeton, Greer considers her “newly adult life,” which, sparked in large part by Faith Frank, is beginning to take shape. However, Greer still finds herself “burrowing into Cory” for comfort, validation, and love.
Despite her newfound passion for feminism and her independent life at Ryland, Greer still feels a need for Cory. Considering her own detached relationship with her parents, it seems that Greer sees Cory as her true family.
Themes
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Over the next couple of years, Greer notices that her peers begin to talk about jobs and the future rather than classes, majors, and parties. Greer does not want to get stuck hanging around Ryland College, as many recent alumni do. Instead, she harbors dreams of moving to Brooklyn with Cory and writing essays, articles, and feminist texts.
As college continues on, Greer begins to consider more deeply what she wants for her future—her wishes involve both Cory and her newfound love of feminism, and she is able to hold both in her heart at the same time.
Themes
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon
Cory, meanwhile, is making plans with a few friends to develop a microfinance app after college—he excitedly tells Greer about it, and she begins to imagine their lives together. The two of them discuss their plans to move to Brooklyn, and though Greer occasionally worries that Cory will become distracted by someone beautiful, wealthy, and refined like Clove Wilberson, she feels confident that the sense of longing she and Cory feel for one another will be enough to keep them together. Throughout college, Greer has refused advances from other boys, including her friend Kelvin Yang, knowing that she and Cory are meant to be together. Greer wishes time would “hurry up” and fly by so that they can finally begin their lives together. 
Though Greer has begun dreaming a future with Cory, she still finds herself dogged by fears that Cory will shift the balance of power in their relationship, or end things entirely, due to the influence of another woman. Greer’s individualistic streak, which often finds her pitting herself against other women, shines through in this passage, foreshadowing the difficulties she will have in separating her feminism from individualism.
Themes
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Sociopolitical Power vs. Personal Fortitude  Theme Icon