This is the chapter where we get a physical description of the Clock. It’s worth getting the mental image in your head, because the Clock isn’t going away any time soon. We also start getting a few details about the religious system in Oz.
But the really interesting thing for me in this chapter is Frex’s lack of a clue. Melena may be framed as the one with little understanding of the world people without means live in, but Frex is the one who makes dangerous errors.
He’s about to set his family up for probable disaster.
[Trigger warning: discussion of pregnancy, childbirth, and spousal irresponsibility and temporary abandonment in the face of impending childbirth]
Frex has left Melena, his extremely pregnant wife who believes she’s about to become extremely formerly pregnant before the day is through, alone in the house.
Instead of finding someone in the neighborhood who can marginally stand her, he asks the first people he comes across to please get “a woman or two” to go stay with her for the day. The women of the community do not like Melena because of things like her accent which give her away as having come from a place that is not a little border town in the middle of nowhere near Munchkinland’s border.
Frex does not even put in the personal effort to ask women he knows either a) have a better than average attitude toward Melena or b) have any personal experience helping others through childbirth.
Melena does not live in and was not raised in a culture where women are expected to or praised for giving birth alone. If she were, she’d have been taught what to expect weeks or months ago, if not when she was a child. Even then, this is her first pregnancy. As I recall from an article I read years ago, even cultures where women are expected to handle childbirth completely on their own do not slight women who have help the first time – it’s expected that they will need help until they know what being in labor is like from first pains to the child being born.(And I would personally assume that even after that, the community would make sure a relative or female friend with experience helping would stay in earshot Just In Case.)
Frex has put his wife in a position that not even a community that routinely leaves pregnant women completely alone for labor would expect her to handle, and then he’s arranged ‘help’ in the form of the possible presence of women who may conceivably turn out to be the people in the community who hate her the most.
Certainly not women who would necessarily feel a need to defend her – or her child – against a threat.
And there’s going to be a threat. Frex is clueless enough to think being a lowly minister who has survived on next to nothing in a small town voluntarily is enough to make people who have been living that way involuntarily their entire lives listen to him while in the influence of a device he knows has already inspired violence.
Monday, we’ll see just how badly Frex has miscalculated his place in the community.