41 pages 1 hour read

Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2004

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The Repressive Nature of Mennonite Culture

Throughout the novel, the Mennonite community is portrayed as a repressive, hypocritical community that is unswerving in its beliefs to the detriment of anyone who has questions about their faith, particularly women. The culture of East Village is a distortion of the tenets of the Mennonite faith, valuing authority and power instead of a steadfast faith rooted in tradition. Nomi sees this in how it has harmed both Tash and Trudie and its lingering effects on her and Ray, who is the only male character in the novel that presents an alternative to the dominant strain of Mennonite masculinity (and suffers for it).

Hans “The Mouth” Rosenfeldt is the clearest example: though the details aren’t known to Nomi, she sees that he turned to authoritarian impulses due to his own hurt. He cannot bear any challenges to his power in the town, as he knows it’s a façade, much like the recreated town that serves as a tourist attraction. He wields excommunication as a threat and a cudgel. And, notably, he’s willing to use it on his sister at the first legitimate opportunity. It’s clear to Nomi and the reader that abuse of power is baked into the culture of East Village and the Mennonite faith.