The Weird Replacement of Men in Lisa Tuttle’s “Replacements”
by Sophie Holley
The Fourth Edition of the DSM first recognized Major Depressive Disorder with Postpartum onset in 1994. The language used was such that it could only be applied to the mothers, with the diagnostic criteria of a depressive episode occurring “within four weeks of delivering a child” (1994). As a result, the effects of a newborn on men’s postpartum mental health have yet to be studied as thoroughly. In Lisa Tuttle’s 1992 short story, “Replacements,” these effects can be seen in the protagonist, Stuart, and his slowly deteriorating relationship with all the women in his life, including his wife Jenny, and their new otherworldly pets. The discrepancy between Stuart’s view of these animals and the views of the women, who all adore these creatures, isolates Stuart in the same way new fathers can feel alone within their newly formed families. Stuart’s inability to adapt to the new dynamics of his household reflects the western society that he was raised in, one that fails to prioritize men’s mental and emotional health in favor of raising stoic, emotionally suppressed men. Though published two years prior to the recognition of Postpartum Depression, “Replacements” effectively illustrates the toll that these societal shortcomings can take on the mental health of husbands and fathers.
KEY WORDS: fatherhood, literature, parenthood, psychology, depression, weird fiction
In the patriarchal structure of Western societies, it is no secret that the stress of child rearing is seen as the mother’s job, with little to no regard for the mental and physical health of either the mother or father. While there have been substantial strides to reduce the burden on mothers, very little has been done to bridge the gap between new fathers and their children. Men are expected to go immediately back to work to provide for the family. While some countries have paternity leave, resources for new fathers are slim, which suggests society places unrealistic expectations of personal strength on these men. While women are expected to devote themselves entirely to their child (without paid maternity leave), men are expected to simply be a secondary character in their child’s life, leaving men emotionally unprepared for the immense undertaking of parenthood. Modern fiction — including weird fiction — has been utilized to comment on the toxic societal gender norms and how they impact members of society’s mental health. In this essay, I will use the depiction of an emotionally unstable relationship interrupted by an intruding emotional bond to show that Lisa Tuttle’s 1992 short story, “Replacements,” is a metaphor for men’s risk of mental and emotional disconnect from their wife and child when not properly prepared for the changing dynamics in their relationships.
In weird fiction, the vague and uncanny are used to create discomfort and anxiety within the reader while commenting on the human condition. The protagonist of “Replacements,” Stuart Holder, first encounters an otherworldly creature on his way to work, stopping instinctively to destroy it and finding relief in its demise. However, upon his early return from work, Stuart finds that his wife, Jenny, has brought one of these creatures into their home, viewing it as a helpless baby rather than diseased vermin. In her initial description of the creature, Tuttle uses words such as “spiky,” “frail,” and “ill-proportioned” to conjure up an image of something never seen before. While described to be the size of a cat, there is no other solid visual comparison, leaving both the readers and the protagonist to use their imagination to fill in the mental gaps of the incomprehensible creature. The couple’s disagreement over what to do with the creature mounts as Jenny becomes more and more invested in the bond she’s created with her new pet until Stuart feels no longer needed or wanted in his own marriage and leaves out of disgust and despondency.
By writing this story from a male perspective, Tuttle creates confusion and self-doubt within the narrator when he is the only one to view the presence of the creatures negatively. The only other interactions seen between the creatures and humans are with women who adore them and are protective of them, with his secretary leaving for a woman-run company, and his wife divorcing him over his intolerance of their new interspecies bond. As a result, Stuart is further alienated in a world where he consistently lacks the desired control over the few women in his life. Stuart’s wife had already surpassed him in seniority in the publishing field prior to bringing home a pet, leaving him feeling unneeded and out of control. At work, he often encountered his secretary and the other women of the office gossiping about “secrets men aren’t supposed to know” (Tuttle 799). By losing his power over women to the creatures he sees as nauseating and unworthy of life, Stuart also loses his remaining self-confidence in a world seemingly unbothered by this new species.
The parallels created by Tuttle between human babies and the creatures in the story are evident from the moment Jenny brings home her new “pet” to a displeased husband. When Stuart asks her why she did not come to him before making such a dramatic decision, Jenny says “this is special. I didn’t plan it. It happened, and now I’ve got a responsibility to him. Or her” (Tuttle 801). His intense desire to kill the creature while his wife wants to protect it is comparable to the conflict between spouses over an unexpected pregnancy that the wife wants to keep and the husband wants to end. The metaphor is reinforced by the fact that no compromise exists for this conflict. There is no solution in which both parties are even partially happy. Jenny already feels such an intense connection to her “child” that Stuart’s opinions do not influence her the way that they have before. There is a very apparent disconnect between the two that is exacerbated by the introduction of an unexpected or unwanted third party.
Stuart’s thoughts and behaviors coincide greatly with symptoms of paternal Postpartum Depression (PPD), which sometimes leads men to leave their wife and child. Throughout the story, Stuart’s initial level alienation only grows as the “mother and child” spend more and more time together, when ultimately Jenny begins sleeping on a bed with the creature instead of with her husband. Her behavior caused him to feel like “an unwelcome visitor in the home they had once shared” (Tuttle 805). The marriage deteriorates with every passing day as Stuart is no longer an emotional priority in his wife’s life. Evidence of paternal PPD exists in his growing distaste for the being and the emotional and physical distance from his wife as the two of them are never alone without the “child.” Stuart feels like a third wheel in his own marriage, as all of Jenny’s emotional needs are being met by the creature. This is similar to the way a new father might feel left behind in his own family.
Symptoms of PPD include irritability, disinterest in parenting, and sleep problems — all of which Stuart exhibits (Villano 2016). While his intentions may not be pure, he is never given a chance to bond with the “child,” as Jenny never leaves the two alone together. Men often feel like they are no longer part of the family because they can never experience the intimacy of pregnancy, childbirth, or the near constant skin-to-skin contact a newborn has with the mother. Stuart never truly understands the way the women are connected to these animals, especially when he sees Jenny feeding the creature her own blood, something she says she enjoys. With the combination of never wanting the “child” in the first place, emotionally losing his wife, and feeling like an outsider in his own life, it seems inevitable that Stuart experiences a break down and walks away from it all.
Tuttle’s creation of the alien-like beings is an externalization of Stuart’s feelings of resentment and inadequacy. His marriage was already facing difficulties before Jenny brought the animal into their lives. The introduction of the animal served as a way for Stuart to take all of their pre-existing marital problems and blame them on Jenny’s love for the pet. From the beginning, he is afraid of his wife becoming so independent with her higher-paying job that she will no longer need him, but he is also afraid of needing her. For example, he consistently refuses her offers to drive him to work — a ritual he grows to desire as the “baby” takes over Jenny’s life. Stuart admits to being insecure and emotionally withholding from his wife because he does not feel needed, but these are also the very traits that drive Jenny to attach to something dependent on her to fill the emotional void left by Stuart. He wanted so badly for Jenny to need him that he inadvertently brought down his own marriage, fulfilling his own prophecy: “if anything drove them apart it was more likely to be his behavior than her career” (Tuttle 799).
While it is easy to write off Stuart as a passive husband who does not attempt to understand his wife’s feelings, it is more accurate to say to conceptualize him as a product of the patriarchal society that raises men and fathers to be breadwinners first but emotionally healthy partners second. Tuttle illustrates that this concept is harmful for both men and women through the presentation of an emotionally-imbalanced relationship hijacked by Stuart’s faults as a husband. His visceral reaction to a being that has done him little, if any, harm exposes something uncontrollable within him that he fears and is easily detected by the woman he has starved of affection. Western society fails to properly equip men like Stuart with the emotional tools to form relationships that do not either revolve around them or fully depend on them. They are not taught how to be emotional equals in relationships but are instead taught to be stoic with no outward emotional needs. It is probable that if given these tools, Stuart could view his little family with Jenny and the creature he initially abhorred lovingly. He was unprepared for the changes in his only known close relationship and he inevitably self-destructed. Tuttle’s use of gender roles under a patriarchal society reveals and opens up the dialogue on the effects of men’s emotional health on men themselves and men’s interpersonal relationships.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Dsm-IV-TR. American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
Tuttle, Lisa. “Replacements.” The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Amy VanderMeer, Tor Books, 2012, p. 798–806.
Villano, Matt. “When Dad Struggles After the Baby Arrives.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 Mar. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201603/when-dad-struggles-after-the-baby-arrives.