We recently published R.A. Matteson’s shimmering “Galatea.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:


1) This is a myth that has always bothered me — no real woman is good enough for this man and he falls in “love” with a statue, which is then made real for him. There’s something so uncomfortable about the whole story for me. How do you interpret the source material? 

Pygmalion doesn’t seem to know how to deal with someone who has agency. And I don’t think he’ll be happy with Galatea for long, now that she’s a living woman with opinions and pimples. Maybe the authors of the myth intended for Galatea to still be a mindless statue, just made out of skin this time. Maybe it never occurred to them that she might grow a personality, or that she might think or want anything. But if we assume that Galatea turns into a woman with a mind and a voice, either Pygmalion is going to get tired of living with someone who can speak up, or Galatea is going to learn to hide her heart. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of women (and people in general) discover that it’s just easier to pretend they’re not people or to let someone else dictate their humanity to them. In this piece, I wanted to explore the pressure that our relationships (romantic, platonic, and parental) can put on us to play roles. People do this to each other all the time without even noticing. For Galatea, this pressure must be even stronger. She only has one person, and he knows exactly what he wants her to be. It’s the kind of “love” that can crush a person.


2) I love that the narrator here dreams of being rock again, disappearing into the ocean to someday become “some finger gem.” Do you think there is any escape for her other than this?

When I wrote the ending, I imagined the process of becoming a “finer gem” in two different ways. One was figurative and hopeful, the other literal and darker.
The biggest trouble Galatea faces is that she has already been told who and what she is. She’s never been separate from this one man. I can’t help but wonder if Galatea can even hear her own voice in her head, or if Pygmalion has shaped that part of her as well. So, yes, I think there are other options for her, but I don’t think any of those options involve Pygmalion. As long as he’s around, it’ll be too easy to slip back into performing the personality he expects of her. She’ll need to find some way to shape herself, to become “self made.” And she’ll need people to support her while she’s figuring these things out. And maybe she’ll become something more, something “finer,” than Pygmalion imagined.
On the other hand, this type of growth is difficult and complicated, so I can’t really blame her for getting overwhelmed. She might sometimes wish it would all go away, or that she wouldn’t have to notice the way people think about her. As long as she doesn’t have the ability to shape herself, being conscious probably wouldn’t feel worth it.
I can only hope she learns to see herself through her own eyes, because without that change from within, she’ll carry Pygmalion with her no matter where she goes.