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A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students

Excerpts from Goldman's Lecture
"Jealousy--Its Cause and Possible Cure"
Personal Letters to Ben Reitman

[ Questions on Lecture and Letters | Women's Rights | Next Exhibit ]

1915 handbill
(Holzwarth Collection,
University of California,
Santa Barbara)

Ben L. Reitman
c. 1912

CONTEXT: Ben Reitman was Emma Goldman's lover and manager. Her intense, passionate attraction to Ben, who had many affairs, made her jealous. Her jealousy conflicted with her belief in free love. Unable to live up to her belief, she said "I have no right to speak of Freedom when I myself have become an abject slave in my love."

Jealousy­­Its Cause and Possible Cure
(Excerpted from a draft of Goldman's lecture (1915)
housed at the New York Public Library.)

The most prevalent evil of our mutilated love­life is jealousy, often described as the "green­eyed monster" who lies, cheats, betrays, and kills. The popular notion is that jealousy is inborn and therefore can never be eradicated from the human heart. This idea is a convenient excuse for those who lack ability and willingness to delve into cause and effect. . . .

There are other factors in jealousy: the conceit of the male and the envy of the female. The male in matters sexual is an imposter, a braggart, who forever boasts of his exploits and success with women. He insists on playing the part of a conqueror, since he has been told that women want to be conquered, that they love to be seduced. Feeling himself the only cock in the barnyard. . . . he feels mortally wounded in his conceit and arrogance the moment a rival appears on the scene­­the scene, even among so­called refined men, continues to be woman's sex love, which must belong to only one master. . . .

In the case of woman, economic fear for herself and children and her petty envy of every other woman who gains grace in the eyes of her supporter invariably create jealousy. In justice to woman be it said that for centuries past, physical attraction was her only stock in trade, therefore she must needs become envious of the charm and value of other women as threatening her hold upon her precious property.

I hold that every man and woman can help to cure jealousy. The first step towards this is a recognition that they are neither the owners nor controllers nor dictators over the sex functions of the wife or the husband. . . . Whatever we attempt to hold by force, by jealous threats or scenes, through spying and snooping, through mean tricks and soul tortures, is not worth keeping. . . .

Jealousy is indeed a poor medium to secure love, but it is a secure medium to destroy one's self­respect. For jealous people, like dope­fiends, stoop to the lowest level and in the end inspire only disgust and loathing. . . .

All lovers do well to leave the doors of their love wide open. When love can go and come without fear of meeting a watch­dog, jealousy will rarely take root because it will soon learn that where there are no locks and keys there is no place for suspicion and distrust, two elements upon which jealousy thrives and prospers.

Excerpts from Letters to Ben Reitman

Dearest, do you know that creepy, slimy, treacherous thing doubt? Have you ever been seized by it? Has your soul ever suffered its sting, your brain ever experienced its horror beating force? If you have darling mine, then you will understand how it is . . .

(Emma Goldman to Ben Reitman, August 15, 1909)

 I have no faith in your love, and with it the joy of work with you is gone. I have no right to bring a message to people, when there is no message in my soul.

(Emma Goldman to Ben Reitman, December 13, 1909)

 You came into my life with such a terrific force, you gripped my soul, my nerves, my thought, my flesh, until all was blotted out, all else was silenced. Theories, considerations, principles, consistency, friends, nay even pride and self­respect. Only one thing remained, a terrible hunger for your love, an insatiable thirst for it. That explains my clinging, my holding on to you, I who never clung to anyone. That explains my agony when every woman would possess you at the exclusion of myself. Oh, please, don't give me your assurances, I do not believe in them.

(Emma Goldman to Ben Reitman, December [14?], 190[9])

 Your escapades, your promiscuity, tears my very vital, fills me with gall and horror and twists my whole being into something foreign to myself. . . . For three years, Ben dear, I have fought oh so hard against this ever­growing despair, but I know now I shall never never be able to overcome my repulsion every time my faith in you takes root again. Every time I see it sprout and blossom, you shatter it into a thousand fragments and leave me chilled to the core.

(Emma Goldman to Ben Reitman, July 28, 191[1?])

Original letters housed at the University of Illinois at Chicago Library.

Questions on Goldman/s Lecture and Letters:

  1. Do you agree with Goldman that jealousy is not "inborn"? Is it a feeling people can "cure"?

  2. Do you agree with Goldman that males and females become jealous for different reasons?

  3. What emotions does Emma express in her letters to Ben? How do these emotions conflict with her belief in free love?

  4. What specific words in the letters illustrate how Goldman's feelings of jealousy affected her self­image?

  5. Goldman once wrote, "the world would stand aghast that I, Emma Goldman, the strong revolutionist, . . . the one who has defied laws and convention, should have been as helpless as a shipwrecked crew on a foaming ocean." On the issue of love, why do you think she hid her private agony from her audience?

General Questions on This Exhibit:
  1. Goldman discusses the issue of jealousy in love relationships. How would you describe how jealousy arises in friendships, families, and at school?

  2. How can the private letters of a public figure contribute to a more complete understanding of that person?

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