Rosemary’s Baby is one of those old classics in the supernatural horror genre. I saw the movie several years ago and scooped up the book when I found it at a library sale. I decided to give the print version a spin this Halloween.
As I’ve written about before, one of my reasons for loving horror is due to the rich symbolism. It’s not enough to just have the surface plot. The best horror movies, for me, are the ones that manage to portray the horrors of real life as monsters and ghosts.
And for Rosemary’s Baby, the horror was all in the subtext. The plot point about sex with Satan and birthing the anti-Christ wasn’t particularly scary to me, but the terror of having those you trust gaslight and manipulate you is always terrifying.
Early on in the book, Rosemary is drugged and raped. She is partially conscious throughout it, conscious enough to know that something happened the next morning, but when she confronts her husband, she has her feelings of violation dismissed. He didn’t want to “miss” the window of opportunity for impregnation.
Since she wants a baby so much…and since she thinks it was her husband who raped her, she convinces herself that her feelings are silly, that she’s making a big deal out of nothing–even that she is partially to blame.
Later, when she finds out she’s pregnant, the circumstances surrounding how she became pregnant become even further buried as everyone around her celebrates her “good fortune.”
Immediately, the reader begins to see how Rosemary’s desires and concerns are overridden by others, beginning with being pushed into going to a doctor who ignores her concerns about her pregnancy complications and scares her away from talking to her friends, telling her that the only information she needs will come from him.
When she does want to get a second opinion from a different doctor, her husband shames her for being disloyal to the doctor she currently has. Protecting his ego as doctor takes precedence over her comfort as the patient.
As things progress, she becomes more and more suspicious of the motives of her husband and neighbors. When she finally figures out that they have been manipulating her for their Satanic rituals, she flees, seeking protection and help from another doctor.
Bur rather than believing her, he assumes that she is psychotic. After all, her doctor and her husband are both well-respected men.Rosemary is even aware that the way she tells her story will affect whether she is believed and takes every precaution to seem calm in order to avoid being accused of hysterics, but to no avail.
In a move familiar to every woman who has ever been disbelieved about sexual assault or domestic violence, the reputation of the men she is accusing of conspiracy undermines the believability of her fear.
After she has been handed back over to her captives, who now make no pretense of hiding the fact that they are drugging her to keep her docile, she goes into labor and delivers her baby. It is quickly whisked away, and she is told that it died.
The gaslighting continues when she hears a baby crying and feels her body responding to its hunger but is told that she is imagining it…then that it is the upstairs neighbor’s child.
Rosemary fights to hold onto her sense of reality and succeeds to an extent, but at the expense of her will. Once she is brought face to face with the horror of her rape baby and the truth surrounding the conspiracy to use her body for their own ends, she finds herself succumbing to the pressure to accept the situation. Surrounded by so many people who have completely disregarded her own boundaries, she finally submits to her role.
The demonic aspect of her pregnancy and birth are almost secondary to the horror of how she is consistently used and abused and then convinced that she is the one over-reacting when she is upset about it.
And perhaps the scariest part is that women in this day and age don’t have much more guarantee of being believed when they come forward to accuse men in power. They’re still convinced to overlook increasing violations against their autonomy and duped into thinking that they want what others are forcing them into.
Ultimately, Rosemary’s Baby isn’t a horror story about religion. It’s a horror story about patriarchy.