Study Questions for Joanna Russ's "When It Changed" [1972]

"When It Changed," the basis for Joanna Russ's award winning novel, The Female Man, presents a utopian society on a colonized planet that is disrupted by the appearance of earthmen after the planet has been isolated for centuries, more than 600 years. Since Russ attempts in the opening paragraphs of the story to invoke our gender stereotypes by not revealing the genders of the narrator and driving spouse, I will not provide more details here, but will instead ask a few questions about lines spoken by characters over the course of the story. Please do not read Heather Masri's brief introduction to Russ's story, for she, in my view, reveals too much. Here are a few issues to consider:

  1. What assumptions do you make about the narrator in the car driven by Katy? What descriptive details in the opening paragraphs provoke gender assumptions on our part? What specific traits are assigned to both the narrator and Katy, who is driving the car?
  2. How are the earthmen and their attitude toward the residents of Whileaway described?
  3. What exactly does the statement, "Where are all the people?" (770 and 771), imply about the visitors from Earth?
  4. What is the impact of the statement, "Sexual equality has been reestablished on Earth?" (772 & 773). What details suggest that this statement might be inaccurate?
  5. What do the earthmen suggest is "missing" from the society on Whileaway, and how does their suggestion imply an end to the Whileaway society as the residents have come to know it?
  6. Why does the narrator recall the statement from Faust, "Verwile doch, du bist so schoen!" (774).