Theresa face and, after a half-hearted attempt at making

Theresa is afraid of domesticity because she does not want to lead the same life as her
mother or her sisters. However, she also hates her body and feels she is not deserving of being
loved. Throughout the course of the novel, Theresa meets three men with whom she develops
varying degrees of sexual and intimate relationships. She meets her first lover when she enrolls
in an English class in college. Professor Martin Engle is an arrogant and lustful man who seems
to take joy in humiliating his students. Married with children, Martin takes a liking to Theresa
after reading her writing, but when he gives her a special assignment on the topic, “How I lost
My Virginity,” his intentions become clear. 15 Theresa begins an affair with Martin and loses her
virginity in what is described as a mix of extreme pain and pleasure. Theresa believes she is in
love with Martin but when she expresses it to him he nonchalantly responds with, “Ah, yes.
Love.”16 Their relationship comes to an end when he cruelly rejects her at the end of the school
year, telling her that she will be a memorable student assistant that he once had but nothing
more. Martin’s callous disregard for Theresa’s feelings causes her to become depressed and more
withdrawn, as she grows to despise men as well as herself.

The next major male character in Theresa’s life is Tony Lopanto, an Italian macho-man
who at best amuses her and at worst makes her fear for her life.17 With a penchant for rough sex
to the sounds of classic rock ‘n’ roll, Tony visits Theresa on a semi regular basis for intercourse
and usually belittles her by referring to her as a “cunt.” At one point he tells her, “You’re so
dumb you’re almost lovable.”18 Tony becomes increasingly possessive and abusive as his
relationship with Theresa progresses (especially as she begins to date another man, James),
culminating in a fight at his mother’s house when he gets slapped by her boyfriend and thrown

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15 Ibid., p. 47
16 Ibid., p. 79
17 Ibid., p. 167
18 Ibid., p. 161

out after referring to her and Theresa as “the two biggest cunts in the world.”19 Moments later
when Theresa steps out to leave with Tony he slaps her across the face and, after a half-hearted
attempt at making love, he leaves for good.

James Morrissey, the third man to enter Theresa’s life, is a young lawyer who is depicted
as the more suitable man for her. Whereas Tony is portrayed as an insensitive brute, both erratic
and violent, James is depicted as a kind and sensitive man who is attentive to Theresa’s needs.
The two men mirror the two halves of Theresa’s personality. Tony appeals to her sexuality even
though he increasingly treats her abusively, and James appeals to her “real” self even though
Theresa does not feel he views her accurately since he wants to marry her despite her perceived
imperfections. But when Tony calls Theresa one night, she and James get into an argument about
commitment and casual sex, resulting in him leaving Theresa’s apartment. All alone in her living
room, Theresa recalls a consciousness-raising group she attended with her friend Evelyn in an
effort to connect with other women experiencing the same problems.

In her essay, “Rethinking the Seventies,” Elaine Showalter makes the case that Rossner
included the section on consciousness-raising in order to place Theresa within a particular time
period in the United States, but that Theresa is frightened by the little contact she has with the
“nascent women’s movement” because she does not want to confront her repressed rage and
sexual guilt.20 Here, I disagree with Showalter. In my reading of Goodbar, I believe that
Theresa’s reflection on the meeting is the moment when she begins to realize that she relates to
these women and that she may very well need their support at this moment in her life. She
becomes aware that there is a connection between each of them in their insecurities about various

19 Ibid., p. 216
20 Showalter, Elaine, “Rethinking the Seventies: Women Writers and Violence.” The Antioch
Review, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp.156-157

elements of their lives and bodies as well as in their drive to become more independent. In
particular, Theresa recalls one woman who is self-conscious about an appendix scar much in the
same way she is about the scar on her back.21 Unfortunately, this reflection is as far as Theresa
gets in engaging with consciousness-raising groups. Theresa may very well have been
intimidated by the consciousness-raising group, but she does not let her fear stop her from calling
Evelyn the following morning to see about attending another meeting. Evelyn, however, tells
Theresa she will have to wait until the following week. Theresa will be dead by then: she does
not live long enough for the reader to know if she would have attended the following meeting.
Although the potential impact of consciousness-raising groups on Theresa’s life cannot be
known, her exposure to other women willing to confront their repressed pain made her, if only
for a brief moment, more open to confronting her own pain and sense of identity.

On the last night of her life James calls Theresa and gives her an ultimatum: casual sex
with strangers or romantic love with a serious suitor. Theresa recognizes that she is more herself
when she is with James than she is with anyone else.22 But when it comes down to the concept of
a “self,” Theresa does not feel she has one single self, belonging to one single person. Instead she
views her life as made up of a number of selves. In addition to Theresa, “there was a Miss Dunn
who taught a bunch of children who adored her…and there was someone called Terry who
whored around bars when she couldn’t sleep at night.”23 As she struggles to reconcile her
possible selves Theresa decides to begin a diary, but after writing her name and the date she
experiences a moment of “paralysis” and does not know what to say. She literally cannot find her
voice. In the midst of women speaking up at consciousness raising groups and protests, Rossner

21 Rossner, Judith. Looking for Mr. Goodbar. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975, p. 261
22 Ibid., p. 216
23 Ibid., 142

renders Theresa speechless. Instead of solidifying her voice on paper, Theresa puts the diary
away and heads to Goodbar’s where she meets Gary Cooper White, the man who will kill her in
ten pages.

When they head back to her apartment Theresa becomes upset with Gary after he asks
her about her limp, but not wanting to miss out on sex she prods him by asking him if he is
“queer” like his friend. When he angrily denies that he is gay she responds, “I think maybe you
are. I think maybe if I feel like fucking tonight I should go back downstairs and find someone
straight.” They then have sex, but Gary cannot ejaculate inside her and has to masturbate.
Watching him as he does this Theresa is revolted and no longer wants him in her bed. After he
finishes she tells him to leave. When he asks why she responds, “it’s one thing to fuck someone
you don’t know and another thing to look at him over coffee in the morning.”24 Gary refuses to
leave until he gets some sleep, but when Theresa threatens to call the police and gets out of the
bed he jumps out of the bed and drags her back, covering her mouth as she screams. He tries to
suffocate her while simultaneously raping her, but when the pillow he is using to cover her face
dislodges he grabs a nearby lamp and, just before he swings it at her head, Theresa’s last
thoughts are “Help Mommy Daddy Dear God help me–do it do it do it and get it over w–” (the
text is in italics in the novel).

In his book, The American Popular Novel after World War II, David Willbern argues that
Theresa’s pleas for help at the novel’s end intertwine with her desire for punishment, making the
agents of her salvation those of her final judgment.25 He points out that the last book Theresa
takes with her to Goodbar’s is Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The first section she reads relates

24 Ibid., 283
25 Willbern, David. The American Popular Novel After World War II, Jefferson: Macfarland.

March, 2013, p.71

the story of a father seeking revenge against the men who raped his daughter, while the second
section focuses on a drunken husband’s fantasy of murdering his “trampy wife.” Willbern holds
that the two excerpts reflect the conflicting halves of Theresa’s personality. Her desire for
anonymity and intimacy; independence and companionship; pleasure and pain. In her book, The
Politics of the Feminist Novel, Judi Roller views Theresa’s death as a suicide as much as a
murder in that she has to kill her sexual side.26 Jane Gerhard adds to this with her examination of
the way white second-wave feminists placed sexuality at the center of women’s oppression as
well as their liberation.27 For Theresa, her sexuality represents her fears and her desires as well as
the demons she refuses to confront. Her story is arranged in such a way as to provide a trajectory
for how she actively played a role in her own destruction. Although it was released during a time
when women were actively playing a role in their own liberation, Rossner’s novel was well
received by the American public.