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The Reduction of Edith Finch: Edith's diminished role as a heroine

Contributed by
May 9, 2017

What Remains of Edith Finch is a collection of vignettes about the Finch family, which has suffered from a morbid curse for generations. Akin to "walking simulator" games like Dear Esther and Gone Home, it's garnered critical acclaim for its "poignant" portrayals of death, the grieving process and the sentimental lead character, the titular Edith Finch.

[Warning: Major spoilers for What Remains of Edith Finch lie ahead.]

The game is distilled into a series of interactive stories that recount how each family member passed away, with Edith providing commentary and context for each tragedy. Some err on the fantastical, while others are more straightforward. The sadness the family experienced after losing so many of its clan is palpable, mainly because of narrator Edith's ability to draw out emotion from us with her explanations and observations. She makes us laugh, she makes us cry, and oftentimes she makes us think.

We learn halfway through the game who, exactly, Edith has been speaking to as the narrator during her sojourn through her childhood home: her unborn child. Edith is pregnant — and at 17, no less. This intelligent, self-aware young woman has been recounting the tales of loved ones past to the baby in her womb the entire time, effectively reducing Edith to the role of the tragic mother who's going to meet an equally tragic end.

This wouldn't normally be much of an issue, except this revelation does little for Edith as a character and forces her to fit a trope that's been overused more times than one could count. It communicates that Edith can't be the one to break the Finch curse, but supposedly her child can; her child that we know nothing about, who will be born to a prescient young mother that somehow knows she will die in childbirth.

It's frustrating, because the game follows a narrative that continually built up to Edith being the family member to finally break the curse. This lent an element of hope in an otherwise bleak plot that was at its best when forcing you to confront the gritty realities of life. We think, since Edith has come to terms with her mother's death, the stories behind her childhood home, and the rooms in the home, she's got her shot at redemption and a healthy life with her baby ahead of her.

Edith instead dies in childbirth. One of the final scenes of the game is a sequence of an infant being pushed through a birth canal -- Edith's baby -- and we see Edith's gravestone shortly afterward. It's implied that she knew she was going to find her end after the baby was born, as she recounted the family's story to the unborn child throughout the game.

As soon as I found out teenage Edith was pregnant, I lost all interest in her plight. The game, named after Edith, is careful to allow each deceased member of her family their time in the spotlight. From the death of an infant Finch to the passing of the former child star, the entire clan was given a chance at being heard, in their own voices, no less. Edith happened upon a note or some sort of record in each room she explored, which expanded into amazingly creative miniature tales the player had to interact with.

In a way you can say Edith got the largest "interactive" section since you must navigate her childhood home and investigate what was left behind with her as your avatar, but she acts as little more than a reason to lead the player toward an ending. Her story, arguably the most important thread, is never resolved. Instead she becomes just another female character saddled with a baby for us to feel sympathetic for.

I was genuinely curious if her teenage pregnancy was part of the family curse or if it was just a bad decision on Edith's part. Instead I got no satisfaction, no closure, and no additional information about this young woman, only the forced identity on her of "deceased mother." What would Edith have had to say about bringing a new Finch into the world, and why couldn't we learn more about her instead of the people who left her behind?

These roles are typically thrust upon women in entertainment. Pregnancy as a prop for narrative isn't a new thing -- recently, Lena Dunham's character Hannah in Girls was saddled with a pregnancy storyline when she had so much more to give as a character. Rather than explore other options beyond the typical, her loose ends were tied up with a baby and a new job as a writer.

Then the entire series ended after focusing solely on her new role as a mother. This happens more often than it should with strong female roles, and it's disappointing that a progressive medium (or one that we hope is progressive) relies on such a tired vehicle for its titular character.

I still have so many questions about Edith, her pregnancy and the rest of the Finch clan. Unfortunately, I'll likely never see them answered, and Edith will remain a disappointing female lead saddled with a storyline that closes with a neat little ending. She never had a chance.