In Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967), readers
encounter an isolated and virtually imprisoned protagonist who is victimised by
a Satan-worshipping coven. A series of alarming events unfolds the ultimate
motive of the coven, which is to make Rosemary give birth to Satan’s son into
the mortal world. Although she has her doubts and uneasy feeling towards the
Castevets, Rosemary remains unaware of the schemes against her regarding the
whole process of her pregnancy. Due to her unawareness, Rosemary loses her
agency to be pregnant, which is ironic considering how it is continuously
implied that she is desperate for a child (Levin 64). She is unwittingly
absorbed into the coven as the Castevets restricts almost every mobility or
will she has, down to the most daily routines such as meeting friends, grocery
shopping and most importantly, the food she consumes. Food consumption plays a
crucial role in Rosemary’s gradual absorption of agency into the coven. It is
also significant that, by consuming uncanny food offered by the Castevets that
either tastes distasteful or unfamiliar, Rosemary is experiencing a compulsory
ritual before the ceremony of giving birth to a demon. Contamination occurs in
the body after the consumption of uncanny food throughout the whole process of
the pregnancy, which shows that Rosemary has no authority over her own baby
from the start. Because food consumption makes her to lose her agency to be
pregnant with the baby she had yearned for, the thing she gives birth to is the
abject.

             The term “abjection” is a key
element when it comes to discussing about what Rosemary gives birth to in the
novel. In Julia Kristeva’s book chapter “Approaching Abjection”, Kristeva
defines this term as “what is abject is not my correlative … would allow me
to be more or less detached and autonomous” (Kristeva 1). She highlights how
the abject cannot be defined, and that what is abject is “detached” – that is
to say that it is separated from us, which it had once belonged. After its
detachment, it stands alone and remains to us as a “sudden emergence of
uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten
life” (Kristeva 2). Kristeva suggests that the abject that has been once
detached, does not disappear but transforms into something unfamiliar and “loathsome”
(Kristeva 2). As she further continues to elaborate on the abject, she also
mentions how food loathing is a basic form of abjection. According to Kristeva,
food that is hated, or any form of excretion causes us to become repugnant to
it with a view of disgust, despite the fact that it has come from us and
explains this process as “we abject ourself” (Kristeva 3). Therefore, the
abject is not something foreign, but it is something we reject despite having
it come from our bodies because it is a more violent version of “uncanniness”
(Kristeva 5). I intend to relate this term directly to the baby Rosemary gives
birth to, which is literally detached from her body after childbirth. With this
in mind, I will explore how contamination occurs through consuming unfamiliar
food, and how this results to the abject, and how Rosemary herself feels
somehow abject herself after losing her agency to be pregnant.

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             During their first official dinner,
Rosemary stays oblivious to the motives of questions regarding plans for
children. Instead, Rosemary comments about the food which is not said to the
Castevets, but instead vocalised through the narrator. It is intriguing to find
how she seems more concerned about the “peculiar and unpleasant sweetness”
(Levin 58) in the dessert, while mentioning that it was still better than the
steak despite its taste. The “unpleasant” (Levin 58) she remarks internally
does not suggest that the cream pie is not up to her standards, but suggests
that there is a strange and unexplainable sweetness which one would not expect
from normal cream pies. Instead of finding the taste too or less sweet, the
word “unpleasant” suggests that Rosemary does not find the cream pie familiar
to her. She does not feel disgusted because it is not up to her standards, but
because there is something in the sweetness which she cannot identify to. She
is left to feel even more disturbed, because she cannot understand how her
husband is able to take another helping despite its vulgar taste, which may
foreshadow how the Castevets eventually takes away Guy, virtually separating
him from her and leaving her to be surrounded by even more unexplainable series
of events. It is also important to notice how the dessert has a strong
impression on Rosemary to the extent where she does not seem to mind too much
about Minnie’s obtrusiveness when she asks questions about family details. To
lure the answer to see if Rosemary is fertile, Minnie abruptly questions her
about the size of her family. After receiving detailed information, she
concludes, “that’s a good sign for you”
(Levin 59). At this point this remark does not seem so strange but as the plot
unfolds, the stress Minnie puts on “you”
addressing Rosemary becomes significant in the way that Minnie is searching for
a new target following Terry’s death. The stress she puts on while addressing
Rosemary suggests that she is satisfied to know that Rosemary is fertile, which
makes her a good target for the pregnancy of the demon.

Other
than the cream pie dessert, the next dessert which Rosemary tastes marks the
start of the loss of agency for conceiving. Before Rosemary and Guy have sexual
intercourse, they consume the mousse au chocolat offered by Minnie. This
chocolate mousse signifies the official beginning of the conceiving ritual, as
it is the factor that causes Rosemary’s drowsy, corpse-like state. This is
evident since Rosemary hears Minnie saying, “she don’t see … as long as she
ate the mouse she can’t see not hear. She’s like dead.” (Levin 88). Although
Rosemary assumes this is part of an unpleasant dream, the name of the “mousse”
itself serves an uncanny purpose itself. When Guy explains the dessert to
Rosemary, he unnecessarily mentions, “or ‘chocolate mouse,’ as Minnie calls it”
(Levin 82), which suggests that there is an interchageability between the
notion of “mousse” as in food, and “mouse” as in animal which has potential of
contamination through biting. In Rosemary’s bizarre dream, the Pope mentions
his concerns for her being bitten by a mouse, which she feels guilty about
since she has felt orgasm (Levin 90). There is interchangeability in both the spelling
and symbolic sense between the mousse and the mouse: by consuming the chocolate
mousse that has made her drowsy, this is related to being bitten and thus
contaminated by an animal. In addition, while Rosemary believes that she
dreamed of being rape, Guy replies that it was “fun” in the “necrophilic way”
(Levin 99). This disturbing comment shows that with the consumption of the
mousse, Rosemary also becomes a corpse, with no power or agency to do anything.
Not only is this mousse the cause of the coven-rape which leads to conceiving a
child, but it is also the start of Rosemary losing her agency. Out of the
little choices of agency she has, up to this stage of the text, it is evident
that Rosemary considers having a child as the most desirable wish. So far, she
had not been able to grant herself this wish because of her husband – a husband
reluctant to make her pregnant, but has suddenly changed his mind. Despite the
sudden change of her husband’s mind and the horrifying impregnation that has occurred
to her body, Rosemary remains “not suspicious enough” (Valerius 120), as Karyn
Valerius puts it. She is naive to the situation she is in, making it difficult
for her to release herself from the coven she is bound to. This shows that although
Rosemary finally is able to conceive as she has wished, she is ignorant of the
fact that the pregnancy (which is one of the small agency and will she has) has
been controlled and manipulated by the coven, not herself.

             After finally conceiving the child
she has desired for, Rosemary starts to heavily crave for food which she has
never expected. Not only does she start “eating her meat rare; now she ate it
nearly raw” (Levin 141), but events turns out even worse as she eventually
finds “herself chewing on a raw and dripping chicken heart” (Levin 145). The
food she consumes becomes something expected more from a wild creature rather
than from a human, and the notion of the bloody texture shows high vampiric
tendencies. For example, similarly to the general belief that garlic has the
power to repel vampires, at this point, Rosemary is warned not to consume salt
which is a highly unusual prescription. This reminds the readers that the
prevention of consuming salt may be due to fear of damaging the baby, perhaps
similarly to how garlic may ward off vampires. Most importantly however, is
that to have vampiric tendencies also suggest that Rosemary’s appetite has
turned out to be detached from human’s appetite. It is here where Rosemary
first encounters the moment of abjection, because she sees her own reflection
with “red-dripping fingers” which makes her “vomit” (Levin 145). She first sees
her own, unrecognisable self in the mirror, which seems closer to a blood
thirsty monster. After this repulsive encounter with her unrecognisable self,
she vomits, which suggests that she detaches a part of her unclean part away
from herself, making it detached and stand independently. This vomiting then
further implies that she throws up the disgusting reflection she sees of
herself, with the bloody food which she cannot consume after realising how it
reminds her of the monster-like tendencies she has grown to have after her
pregnancy. What is disturbing is that with the baby growing inside of her,
Rosemary has no choice but to release the cravings she has. It is the baby –
the baby conceived after the manipulation of the coven – that equally craves
for the bloody and raw food, which is something which Rosemary normally would
not consume. Therefore, the baby that has been implanted within Rosemary’s womb
makes her consume food that makes her feel sick, because she feels inhumane and
repulsed with herself. As a result, the food acts as a sort of source of
contamination, because the uncanny consumed will allow the baby to grow. The
consumption also suggests contamination in the aspect that it signifies the
change of Rosemary’s body, but in a negative and monstrous way.

In
her essay, “Signs of Wonderland and Traces of Doubt: On Teratology and Embodied
Differences”, Rosi Braidotti describes the relationship between the female “monstrous
bodies” to the “monsters … in question of biological reproduction” (Braidotti
290). She views the female body not as a body of an individual, but rather sees
it as if it has been deconstruction structurally due to “sexual excess”
(Braidotti, 290) and pregnancy. She explains the differentiation of the female
body to the male’s by defining how the monsters – babies – (Braidotti, 292)
affect the maternal body, while it remains a “total stranger nor completely
familiar; it exists in an in-between zone … the monstrous other is both liminal”
(Braidotti 292). Therefore, Braidotti suggests that the baby is a monster
because it is itself, an uncanny, separate existence from the maternal figure.
Because it is not the maternal figure and therefore cannot be identical, it
always remains as “the other”. In reaction to this, Rosemary Bretton points out
that Braidotti suggests “the monstrous helps organise structures of difference
in a same/other binary between what is sacred and mutant, normal and abnormal …
human/nonhuman categories” (Betterton 81). As she mentions a case where a
mother found her child like an “ape”, she explains that “women in their
maternal function, therefore, had to be disciplined to control their desires
for the well being of the unborn child” (Betterton 83). This suggests that in
the patriarchal society, the women are structured in a way where they are
expected to instinctively act for the well being of their unborn child.
Relating this to Braidotti, we can say that there are certain aspects of
uncanniness of conceiving a child itself, since bearing a child in the womb
itself is a process where the female body is growing a separate existence. In
addition, with the control and “supposed” maternity women are expected to feel
towards their child itself makes the child almost like a parasite to the
maternal body. Because it is like a parasite, the maternal body would have to
bear the burden to give the fetus enough supply of food, also to keep it
healthy. This can be related to the bloody chicken Rosemary feeds onto; she
consumes it instinctively for the sake of her child, but not by her own will.
Until she sees her abject reflection, she does not identify her eating habits
as a problem. The blood from the raw food she takes makes her body feel contaminated
with unfamiliarity, which makes her own reflection seem uncanny to her.

Rosemary
always takes the “herb drink” made by Minnie, who is obsessed with making her
consume it and practically spies on her until she sees her drink it (Levin 148).
In the end, the exact substances of the concoction are never revealed to both
Rosemary and the readers, and so do its true effects. Nevertheless, Rosemary
continues to accept the drink by consuming it into her body, although later she
becomes reluctant in taking the concoction due to the constant and unbearable
abdomen pain. Although it is not clearly specified whether Rosemary throws away
the concoction because she cannot stand its uncanny taste or for other reasons,
but later it is implied that she doesn’t consume it because she fears it is not
helping to get rid of her pain, but rather make it consistent. This is evident
to a certain extent as she takes the radical solution to take alcohol (sherry)
instead, but at the same time she fears she may have killed the baby (Levin
160). This puts emphasis on the amount of the tortuous pain she feels, which is
painful to the extent where she eventually wishes to be relieved from it by
aborting her baby. However, as her pain ceases, she starts to drink the
concoction “to the last chill drop, driving away as by a ritual the remembered
guilt of I-killed-the-baby.”(Levin
163). Compared to the past, Rosemary starts to intake the drink wholeheartedly,
not minding its taste. With the mushy, incomprehensible drink she now also intakes
“white gritty sweet stuff” (Levin 163) with a form of a cake. The fact that the
food cannot be identified shows that Rosemary does not know what she is eating.
She now seems not only unaware, but she also seems completely unsuspecting of
what Minnie is giving her, as she is now silent about the complaints. She is
now silent because she has no reason to suspect the Castevets, since her pain
has stopped and therefore she believes that the drink has not been the problem
to her pain. In addition, the guilt that she had over considering killing her
child overwhelms her, and it is the guilt that snatches her agency away making
Rosemary consider the safety of her child as the utmost importance. While she
remains unconscious of what is being put into her body however, the foreign and
unfamiliar food only helps the growth of her demon child, therefore making the
baby more abject. She had once considered killing the child because she
believed it was the source of her unstoppable pain, which shows that its alien
existence feeding onto her like a parasite overwhelms her. As she intakes the
concoction once again, the uncanny food only helps to develop this abject baby
into something she does not even expect.

After
the birth of her anticipated child, she is at first terrified by the “thing”
she sees which has nothing near a human shape. She is first attracted to the
baby at its peaceful countenance, which is “sweet, so small and rosy-faced”
(Levin 235), because it is the baby she has been imagining and waiting for so
long. At this point, the baby does not show any signs of detachment from her,
making her feel affection towards him. However, as the baby opens his eyes it
is repeatedly mentioned that he has “golden-yellow” eyes, with “black-slit
pupils” (Levin 235). The repetition suggests that Rosemary is unable to
identify herself to her own baby, because of its uncanny and inhumane shape,
despite being born from her. Instead of rejecting the baby, Rosemary turns to
the coven and screams, “what have you done to his eyes?” (Levin 236),
suggesting that she believes the Castevets are the culprits in transforming her
“normal” baby into something creature-like. Therefore, although she is appalled
and traumatised to see the abject baby because she is unable to identify with
it, she cannot reject the baby instantly and instead turns the blame onto
someone else. After all the manipulation and contamination that occurs to
Rosemary’s body through the uncanny food, she is eventually engulfed into the
coven. Although Roman does not insist her to “join” (Levin 238), he advises her
to take the role as the baby’s mother. While Rosemary takes in the overwhelming
truth set in front of her, she is described as the “newcomer” (Levin 239),
which shows that not only has she been engulfed into the coven, but to be
called a “newcomer” also suggests that she is gradually becoming a member
herself by her own will. She also overcomes the fear of the eyes as she becomes
“prepared for them” (Levin 243). This highlights that Rosemary has chosen to
attach herself to the baby instead of killing it or rejecting it. She becomes
his “mother”, because now as she is completely absorbed into the coven, the
only agency she can show is to be the mother of the baby. Although she has been
unaware of the fact that her pregnancy was manipulated, which snatches her
agency to be pregnant, now with the birth of the baby, the only agency she can
show is to be the mother of the child. With the abject thing now detached from
her maternal body, she has to bind herself to the baby in order to grasp the
little agency she has. This is evident since there is a difference in attitudes
shown by the Castevets before and after the childbirth. Prior to the birth, the
Castevets acted as spies to Rosemary, giving her little space to perform any
mobility. However, as she embraces the title as “mother”, she acknowledges
becoming the member of the coven, and readers see that for the first time,
Rosemary is left alone: “He backed away, leaving her alone” (Levin 243).

We
have examined how food consumption plays a key role in Rosemary’s maternal
body. Although it is not fully specified what effects the Castevets’s food has
onto her, the emphasis put on the uncanniness of the taste and visual makes the
readers doubt the safety of consuming it. The fact that true effects are not
specified is also suspicious, because once food enters the body; it causes
chemical changes that occurs inside the system. In this perspective, readers feel
fearful for Rosemary as she unsuspectingly intakes the food, unconscious of
what dangerous changes it will bring to her. Food also plays an important role
as it manipulates Rosemary’s body in many ways that has been already discussed,
and it is crucial to see how this manipulation gradually seizes her agency.
Although Rosemary is unconscious about what agency she has, it is evident that
one of the few agencies she has is the pregnancy, which has also been stolen by
the coven. The drowsy state caused by the mousse marks the start of Rosemary’s
absorption into the coven, and by the end of the novel she evidently becomes a
full member as she is hailed as the mother of the demon. She does not reject
this title, but rather seems to be indulging in it as she blushes (Levin 244),
showing that she indulges the new agency she has attained. While the baby is
inside of her, the food she intakes develops her baby into a more abject form,
which she faces after the birth. Still, she does not reject the baby and
accepts him as who he is, because now she is not at the stage of conceiving,
meaning that she does not have the agency to be pregnant. Instead, the only
title and agency she can hold onto is to be the mother of the abject baby. This
is why she remains the mother to the baby, despite being traumatised by the
demonic countenance he has, making him an abject thing detached from her
maternal body.

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