Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Native American Identity – Pass it on through Writing

We have been reading a lot about identity in the past few weeks. Identity is what a person can relate to, what makes them who they are. In most of our readings we have dealt with personal identity and with cultural identity. Cultural identity is the identity of a person’s heritage and how they express that identity. Many of our authors have come from mixed heritages, sometimes having the heritage they grew up with stripped away and replaced with one that the government feels is more appropriate, as is the case with many Native American’s identities and other tribal people. Assimilation into American society nearly killed the identity of all Native Americans. It was taken away strikingly and violently and left a hole in Native American’s which may never be filled. Many of the writers we looked at shared the loss of their culture through writing so that it may never be forgotten. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin who goes by Zitkala-Sa shared a Native American tale which would have been passed down orally within the tribes. Beth Brant gave us insight into the loss of a child during assimilation when the children were taken from the Native’s home. Paula Gunn Allen expresses her anger and resentment in a poem titled Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks.

The oral tradition was very important to Native American’s. They would pass down stories to their people as well as history orally. These stories would be told by a storyteller in the tribe and this person was very well respected amongst others in a tribe. Zitkala-Sa wanted to share the stories of her childhood so that she could spread understanding about her people. “Later essays….pieces frought with tension between her anger at the government’s maltreatment of Indians and her desire to promote cross-cultural understanding” (976). The story The Tree Bound is filled with cultural references, especially the native’s love for animals and the Earth. She shared these and other stories so that others might relate to her people. She wanted people to understand the Indians so that they might treat them better.

Beth Brant talked about a more serious issue in A Long Story. She pairs the loss of a child during assimilation with the loss of a child in a more modern sense. Both of the stories, told in pieces one after the other, reflect how certain classes of people are judged harshly by society and how those judgments turn into maltreatment. The native woman in this story loses her child to the government. The government, and a lot of society’s citizens at the time, thought that Native Americans would be better off being educated. During education they assimilated the Native’s children. This included teaching them to be ‘proper’ or ‘civilized’, in other words stealing them from their homes and beating their own culture into these poor children. The children were not allowed to see their parents for a long time. They were taught to speak English and to lose their own Native tongue and all the other culture that went with their birth.

Paula Gunn Allen expresses her grief and anger about the loss of her culture in Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks. She uses graphic language to show her disgust saying “the carrion birds that flew upon the winds of Revolution to feed upon our scarred and frozed flesh” (1028). She talks about the destruction of the tribes across the United States when the land was stolen from the Native’s. The end of the poem is angry and vengeful, as the woman in the poem is angry and vengeful. She waits for the end of the Earth so she can laugh at the people who destroyed it. “Maybe when the last blast goes up you will hear me screaming with glee, wildly drunk at last on vindication, trilling ecstatically my longed for revenge” (1030). Many Native American’s are angry about the loss of their people, their culture, and the way that that loss came about. Their land was stolen, their people murdered, and their culture diminished to a fraction of what it once was.


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Dancing In Northhanger Abbey

      Dances play an important part in the Victorian Era. They symbolize relationships in Northhanger Abbey. There are many points in the story where dancing shows the relationships between people in the story. Jane Austen uses the dances to show the true face of others that the heroine of the story must eventually see through her growing up. The dancing is also a symbol of status, along with the clothes that those attending these social rituals would wear.

            Our heroine, Catherine Morland, is sent to Bath to find herself a husband. This was usual for young ladies at a time. She meets two young men during her time in bath. One is a pretentious and slightly overbearing man by the name of John. The other man, Henry, ends up being a much kinder man, although at first is shrouded in mystery.

            At the dances the relationship between Catherine and her two suitors grows. She finds herself more drawn to Henry over time. At the dances Catherine is committed to one man at a time. The commitment between her and the suitors at the dances describes the relationship between them. Henry even says he sees the relationship of dancing just as the relationship of marriage. He says “that gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he staid with you a half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners and wives of their neighbors” (146). This is the first hint that Henry Tilney and Catherine will end up together.  Their relationship continues to develop at the dances. Catherine’s reputation and social status also raises as a product of the dances. She gets a reputation as a possible future person of wealth presumably because of her social company and her dress.

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            Dancing was very important to people of the upper class in the Victorian Era. They met at dances to display social class and wealth. It was socially required to attend the dances and dress up in very fancy dresses. The dances often went on throughout hours of the night and partners were required to dance with each other. It was considered bad social grace to get a different partner during dancing, which explains why it was such a consideration for Henry.
“Typically, the dance began around sundown on Saturday, after the chores were all done, with the Grand March and the first waltz. Music would continue until around midnight when the revelers would break for supper. After eating a sumptuous meal, followed by sweets, and washed down with the libation of choice, it was back to the dance floor until dawn. Finally, the strains of the last waltz would echo into the hills just in time for folks to pack up the buggy and get to the Sunday morning church meeting. (Janowski)

Janowski, Diane. “Victorian Pride – Victorian Dances.” Victorian Pride – Victorian Dances. New York History Review, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.


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Hulme and Chopin’s works against motherhood

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One Whale, Singing written by Keri Hulme and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening both depict situations involving mothers who do not want to be mothers.

In One Whale, Singing, Hulme writes,

“Don’t refer to it as a person! It is a canker in me, a parasite. It is nothing to me. I feel it squirm and kick, and sicken at the moment” (856).

Obviously referring to the fetus in her womb, the protagonist is very angry and uneasy about this soon-to-be child.

 

In The Awakening, Chopin writes,

 

“An indescribable oppression, which seemed to generate in some unfamiliar part of her consciousness, filled her whole being with a vague anguish. It was like a shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day” (700).

 

This “oppression” is referring to being the perfect “mother woman” and wife, which Edna feels chains her and her self being.

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Unlike Edna in The Awakening, the protagonist in One Whale, Singing, eventually embraces her motherhood.

“‘I am now alone in the dark,’ she thinks, and the salt water laps round her mouth. ‘How strange, if this is to be the summation of my life.’

In her womb the child kicked. Buoyed by the sea, she feels the movement as something gentle and familiar, dear to her for the first time.

She begins to laugh.

The sea is warm and confiding, and it is a long long way to shore”  (860).

This gente and familiar feeling which she finally feels shows how much the child truly means to her. By identifying with the whale, she helps to realize how important and wonderful the gift in her womb was.

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The Generational Gap

ToniCade

Toni Cade Bambara was born in New York City, New York.  She is well known for her many works dealing with  the Black Power Movement and her role as an activist.  In her work, My Man Bovanne, Bambara explores the generational gap between the the main character, Miss Hazel, and her children.

“”Generational gap,” spits Elo, like I suggested castor oil and fricasse possum in the milk-shakes or somethin. “That’s a white concept for a white phenomenon.  There’s no generational gap among Black people. We are col-” (p. 556)

Miss Hazel’s children are taking part in organizing a political party involved with the black power movement.  They want their mother to head a council of the older folks. In getting their mother to form the council, Miss Hazel’s children seem to be forcing their mother to conform to their beliefs.  They criticize Miss Hazel for not giving black women the proper appearance.  What her children seem to be forgetting is that the point of the movement is to gain equal rights and to gain a mutual respect among people in general.  They lose respect for their mother’s individuality somewhere along the line.

Toni Cade Bambara advocated for this mutual respect and it transcended in her works and her teaching including this presentation about “The Wall of Respect.”

One thing that was important to Bambara that come across in her works was the importance of the older generation in the Black Power Movement.  In “My Man Bovanne,” Bambara writes, “Cause you gots to take care of the older folks.” “…Cause old folks is the nation.” (p. 558)

This view is symbolized by Bovanne, and older blind man from the neighborhood who “fixed things.”  He had been popular with the kids  when they were little, but now was forgotten by them.  This comments on the fact that many times the older generation is forgotten in the hustle and bustle of present issues, as Miss Hazel’s children do.  Also the fact that Bovanne is blind symbolizes the children’s blindness to the real issues, or their blindness to their mother’s own individuality.

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People in general are blind to many things around them, black or white, old or young and this is what births injustices.


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Jhumpa Lahiri was born July 11, 1967 in London. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants from the state of West Bengal.  He family moved to the United States when she was two.  Though Lahiri wasnt born here, she considers herself to be an American. She has been quoted stating, ” I wasn’t born here, but I might as well have been.” Lahiri’s mother wanted her children to grow up knowing their Bengal heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta.

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Lahiri has received multiple degrees from Boston University, and has taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Lahiri’s early short stories faced rejection from publishers for years. The stories address sensitive dilemmas in the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants, with themes such as marital difficulties, miscarriages, and the disconnection between first and second generation United States immigrants. 

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One short story that Jhumpa Lahiri wrote is called “A Temporary Matter”. This story is about a couple that is going through a hard time in their lives. They had a still born baby, and because of that the couples relationship is taking a toll. They seem to be drifting further and further away, until one day they receive a letter in the mail, letting them know that every day at 8 o’clock P.M. their electricity was going to go out. This is because there was a electrical line that  had gone down in the last snowstorm, and the repairmen were going to take advantage of the milder evenings to set it right. During these night the couple ate dinner in the dark together. The decided that every night they would confess something to one another. At first you believe that there relationship is getting stronger. However, at the end Shoba tells her husband Shukumar that she was moving out and that she wanted a divorce.

Temporary-Matter

In this story you can see how Jhumpa Lahiri is breaking away from her Indian heritage and embracing her American cultures. This can be seen in  the clothing her characters wear, and her role of women

One way in which Jhumpa Lahiri is embracing American cultures would be through what her characters wear in the story.  Lahiri describes the characters clothing multiple times through out the story. She states, “She wore a navy blue poplin raincoat over gray sweatpants and white sneakers”. When first reading this you would never know that the characters in this story are Indian Americans. The type of clothing that was described is the basic american outfit and not something that we would associate Indian culture with.  The fact that Lahiri is making her characters wear american clothing shows that she is breaking away form Indian cultures.

Indian culture       vs          1sweatpants

Another way in which Lahiri shows the breaking away of Indian heritage and the embracing of American culture  in this short story would be through the role of women. A critical essay on “A Temporary Matter” states ” The world that Jhumpa Lahiri creates in “A Temporary Matter” is one in which women are in charge. Women act; men react. This state of affairs is a reversal of tradition gender roles in India, the country from which both Shoba’s and Shukumar’s parents emigrated, and the United States. This role reversal gives the story a strongly modern feel”.  What this is saying is that in India men are seen as superior. However, in this story Lahiri made the woman the one in control.  Shoba is the one that has the job, the one that brings the idea to admit something every night  and the on that in the end is the one to end the relationship and move out. Since Lahiri creates this reversal role you can see hoe she takes in American Cultures and breaks away from Indian Cultures.

All in all, one can see how Jhumpa Larihi breaks away from her Indian heritage in the short story, “A Temporary Matter” and takes on more American cultures. This is seen through the style and clothing of the characters, and the reversal role of men and women in the story.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqmBt6k-Saw


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Homage to my Hips

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Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York to Samuel Louis and Thelma Moore Sayles. The exciting thing about Clifton is that she attended Fredonia State Teachers College in 1955 and is now an alumni. She once said “I am a Black women and I write from that experience, I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am.” She has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and is the recipient of many other honors, including a 1999 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award. As said in the Anthology many of the poems that the book focuses on are ones written about her great-great-grandmother, who was sold into slavery from her home in West Africa in 1830. The Anthology also states that the poems pay homage to the “mother-daughter” connection.

In “Homage to My Hips” Clifton is creating a sense of symbolism with her hips.

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Homage to My Hips
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
This poem expresses how the hips, or the person this poem was intended to speak about does not like to be restrained or controlled by others. “they don’t like to be held back/these hips have never been enslaved”. I think Lucille wrote this poem in terms of her own hips. While writing this poem she may have thought about her great-great grandmother’s enslavement when she was kidnapped and wrote this poem expressing that she has escaped that challenge and does not expect to relive the life her relative had to. This poem talks about the hips being strong and independent. “they go where they want to go/ they do what they want to do”(line 9).  She is able to catch the symbolism and also the reality of the human body. In the poem she speaks of her own body and accepts herself as she was made and turns it into a positive. She portrays the body as a vehicle of pleasure. Yet she lets it be known that her body is her own and it is hers only. Since hips are associated with childbearing and are a very feminine feature, one can also gather that they are being used as a symbol for women. So, the ideas Clifton is bringing to light can be applied to all women, not just herself specifically, or women who are larger in size.  She repeats the word “hip(s)” throughout the poem, showing she is not ashamed of them, and showing the importance of them. “These hips are big hips/they need space to/ move around in./they don’t fit into little petty places”(lines 1-4)—This is one of the more pertinent ideas in the poem.

Clifton, Lucille. The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature. Ed. Mary K. DeShazer. New York: Addison Wesley Educational Publishers Inc, 2001. 818. Print.

“Homage to My Hips.” Poetry Foundation. PoetryFoundation.org. 2013. Web.  26 April 2013.

 


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Cultural Identities

   

Many times when a woman writes, her stories go beyond the issues of women’s inequality and their struggles to find acceptance in society; their writing becomes a symbol and inspiration for those who are of  different nationalities and come from different cultural backgrounds. Michelle Cliff is a prime example of a famous women writer who takes true-life experiences and implements them in such a way that forces her audience to be aware of how one’s culture can affect their entire lifestyle.

Born in Jamaica, Cliff was a light-skinned Creole and a lesbian.  Her autobiography entitled If I Could Write This in Fire, I Would Write This in Fire, explores her identity as a Jamaican woman and uses the diversity of her and her ancestors in order to investigate and criticize the events that led to their oppression by the “white” society.  Cliff combines elements of history and fiction to represent the suppression and realism of her cultural identity.  Her reinvention of history through fiction can be seen as Cliff’s attempt to have her audience walk in the shoes of the oppressed and to peak into history through their eyes.

While explaining the roles of the “white” teachers during her secondary schooling, Cliff writes in her story:

“One teacher went so far as to tell us many people thought Jamaicans lived in trees and we had to show these people they were mistaken.)  In short, we felt insufficient to judge the behavior of these women. The English ones (who had the corner on power in the school) had come all this way to teach us.  Shouldn’t we treat them as the missionaries they were certain they were? The creole Jamaicans had a different role: they were passing on to those of us who were light-skinned the creole heritage of collaboration, assimilation, loyalty to our betters.  We were expected to be willing subjects in this outpost of civilization.” (919)

In my opinion, I could pick up a strong sense of sarcasm while reading this specific passage.  Cliff was light-skinned, but yet her “white” elders still demanded and expected behavior from her and her peers that reflected the utmost respect; but not respect based off of positive morals and excellence in being a role-model, but respect based solely off of the fact that their culture was deemed to be the “right” way of living.  Throughout Cliff’s story, she expresses the fact that her cultural identity had a significant impact on not only her writing, but her life as a whole.

Just like Cliff, Shara McCallum expressed much of the same ideas of cultural identity.  McCallum also was born in Jamaica and used her heritage as a source of influence for her writings.  During an interview, McCallum states that she considers herself to be a woman writer of many cultures.  Her poetry was highly effected by her need to re-write and revise history.  Many times McCallum moved back in time to popular myths and legends that shaped to world of women, and would attempt to “write or right” their story.  McCallum considered many of her works to span across a wide range of material that was meant to be reinvented in order for her audience to gain a new perspective on a traditional story.  During her interview, McCallum states: “The poet has always had a responsibility to address the culture in which she or he is raised and lives; and culture, second only to being conveyed by language itself, is transmitted through the stories, fables, and myths we make of our experience as human beings. It follows that rewriting these tales is one avenue to addressing their permanence and their effect on us ontologically.”

McCallum’s poem Seed states:

I am a child of the sun, balancing

the wind on my hips.
I have learned to make stones
dance, to walk with each footfall
echoing silence, to listen to the songs
of leaves. I am a child of the hushing sea:
waves, the sound of my listening;
salt, the scent of my sight.
I have taken machete to the coconut,
ground sugarcane between my teeth,
to unclasp their sweetened rhymes.
At dawn, I have held the waking earth,
each grain of dirt and sand
spilling from my half-open hands.
Wherever I am, I am
that space between
the husk and the heart
of the fruit.

McCallum takes many elements from her cultural background and creates a sense that it is not only her femininity that is being represented.  Especially in the above poem, McCallum emphasizes the hips, a body part that is the focus of many other writings; but she also mentions coconuts, sugarcane and rhymes, which are all elements of the Jamaican culture.  The video that is linked provides a small insight as to the daily lives of the Jamaican people and the importance of nature and how it shaped their entire well-being.  Natural fruits, bodies of water, dirt, sand and the sun provide resources for many societies in Jamaica that allow them to function, and by showcasing these elements, McCallum is expressing her appreciation for her culture.  This poem sheds a positive light on coming from a different nationality, but none the less shows how much of an influence culture has on the identity of a woman writer and how it can affect their writing style and content.