Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Goin’ on a witch hunt

Starting in the fifteenth century and ending in the eighteenth, Europeans had a huge concern with the allegations of witchcraft and thought it was a threat to humanity. Society and governments ordered the need for further hunting for suspicious witches. These intense and vicious hunts varied from place to place as did the target of who was to be hunted. Women happened to be a specific targeted group who were accused, tortured, and massacred. Tens of thousands of people were killed off because of suspicions of being a witch, three-quarters of whom were women.

 

These witch hunts can be described as a case of “genderized mass murder.” According to Katz, (p. 503)”the overall evidence makes plain that the growth — the panic — in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women. … Historically, the most salient manifestation of the unreserved belief in female power and female evil is evidenced in the tight, recurrent, by-now nearly instinctive association of women and witchcraft. Though there were male witches, when the witch craze accelerated and became a mass phenomenon after 1500 its main targets, its main victims, were female witches. Indeed, one strongly suspects that the development of witch-hunting into a mass hysteria only became possible when directed primarily at women.”

 

 

 

Above is a humorous clip from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” This clip is meant to show the false allegations of such witch hunts and the extremely unrealistic reasoning behind accusing one of being a witch.

 

While taking a look at Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom,” we can say that this is a play about witches with no actual witches in it. The songs that Churchill includes in this piece takes the reader out of the story and into the minds of the accused. This story circulates around a single mother who becomes to overall scapegoat of the play because of social and moral ills of her small town. A jealous neighbor falsely accuses her of being a witch. Once the village gets word of this, a professional witch hunter comes to town and in the end the women are hung.

Certain natural bodily actions that take place in a women’s body were said to be signs of witchcraft. Looking at specific lines from Churchill’s song “Nobody Sings,”

“Do you want your skin to wrinkle

And your cunt get sore and dry?

And the say it’s just your hormones

If you cry and cry and cry.

Oh nobody sings about it,

but it happens all the time.”

(Churchill,1243-1244)

These signs of maturing in a woman were usually an embarrassing time and women tended to try and hide these things from society. Without any knowledge of how the woman’s body works, no one would know that this was a natural process and it was in fact a very false allegation of being a witch.

Want to be a witch for a few minutes? How about just being accused of one. Click here to join an actual virtual witch hunt and find out what happens to you! Don’t make the wrong choice, or it could be your life.

 


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Culture Shock

Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal (formerly known as Kath Walker) is Australia’s best known poet for her indigenous people. Her publication of “We Are Going” in 1964 was her first collection described as “pure propaganda–to make people sit up and take notice” (1021). This author’s style includes a little bit of irony, humor, and challenging racism. Much like many of the indigenous women writers, nature and animals play a huge role in writing. Animals and culture tend to bring the Aboriginal culture together and make it what it is.

~We Are Going~

They came in to the little town

A semi-naked band subdued and silent

All that remained of their tribe.

They came here to the place of their old bora ground

Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.

Notice of the estate agent reads: ‘Rubbish May Be Tipped Here’.

Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.

‘We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers.

We belong here, we are of the old ways.

We are the corroboree and the bora ground,

We are the old ceremonies, the laws of the elders.

We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told.

We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.

We are the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill

Quick and terrible,

And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.

We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.

We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.

We are nature and the past, all the old ways

Gone now and scattered.

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.

The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.

The bora ring is gone.

The corroboree is gone.

And we are going.’ (Walker, 1022)

The last five lines are something that should be looked at. The fact that the author is implying that without the scrubs, hunting, eagle, emu, kangaroo, and the bora ring, the rest is all going as well. Without the nature and animals around than the people than too have to leave and are gone. Walker uses some good metaphors in this poem. For example, the white men are represented to be “like ants” because they were hurried to them and much like ants, the white men come in large groups and scattered eventually. The bora ring in this poem is essential. The ring represents the Black civilization. The ring is what the Aboriginal culture had come for and seeing that the ring is gone, there is no more purpose for the people as well.

Native Americans believe that all animals are sacred and should be an offering of spirituality. To express their gratitude, Native Americans thank their animals for giving them their food, clothing, and shelter. They also praise nature such as the clouds for bringing them rain.

The Aboriginal Culture lives throughout Australia. Currently, there are 300,000 Aboriginals which only makes up about 1.5% of the Australian population. The hallmark of Aboriginal culture is “to be one with nature.” In traditional belief systems, the Aboriginals view nature as a Christian would worship God.

The legacy of racism runs deep within Oodergeroo Noonuccal writing. In some places, thankfully, settlers treated Aboriginals like civilized people but unfortunately this was not always the case. Certain instances of genocides were sometimes practiced and ironically, this heightened the awareness of these people and their existing culture.

In the 1950’s Aboriginal children were sometimes taken from their families and brought into foster families who are non-aboriginals. This was thought to benefit both the children, their natural parents, and foster parents. This was known as the “Stolen Generation” which only became a widespread movement into the 1990’s. In contrast to President Clinton’s apology to black slavery, the Australian government has yet to make a formal apology over this Stolen Generation.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) centralizes her writing based on her indigenous people and their culture. With the use of what she has experienced and the natural world around her, she brings the reader of her poem “We Are Going” into her experiences.


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belittling “i”

Lucille Clifton is one of the most memorable women writers of all time. Clifton has had a lifetime full of success and her collection of works show her empowering embrace to be an African American woman. This SUNY Fredonia alumni has a specific style of writing and uses certain techniques such as using all lower case letters in her poems.

Take a moment to listen to this Lucille Clifton Podcast. On April 3, 2007 Clifton attended a round table discussion with some of our current Fredonia professors to discuss her work. During the clip, one of the professors mentions Lucille’s tendency to keep her poems in all lower case letters. This discussion starts at the 4 minute mark and emphasizes her secondary voice in the use of her lowercase “i”. This was a revolutionary move on Clifton’s part and significantly changed the tone of her poems. Consider her enlightening piece “daughters” on page 819 in our anthology.

woman who shines at the head
of my grandmother’s bed,
brilliant woman, i like to think
you whispered into her ear
instructions. i like to think
you are the oddness in us,
you are the arrow
that pierced our plain skin
and made us fancy women;
my wild witch gran, my magic mama,
and even these gaudy girls.
i like to think you gave us
extraordinary power and to
protect us, you became the name
we were cautioned to forget.
it is enough,
you must have murmured,
to remember that i was
and that you are. woman, i am
lucille, which stands for light,
daughter of thelma, daughter
of georgia, daughter of
dazzling you. (Clifton, 819)

Daughters represents endless generations shaping women into the empowering people they are. It is very ironic that Lucille Clifton chooses to write a poem with such a big concept in all lower case letters. But what does this do for the reader? Why does Clifton choose this technique over the traditional starting every sentence with a capital and ending with proper punctuation? We can interpret her lowercase words as her soft spoken, quiet voice shining through in telling her hard truths. Her purity in her voice sets a meditative tone for the reader to engage and feel at ease about. By going the extent of keeping the “i” lowercase, she is making herself little and insignificant compared to the rest of the words. She does not allow herself to overcompensate her work by putting her name or the use of capital “I” to come before the message of the poem. “i am/ lucille, which stands for light,/ daughter of thelma, daughter/ of georgia, daughter of/ dazzling you” (819). Clifton also goes to the extent of not even capitalizing proper nouns such as Georgia and Lucille. This sends the reader the message that no word is superior to another and the poem is set at a constant even level.

Another example of Lucille’s ironic technique of belittling her works by use of lowercase letters is her short poem “june 20.” This piece is told from the perspective of an unborn child which supports the smaller letters based on size and potential. An unborn child obviously has no voice and no real influence which supports Clifton’s style.

i will be born in one week
to a frowned forehead of a woman
and a man whose fingers will itch
to enter me. she will crochet
a dress for me of silver
and he will carry me in it.
they will do for each other
all that they can
but it will not be enough.
none of us know we will not
smile again for years,
that she will not live long.
in one week i will emerge face first
into their temporary joy. (819)

To conclude this topic, Clifton’s works are extremely truth telling during a time of ultimate silence. Her style of writing does not only reflect the times from the overall message but also is reflected throughout every aspect of writing. Lucille did not have a lot of influence according to the downsize of her text. Clifton shows this alternate world that we are not aware of and gives that source a voice. This can reflect the time when African American women had little to no voice much like an unborn child.

 

 

 


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The Dark Days

Edith_wharton_face

Edith Wharton who is most famous for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence (1920) was a born storyteller  whose ironic style often portrays victims in her stories stuck in cruel social regulations, bad relationships, and internal struggle with women finding their “self” and voices. Her short story A Journey pictures a young woman trapped in her unhappy marriage with her husband who is terminally ill. Her once happy marriage begins to turn into resentment and with life having a grudge on her, “she was never allowed to spread her wings.” (Wharton, 276)

“She still loved him, of course; but he was gradually, undefinably ceasing to be himself. The man she had married had been strong, active, gently masterful: the male whose pleasure it is to clear a way through the material obstructions of life; but now it was she who was the protector, he who must be shielded from importunities and given his drops or his beef-juice though the skies were falling. ” “Sometimes he frightened her: his sunken expressionless face seemed that of a stranger; his voice was weak and hoarse; his thin-lipped smile a mere muscular contraction.”(Wharton, 276)

1740 Advice Book for SaleThe young woman is ordered by her husband’s doctor to travel back home. This of course made it obvious that her husband was going to die and instead of mourning, she could not help but to “slip into an eager allusion to next year’s plans.” While traveling by train, the illness becomes too much and her husband dies. What is a woman to do when she is alone? “Good God! If it were known that he was dead they would be put off the train at the next station–” (Wharton, 278) Because the woman decides to hide her husband’s death in order to stay on the train, she is fighting for her independence and her chance to once again spread her wings and be free without the pressures of being a wife and this life long care taker. A widowed life was not what she wanted either. “It seemed to be life itself that was sweeping her on with headlong inexorable force–sweeping her into darkness and terror, and the awe of unknown days.” (Wharton, 282) She may as well be dead herself as long as she would be living the widowed life which is really no life at all for a woman of this century.

A widow in the 18th century would be forced to live in mourning for the rest of her existence. This custom came about after longest reigning Queen Victoria lost her dearest husband Albert and the newly widowed woman declared that the period of public mourning should be “the longest term in modern times.” (St. Martin’s Press) Compared to modern attitudes, death was an obsession to 18th century people and was treated as a necessary set of rituals to honor the dead. When Queen Victoria went into her deep mourning period, british subjects followed her lead and participated in this depression. All black attire was required until Victoria was finished with her ritual which eventually took 10 years until the queen eventually died. Woman played a bigger role than men when it came to loosing their spouses. They were required to change their whole entire wardrobe and forget ever finding another husband!

Queen Victoria                                                                                                                                                Edith Wharton

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In conclusion: Edith Wharton uses her short story A Journey to challenge traditional social expectations of femininity and individual freedoms. What will people think when her husband is dead? What will her future life consist of without her husband? A life of captivity and mourning. The 18th century brought nothing but distress and morbid rituals for subjects to carry out. There is no freedom and moving on for these women. “She looked at the hat and tried to speak; but suddenly the car grew dark. She flung her arms, struggling to catch at something, and fell face downward, striking her head against the dead man’s berth.” (Wharton, 282) Whether this act from the young woman was a deliberate suicide or a fluke accident, it symbolizes her life remaining dark and just as dead as her husbands. Without a man, what is a woman?


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Influence and Reasoning

Chapter 1 (16) A Room of One's Own

Chapter 1 (16) A Room of One’s Own

Unlike men, women had limited time and space to produce literary works and because of this denial, Woolf believes that this forced women to face the harshness of society and come to matters of truth when it comes to being legally bounded to their husbands. Woolf helps women shine in a new light and bloom to show a new side of female literary components that changed our world. Her ideas on male vs. female dominance could have derived from her unlimited access to her father’s library at a young age and watching her own brothers attend Cambridge for their education. 

Woolf plays around with the ideas of women being able to write fiction, the environment a woman would need to write, and the economics of a woman writing fiction. The first chapter of A Room of One’s Own deals with women trespassing onto the grass of Oxbridge when “Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me” (Woolf, 17).  Woolf suggests that social justice needs to take place for any woman to be valued.

Woolf also goes to the extent of sarcastically creating a fictional woman named Judith Shakespeare who is meant to be Shakespeare’s sister to show how history and it’s truths can be expressed best by fiction. In chapter 2, Woolf explains the booming success of Shakespeare but responds with “meanwhile, his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil.” Woolf continues a few lines further with, “But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stocking or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman” (Woolf, 38).  Women were thought upon being stowed away in homes to bear children, tend to the men, and work as housewives with no education or experience in literature. 

Below shows an interview with Cherie Blair on women’s rights in education and academic ignorance that was posted in 2011 from the University of Trento. Cherie Blair is a female activist fighting for women’s rights. She even founded her own organization for empowering women and driving growth. This interview can help support Woolf’s ideals on what women should have been given in a more direct manner rather than her essay format of fiction versus truth. This shows that even today in the 21st century, there are some women who are battling for their rights in education and are struggling to speak their voice. After watching this clip, it was clear that Woolf’s ideas are reflected in Blair’s inspiring words.