Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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Toni Morrison is was born February 18 1931 in Lorain Ohio. n 1949 Morrison entered Howard University, where she received a B.A. in English in 1953. She also earned a master’s degree  in English from Cornell University in 1955, for which she wrote a thesis on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf . After graduation Morrison moved to Houston Texas and became an English teacher at Southern Texas University. After her divorce in 1962 she moved to Syracuse, New York, where she worked as a textbook editor. A year and a half later she went to work as an editor at the New York City headquarters of Random House which is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world.

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As a young girl Morrison’s father, George Woford, told her numerous folktales, which she states is a method of story telling that later worked its way into some of her writing. The folktales were primarily about black communities. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters.  One example of this would be in her only sort story “Recitatif“.  This short story is the story of two young girls. Right from the beginning of the story the reader learns that the two girls are of different races. However, throughout the story, the reader is unaware of which girl is of which race. Morrison plays on stereotypes of whites and blacks, and lets the readers decide for themselves which girl is which.

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One example of how Morrison uses stereotypes in order to make the reader define the girls races is on the first page. Morrison states, “And Mary, that’s my mother, she was right. Every now and then she would stop dancing long enough to tell me something important and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny. Roberta sure did. Smelly funny, I mean.” (1225). Right from the start you can see how Morrison uses aspects of what the reader may assume to be stereotypical connections to race. The fact that the mother told her daughter in the story that “they” never wash their hair is already showing racial assumptions. Since the Morrison put this in the story, she is making the reader  lean toward conventional aspects that would define the girls’ races.

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Another example of stereotypes in the story that Morrison uses would be the girls second meeting in the story, eight years later during the 1960’s. The reading states, “”We’re on our way to the Coast. He’s got an appointment with Hendrix.” She gestured casually toward the boy next to her. “Hendrix? Fantastic,” I said. Really fantastic. What’s she doing now?” Roberta coughed on her cigarette and the two guys rolled their eyes up at the ceiling. “Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix, asshole. He’s only the biggest- Oh wow. Forget it””. (1229) When reading this the reader is forced to assume the races of the girls. One may assume that because Jimi Hendrix was a African-American rock singer, that it is African-American teenagers who would be going to see him. However, Jimi Hendrix’s music was popular throughout different communities, came from England, and had a band with two white men. or that reason it could be possible that the girl who was going to the concert could be Caucasian.

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One other example of how the reader show decide for themselves which girls is which raced based on the stereotypes provided would be during the racial strike. It states, “”Maybe I am different now, Twyla. But you’re not. You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground. You kicked a black lady and you have the nerve to call me a bigot.”” Twyla responds by saying, “She wasn’t black”. (1234). When reading this the reader might first assume that Roberta is the one that is black. This is because she is the one who is participating at a racial strike. However, there were also Caucasians that helped and participated in different racial strikes. Also, the act that they use the word “bigot” can be taken in different ways.  Bigot can be defined as, “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices”.  It’s an interesting word to use because it could go wither way with which girl you put with which race.

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All in all, you can see how Morrison uses the readers own stereotypes on racism in order to define which character is which race.

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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.

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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.

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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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All Women Must Be Heard

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Lucille Clifton was born June 27, 1936 in Depew, NY, but grew up in Buffalo. She attended both Howard University, and the State University of New York at Fredonia. Lucille Clifton traced her family’s roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin. Growing up she was told by her mother, “Be proud, you’re from Dahomey women!” Though she has many underlining themes in her writing, one theme that stands out to me would be the power and voices of women.

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One poem that Clifton wrote that gives women a voice would be “Sarah’s Promise”. This poem has a direct relation to Genesis 22:1-20 from the Bible.  The story of Genesis is the story of Abraham’s devotion to God.  God told Abraham,

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Since Abraham needed to prove his devotion to God, he decided to do as he wished. The Bible states,

“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” (Genesis 22:9)

However, God sent an angel to tell Abraham to not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.

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Though this story has been passed on and known from generation to generation, as with every bible story, the view point of the women is non-existent. When reading this story one would never think to see the side of Sarah who is Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother.  How would one feel  knowing that her husband was going to kill her one and only child? However, she doesn’t even get a say. The bible does not show her side of the story.

That is why Lucille Clifton wrote her poem, “Sarah’s Promise”. She is giving a women from hundreds of years ago a voice. Clifton is showing that women are as important as men. She states,

“who understands better than I

the hunger in old bones

for a son? so here we are,

abraham with his faith

and I my fury.” (820)

This quote is showing how she is equal to men. Both Sarah and her husband Isaac have something to give or say to the lord. Abraham has his faith, but she has her rage. She has been desperately wanted a child and she is telling God what she has. She will fight to get her child back. Though Abraham is proving his faith to God, Sarah is showing that she is determined to get Isaac back.  Clifton also portrays Sarah’s willpower to get Isaac back by stating,

“Jehovah,

I march into the thicket of your need and promise you

the children of young women,

yours for a thousand years

their faith I will send to you,” (820)

Clifton is portraying the determination that Sarah has. She is offering promises and begging for her son to be alive and to return home to her.

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Not only is Clifton letting Sarah speak through her, but  she is also portraying Sarah as a strong demanding women. In her poem Clifton states,

“now,

speak to my husband.

spare me my one good boy.” (820)

In this part of the poem Sarah is commanding God. She is telling him to go to where  her husband is and tell him to stop. She is demanding that God spares her one child.

All in all, you can see how Lucille Clifton gives a women who had nothing for centuries, a voice.  She is able to show the struggle and hardship that a women in that situation would go through. Clifton also makes this small person in history into a large, independent, and strong figure.


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Mystery of the Bird

Susan Glaspell was born July 1, 1876 to Elmer S. Glaspell and Alice Keating. She lived in Davenport Iowa, and attended public school there. in 1899 she went on to graduate from Drake University with a bachelor’s degree. After college Glaspell worked as a reporter for a Des Moines paper. While working as a reporter, she was appointed to report on the murder trial of John Hossack in 1900. This murder sparked Glaspell’s interest, and became the basis of two of her most famous works, a short story,  “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917) and the one-act-play Trifles (1916).

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The one-act-play Trifles is the story of a wife, Minnie, who killed her husband, John Wright. This play is a feminist drama because it includes two female leads, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. Through out the story, they are able to find evidence and piece together the clues, leading them to believe that Minnie was the murderer. They are able to sympathize with Minnie, and understand her motives for murdering her husband. One clue that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale finds is a canary in a fancy box that has had its neck wrung.

Trifles by Susan Glaspell

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Though there are many clues throughout the play that lead to their conclusion of Minnie being the murderer, the dead canary in the box is one clue that stands out among the rest. This could be because both Minnie and John Wright had the means of killing the bird. So the question is, who did it?

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One way in which an individual could see the canary die would be at the hands of John Wright.  In the story Mrs.Hale states, ” No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird-a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.”(988) This line is clearly giving John a motive. It states that he would not like the bird because it would sing. If he didn’t like the bird than he probably would have no problem or remorse for killing it. Also, this line states that “He killed that, too”.  This is kind of hinting at the fact that not only did he kill the canary, but he also killed his wife’s singing.

Another reason why it may seem as if John Wright killed the bird would be when Mrs Hale states, “She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.”(988) This is stating that Minnie obviously liked the bird.  Even after death, she wanted to take care of the bird and give it a proper burial. Why would Minnie want to kill something that she loved?

One last reason why it could be believed that John killed the bird is because John ended up dead.  In the story Mrs. Hale states, ” If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful.” (989) If the bird was your only form of entertainment and happiness for years and years, and then your husband came along and killed it, wouldn’t that be a motive to kill him. The fact that both the bird and the husband are dead is evidence that he killed the bird and because of it Minnie ended killing him for getting rid of her only form of happiness in the world.

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Though there is lots of evidence supporting the fact that John Wright could have killed the canary, there is also the idea that Minnie could have been the birds killer. One piece of evidence that supports Minnie killing the bird would be when Mrs. Peters says, ” It was an awful thing that was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.” (989) The fact that Minnie was able to kill her husband, whom she was in love with at some point in her life or else they wouldn’t have gotten married, proves that she had the capability of killing a bird, whom she also loved.

Another reason why it seems plausible that Minnie killed the bird and John didn’t would be the fact that Mrs.Peter’s states about the bird, “Somebody-wrung-its-neck”. Then later Mrs. Peter’s states, “slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him.” This is showing that the bird and Minnie’s husband were both killed in the same way.  This could be for many reasons. One reason could be that Minnie was practicing killing her husband on the bird. Or it could be that she killed the bird in order to prove to herself that she would be able to kill her husband later that night.

One last reason why Minnie could have killed the canary as opposed to her husband killing the bird would be because of the future. In the text Mrs Hale states, “She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in a pretty box.” (988) Through out the text you get the idea that Minnie cared for the bird very much. Also in the text Mrs. Peters states, ” Oh her fruit; it did freeze. She was worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break”. (983) This line is showing that Minnie was a worrier. this may be why she killed the bird. Minnie knew that she was going to kill her husband that night, which she probably guessed would land her in jail. If she was in jail who would watch after the only thing in the world she loved; the bird? Since she loved the bird so much she may have killed it, knowing that after she was gone and in jail no one would take care of  it. Then she was going to bury it in a pretty box, so that it would always be in a special place and taken care of.

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All in all, one can see that there is lots of evidence in the text to support that both Minnie and John could have potentially killed the canary. It is up for you to decide for yourself who you think the killer truly is.

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Men’s Writing vs. Reality

Virginia Woolf was born in London in 1882. She was educated by her parents in her own home. This led her to be an English author, feminist, essayist,  and publisher. As a feminist, Woolf created an extended essay, “A Room of One’s Own“, based on lectures she gave to women who attended Cambridge University. In this extended essay she begins to talk about men in relation to women.

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In Woolf’s extended essay, she talks about men’s views on women. Woolf quotes Mr. Oscar Browning saying, “the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man.” (41) This is stating that even the most intellectual women is still subordinate to the lowest man.

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However, when looking at other works of literature from around this time or from before, men wrote stories which had women in them, yet these women are not inferior to men, but are actually the opposite. This can be seen in many of Shakespeare’s plays. In chapter three of  A Room of Ones Own, Woolf states,

“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband”.

If men saw women as inferior to them, then why did they write such powerful things about women if they didn’t believe them to be true. One reason that I believe that they created these fictional strong women was because of men’s fantasies. Since women could hardly read, according to Woolf’s quote, men were the main target in selling books. Would they really want to read stories about women that they see in daily life. Or would they like to experience something different, and more compelling to read. This can also be seen in today’s society. One can just look at different movies and video games, and see how the strong and sexy women in them instantly can attract a man’s eye.

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Another reason in which I believe men created these empowering fictional women was because it made the men stronger.  By creating these characters, they are creating something that is greater than a normal non-fictional women. They are creating something that has not been seen. They have the imagination and the mind power to create something new.

One last reason why I believe that men created such dominate women in their stories was because it helped them to regain and control their superiority. When reading these stories men might feel the need to regain their dominance based on how the women act in these tales. An example of this is Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In this play the Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth to murder their king, by questioning his masculinity. In the end they both end up dying. When reading this, men might feel that they need to become more dominant in order to not let their women come close to controlling them  and making them less empowered.

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All in all, you can see why men would create such strong independent women in their fictional stories, when in reality they didn’t see it to be true.