Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

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“Recitatif”-Ignoring Black and White Stereotypes


Tony Morrison’s “Recitatif” is a short story about two young girls, Twyla and Roberta, and their interactions throughout their entire lives.  We know one of the girls is black and one of them is white but Morrison never tells us exactly which one is which so we are never entirely sure.  All we know is that the girls are of different class structures.  The girls never display any clear stereotypical characteristics of each race but have characteristics that could be each race.  Morrison does at great job at removing the racial codes from this story, leaving the reader to guess what the race of each girl is.

I found that at the end of the story I did not know of what race Twyla and Roberta were.  I had no idea throughout any of the book.  I couldn’t give an exact race to either one because there just wasn’t enough evidence in the story for me to do that.  There was one section that made me think Twyla was black, and it was on page 1228 in our anthologies.  It read:

“Mary, simple-minded as ever, grinned and tried to yank her hand out of the pocket with the tragedy lining- to shake hands, I guess.  Roberta’s mother looked down at me and then looked down at Mary too.  She didn’t say anything, just grabbed Roberta with her Bible-free hand and stepped out of line, walking quickly to the rear of it” (1228).

This section made me think that Twyla and her mother were black, because Roberta’s mother wouldn’t shake Mary’s hand at all and back in the 50s when this took place, it was stereotypical of a white person to not want to touch or associate with a black person.  But then I started to think that if Roberta’s mother was an upperclass black woman and saw Twyla’s mother as a lower class white hussy, she may still not want to shake her hand.  Morrison does this throughout the entire story, where you think that one girl could be one race but you are never exactly sure.

I think Morrison does this to prove a point that we are all equal.  In the story we know one girl is white and one is black but we are never sure which one is which because Morrison never comes out and says it.  By removing the racial code from the story, it helps to prove that we are all equal and that you can’t judge a person based on their race.  Also by removing stereotypes and putting the girls in similar life situations Morrison continues to prove a point that we are equal and anyone could be any race.

This book was enlightening and really made me think.  A lot of Toni Morrison’s writing does that for me.  Down below is a link to a YouTube video where she talks about her motivation for writing.


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The Awakening and the Whale

KeriHulme_1985_lr              Kate_Chopin



In the passage written about Keri Hulme before “One Whale, Singing” in our anthology, a comparison is made to Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”.  While both authors come from different time periods, cultures and backgrounds,  the main characters from both stories are very similar in many ways.


In Hulme’s “One Whale, Singing”, the two stories of a young pregnant wife and a young pregnant whale collide.  The point of view switches from the woman on the boat to the whale every couple of paragraphs.  We find out that the young woman is a poet and married to a scientist in what looks like a love-less marriage.  We also discover that the woman is dreading motherhood.  At one point she says when referring to her unborn child: “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 movement.” (856).  She is constantly bashing her husband in her thoughts, and she seems to hate everything about her life.  Only at the end of the story after the mother whale accidentally hits the boat and destroys it and the woman is swimming for her life in the ocean her unborn child is “dear to her for the first time” (860).

There are many comparisons that can be made between the woman in “One Whale, Singing” and Edna Pontellier.  Both woman resent their lives and their husbands.  Both women are married to men who view their creativity as a weakness and it is not taken seriously.  On page 857 in “One Whale, Singing”, the woman says something about how nice it would be to communicate with the other species and her husband replies with, “That’s the trouble with you poets…Dream marvels are to be found from every half-baked piece of pseudoscience that drifts around.  That’s not seeing the world as it is.  We scientists rely on reliably ascertained facts for a true picture of the world.”  He doesn’t take her as seriously because she has a more creative and earthly mind.  Edna’s husband in “The Awakening” tells her that she should be spending more time taking care of her family rather than painting.  Both husbands oppress their wives’ creativity in both stories.

Another similarity both women share is that they are both loath to the idea and role of motherhood.  In “The Awakening”, Edna Pontellier struggles with the ideality of the “mother-woman” and taking care of her children, and in “One Whale, Singing”, the woman calls her unborn child a “parasite” and doesn’t refer to it as a person at all.  We can deduce that becoming a mother was not her decision and it is not something she is looking forward to.  In fact she doesn’t feel any connection to the child until the very end of the story when she is swimming for her life in the ocean.  Even then she doesn’t feel a strong desire to save her baby’s life.

The last comparison between the two women is their draw and connection to the ocean, as well as both of them meet their ends in the ocean.  Throughout “The Awakening”, Edna makes many references to the sea and her draw to it and at the end of the story, Edna swims far out into the ocean to escape her life and is unable to swim back to shore.  It is assumed that she dies in the ocean but it is uncertain whether or not she did it intentionally or not.  At the end of “One Whale, Singing”, the mother whale accidentally crashes into the boat, destroying it and sending the pregnant wife into the ocean.  She has a moment with the whale, and then as she’s floating in the water says, “How strange, if this is to be the summation of my life.” (860).  It then goes on to read, “The sea is warm and confiding, and it is a long long way to shore.” (860).  One can assume from that last sentence that the woman did not make it back to sure and she met her demise in the ocean, just like Edna Pontellier.

Keri Hulme and Kate Chopin were not contemporaries of each other, nor do their respective stories take place in the same time period, culture, or setting.  Yet their main characters share a lot of the same feelings and characterizations.  Both women have more creative minds that are denounced by their love-less marriages, a loath of the idea of motherhood, and have a connection to the ocean as well as meet their ends there.


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Lucille Clifton gives a Voice




Lucille Clifton embodied the ultimate woman.  She was proud of who she was; proud of her body, her race, and her heritage.  Clifton wanted all women to be proud of who they are.  In one of my favorite Lucille Clifton poems, “sarah’s promise”, Clifton gives a voice to Sarah; the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament telling of the Bible.  Most women in the bible were ignored or seen only as objects who gave birth.  Most of the women who have actual stories in the Bible were portrayed as whores or as weak human beings who easily gave into sin.  In “sarah’s promise”, Clifton gives not only a voice, but a powerful voice, to a woman who didn’t have one.

AbrahamSarahThe Story of Abraham and Isaac<– this is the link to the story straight from the Bible

In the book of Genesis, we have the story of Abraham and Sarah, and then Abraham and Isaac.  For years Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children.  Finally, God blesses them with Isaac.  In the story of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah is barely mentioned.  God goes to Abraham and tells him that the only way to prove his faith is by sacrificing his only son.  Abraham does not want to do it, but he has no choice.  He cannot disobey God.  Abraham then takes Isaac up to a hill, puts him on an altar and is about to sacrifice him when God comes to Abraham and tells him to stop; that he has proved his faith enough.  Then Isaac lives and everyone lives happily ever after.

sarah’s promise

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. jehovah,
i march into the thicket
of your need and promise you
the children of young women,
yours fora  thousand years.
their faith will send them to you,
docile as abraham. now,
speak to my husband.
spare me my one good boy.



Sarah was never mentioned in that chapter of the Bible.  You think she would be, since Isaac was her son as well.  She is not mentioned in the story of Abraham and Isaac, and then in the next chapter she dies.  Poor Sarah has no voice at all in the proposed sacrificing of her son.  Lucille Clifton gives a voice to Sarah in “sarah’s promise”.  In the poem, Sarah is infuriated and pleads with God to spare her son by saying “jehovah, i march into the thicket of your need and promise you the children of young women, yours for a thousand years”.  Sarah’s voice is not only pleading, but powerful when she says “now, speak to my husband. spare me my one good boy.”  Here Sarah is speaking straight to God.  She is ordering God to spare Isaac and to be content with the children of young women who can keep having children.  GASP!  A woman speaking straight to God and bossing him around?  Unheard of.  But so was Sarah in the Bible.  Why should Abraham be the only one to decide whether Isaac is sacrificed or not?  In the story, Abraham and Sarah are both 100 years old and this is the only chance they will ever have for a son.  In the first line of the poem it reads, “who understands better than i the hunger in old bones for a son?”  Clifton shows that Sarah has longed for a son for many years, and now God wants to take him away without her consent.  “so here we are abraham with his faith and i my fury” continues to show the strong, powerful voice that Clifton gives to the forgotten mother of Isaac.

As you can see in the link of the story of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah was not mentioned once even though she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac.  I guess the writers of the Bible did not think her feelings were very important, as well as the feelings of other forgotten women in the Bible.  Lucille Clifton, however, thought so.  With “sarah’s promise” she was able to depict the passionate, infuriated feelings of Sarah; a mother who has to give up her son unwillingly.  Her voice is powerful, demanding God to talk to Abraham and to spare her son.  Lucille Clifton, the ultimate woman, was able to give her powerful voice to Sarah and show us what she was feeling.

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Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” and Domestic Abuse

Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

In the opening of Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, we encounter a crime scene in the house of Mrs. Wright who is accused of murdering her husband.  In the scene we have the County Attorney, the Sheriff, his wife , the neighbor Lewis Hale, and his wife.  As the County Attorney, the Sheriff and Lewis Hale all observe the crime scene and trying to figure out a motive for why Mrs. Wright may have killed her husband, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are in the kitchen talking about how horrible the event was and how they can’t believe Mrs. Wright would do something like that.  As they are talking, they are taking in the scene in the kitchen.  The bread is out of the bread box, a quilt is left unfinished, and a bird cage is empty and broken.  They continue to talk about Mrs. Wright and how she changed after marrying John Wright; how he had “killed her singing”.  They then find the body of the bird that had lived in the cage wrapped in a fancy box as if ready for burial.  Its neck had been wrung.  This discover has disturbs the women, and Mrs. Hale makes a comment about how John Wright would not have liked the bird.  We then infer that it was in fact John who had killed the bird, and we can then continue to infer that John Wright was an abusive husband and that his killing of the bird caused something in Mrs. Wright to snap and she then in return killed John.

Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological. One in four women is a victim of abuse.  Unfortunately, stories like Trifles are not a rare occurrence.  There are many stories of abused women who then kill their husbands because that is the only way they believe they will be free of the abuse.  Domestic abuse was rarely discussed in the 1980’s, let alone the early 20th century.  Police believed it was a matter that should be settled in private, but that clearly did not work.

‘Sins by Silence’

The article above tells the story of Brenda Clubine, a woman who had been repeatedly put in the hospital by her husband and had 11 different restraining orders on him, as well as a warrant for his arrest.  Despite all of this, police barely did anything to stop the abuse.  Brenda has been in prison for 26 years for the murder of her husband.  Even though she had contacted the police numerous times, the only way she could escape the abuse was to kill him. However, unlike Minnie Wright in Trifles, you’ll see that Clubine killed her husband in self defense.  Clubine now spends years in prison, but it is probably better than her life with her husband.

The Preacher’s Wife

In this article, a young wife named Mary Winkler has been charged with the murder of her preacher husband.  She had shot her husband and then confessed, stating she had snapped after suffering through years of physical and sexual abuse from her husband.  This story is a lot like Trifles, because although people noticed that her husband was rough and that Mary was showing signs of abuse, no one did anything.  Mary also denied it for a long time and would make up excuses as to why she had a black eye and a swollen lip.  Another similarity is that in Trifles, when Lewis Hale is telling the story of how he encountered John Wright’s body, he said he saw Mrs. Wright and she told him John was dead and then she laughed.  She didn’t seem to be mourning him much at all, and actually seemed a little more at ease.  In this article, Mary Winkler is said to be behaving more like her old self after she kills her husband.  She is now allowed to talk to her family, when her husband had prevented that in the past.  Both Mrs. Wright and Mary Winkler seem to be more free and like their old selves after they kill their husbands, even when they know they might very well be in jail for a long time.

In Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, we see the ugly side of abuse and how women are forced to take action after enduring it for so long.  In the two articles “Sins by Silence” and “The Preacher’s Wife”, we see a present day Minnie Wright in Brenda Clubine and Mary Winkler.  These women could not escape their abusive marriages, and they believed the only way they could was by killing their husbands.  Whether it was in self defense of pre-meditated murder, all of these women were horrifically abused by their husbands and now will all share similar fates.



**If you, or a friend is signs of suffering in an abusive relationship, call the domestic abuse hotline.  1(887) 935-7921  The website for this number is www.safehorizon.org/  You could save your life or another life.  Do not go through this alone!  Get help!

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Women in Fiction

“If women had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man; some think even greater.  But this is a woman in fiction.” -Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (page 36)

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf discusses female characters in fiction and how in real life women were not able to be anything like these characters.  Some of the characters Woolf mentions in this same section are Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Anna Karenina, Clytemnestra, and many other famous women in literature.  All of these women were very strong powerful women, with their own independent thoughts and ideas.  These works of literature were written in a time when women were not allowed to be powerful or independent.  Even in an age where Queen Elizabeth I decided she was going to rule England by herself and without a husband to be subservient to, other women did not have that ability or option.  Most Elizabethan women weren’t even allowed to receive a proper education.  They had to be completely faithful and obedient to their husbands, and were probably not allowed to speak their minds.

After reading this section in A Room of One’s Own, I was left asking a lot of questions.  Where did these female characters come from, if women were so oppressed during that time?  After reading about how some men thought women were “lacking in personality and character”(page 40) and that “the best woman was intellectually the inferior of the worst man” (Oscar Browning pg.41), why did men then write works that included strong female characters that were not lacking in personality, and were in no way inferior at all?

I was able to think up an answer to some of my questions.  There were no books, poems or plays written in the Elizabethan era that actually depicted a common woman from the time because their lives had to be so mundane and they had to conform to the societal roles of women at the time.  Woolf’s argument here is that there were no Cleopatras or Lady Macbeths because women were not allowed to be. If there were, there is no proof because “she never writes her own life and scarcely keeps a diary” (page 37).  During the Elizabethan Era, the Cleopatras and Lady Macbeths in women had to stay hidden because, well, women were not allowed to be greater than men.

Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth    lady macbeth