Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

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recitatif in Recitatif

Toni Morrison’s writing style aims to involve the reader emotionally. She says, “my writing expects, demands, participatory reading, and that I think is what literature is supposed to do. It’s not just about telling a story; it’s about involving the reader. The reader supplies the emotions. The reader supplies even some color, some sound. My language has to have holes and spaces so the reader can come into it” (1225).


I think it’s interesting that Morrison refers to her writing as her “language.” A word I’s use to describe her work is “genuine.” Morrison writes the way she speaks. It is no wonder the reader can be so emotionally connected to her stories. The language is relatable.

Along those lines, Morrison uses the style of recitatif, which is also the title of the story. This style relates to that of recitatif in opera, in which a character sings in a thoughtful, speech-like manner preceding the aria. An aria is closer to what we know of as a song.

“It really wasn’t bad, St. Bonny’s. The big girls on the second floor pushed us around now and then. But that was all. They wore lipstick and eyebrow pencil and wobbled their knees while they watched TV. Fifteen, sixteen, even some of them were. They were put-out girls, scared runaways most of them. Poor little girls who fought their uncles off but looked tough to us, and mean. God, did they look mean. The staff tried to keep them separate from the younger children, but sometimes they caught us watching them in the orchard where they played radios and danced with each other. They’d light out after us and pull our hair and twist our arms. We were scared of them, Roberta and me, but neither of us wanted the other one to know it “ (1226).

As can be seen in this passage, the writing is quite fragmented. Sentences stop and start in places one would not expect upon reading a grammatically correct piece of literature. It does, however, make sense as it is speech-like in nature.

We are provided with new information upon each new sentence. This is certainly a technique that produces emotional involvement on behalf of the reader. It is gripping in a way that constantly draws us in and makes us want to know what is next. The short sentences also provide way to reel in our focus, rather than be lost in a long jumble of words.

Morrison mentions that the reader supplies color and sound. In this way, the reader can truly make a story his or her own, with his or her own thoughts and opinions. Morrison does not specify the racial backgrounds of Twyla and Roberta, but still makes it a central topic to the story. Upon making conclusions about race, in response to some of the stereotypes in the story, one can even learn quite a bit about his or her own thinking process.

ABC News special on the psychology of stereotypes:

Morisson aims to engage the reader’s emotions, yet the tone of her writing is so “unemotional” with blunt, short, matter-of-fact phrasing. Her language is anything but flowery. She does not tell the reader how to feel but forces the reader to feel something. I think that is big part of what art does.

I would say that this style, is very “take it or leave it”, which in itself is extremely powerful.

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Day, Night, Images, Sounds, and Music in “Psalm for Kingston”

Shara McCallum


In “Psalm for Kingston,” Shara McCallum recounts vague childhood memories in her home country, Jamaica using predominantly imagery and sounds. One of the aspects of this poem I picked up on was the contrast between day and night to depict the positive and negative characteristics of this setting. McCallum sets the beginning of the poem during the daytime.

“…City of market women at Half-Way-Tree with baskets”
atop their heads or planted in front of their laps, squatting or standing
with arms akimbo, susuing with one another, clucking
their tongues, calling in voices of pure sugar come dou-dou: see
The pretty bag I have for you, then kissing their teeth when you saunter off

City of school children in uniforms playing dandy shandy
And brown girl in the ring-tra la-la-la-la—
eating bun and cheese and bulla and mangoes,
juice sticky and running down their chins, bodies arced
in laughter, mouths agape, heads thrown back…”

The two stanzas suggest daytime in several ways. We are presented the image of a market and women carrying baskets. Children are singing and playing games in school. The mood is quite positive, as words such as “pretty” and “kissing” are used, as well as the phrase, “voices of pure sugar.” Children are singing and playing games. Their hunger seems to be satisfied with a variety of things to eat. Amidst the description of the food is the phrase, “arced in laughter.” This positive portrayal of food suggests food may be one of the main things in a child’s life that produces happiness. In our culture, we need and want food all the same, but prize it less than say, ipads or computers since it is so readily available at all times. So the fact that food is depicted in such a prized manner may suggest that it is also precious, and not very abundant.

“…City where power cuts left everyone in sudden dark,
where the keroscene lamp’s blue flame wavered on kitchen walls,
where empty bellies could not be filled,
where no eggs, no milk, no beef today echoed
in shantytowns, around corners, down alleyways”

As can be seen in this stanza, McCallum was indeed foreshadowing hunger. The reference to power cuts creating sudden dark indicates night, as do corners and alleyways, which I think of as areas that are shady at night. It is stated in actual terms “empty bellies could not be filled.” The quote, no eggs, no milk, no beef today gives the reader an auditory image, creating even more of an impact.

McCallum uses this tool of authentic language often. The “tra-la-la” of children singing as well as the women “susuing” and “clucking,” are not quotes so much as they are sounds the reader can audiate to experience McCallum’s childhood world. I compare this technique to that of music, which is entirely sound, and functions to conjure imagery. One can argue that the sounds in this poem are in fact, music, just not in a conventional sense. Additionally, the repetition of phrases/words and similar form among stanzas creates a sense of rhythm within the poem. I was not surprised when I learned of McCallum’s musical background during the skype session.

Political issues and prominent Jamaican musical and political figure, Bob Marley are referenced in the second to last stanza.

“…City where Marley sang, Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
where the baldheads reigned, where my parents chanted down Babylon—Fire! Burn! Jah! Rastafari! Selassie I!–…”

Again, here are sounds that contribute to the overall mood. I don’t know what some of these words mean but I can feel meaning by the way they sound. McCallum explained that she quoted the text of a Marley song that addresses European colonization in Jamaica. This idea is what “the baldheads” references.


European colonization of Jamaica



This video addresses Marley as a political influence through his music


Bob Marley: Time Will Tell


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Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

Irony and Symbolism in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles”

A major theme in the play, “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell is that of patriarchal dominance. Glaspell uses elements of irony to implicate their evident folly. The male characters are the prime investigators of the crime scene. They have titles such as “sheriff” and “county attorney” while the women are in attendance to merely serve as company while they work. The men make the investigative decisions. They decide to go upstairs to see the crime scene, as they believe this is the most important area of the investigation. The women are left downstairs in the kitchen, of all rooms.

Mrs. Peters: “It’s a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it?”


Sheriff: “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!”

The men poke fun at the women’s investigative claims. In fact, the men fail to realize that the women are at all a part of the investigation. Glaspell implies that the women make the most important conclusions and notice subtleties the men do not. The men spend most of their time “doing the work” at the exact physical crime scene while Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are in the kitchen, analyzing indirect facets of the crime. They explore Mrs. Wright’s personality and lifestyle, as well as possible incentives. The women encounter some important pieces of evidence in the kitchen. They are able to connect such “frivolities” to Mrs. Wright’s possible crime.

            Mrs. Hale: “I-I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow      

And you can’t see the road. I dunno what it is but it’s a lonesome place and always was. I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now-“


Mrs. Hale: “Not having children makes less work-but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day and no company when he did come in…”


Mrs. Hale: “…But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”


Mrs. Hale: “…We all go through the same things. It’s just a different kind of the same thing.”

Here, Mrs. Hale is empathizing with Mrs. Wright. Often, empathizing with the accused is crucial in prosecution. This is a way in which Glaspell implies a great sense of insight on the part of the women, and not of the men.


This article deals with the role empathy plays in forensics.

A major symbol in the work is the bird. The women find the birdcage in the kitchen and thoroughly observe it. They realize it is broken and no bird is there. Later they find the bird and realize it had been strangled.

Mrs. Hale: “She, come to think of it, was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty but kind of timid and fluttery.”

Glaspell compares the oppressed life of the bird to that of Mrs. Wright’s, through Mrs. Hale’s dialogue. The birdcage is yet another kitchen item that the women, not the men find and examine. They are able to make interpretive conclusions; again Glaspell is communicating intelligence and insight on the part of the women.

The characters eventually conclude that a jury will never convict a woman of such a crime as murder. This implies that the men’s expectations of women eventually work outside of their favor by disallowing them to work their jobs effectively. Basically, the men dig holes for themselves by excluding the women from their endeavors.

            I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The caged bird metaphor has been used in other areas of literature before for the same reasons.

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Women and Social Class in Society

Women and Social Class In Society

“One would expect to find a lady of title meaning with far greater encouragement than an unknown Miss Austen or Miss Bronte at the time would have met with. But one would also expect to find that her mind was disturbed by alien emotions like fear and hatred that her poems showed traces of that disturbance. Here is Lady Winchelsea, for example, I thought, taking down her poems. She was born in the year 1661. She was noble by birth and by marriage; she was childless; she wrote poetry, and one has only to open her poetry to find her bursting out in indignation against the position of women:

‘Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such a presumptuous creature is esteemed,
The fault can by no virtue be redeemed.
They tell us we mistake our sex and way;
Good breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play,
Are the accomplishments we should desire;
To write, or read, or think, or to enquire,
Would cloud our beauty, and exhaust our time,
And interrupt the conquests of our prime,
Whilst the dull manage of a servile house
Is held by some our utmost art and use (44)’”

“…It was a thousand pities that the woman who could write like that, whose mind was turned to nature ad reflection, should have been forced to anger and bitterness. But how could she have helped herself? I asked, imagining the sneers and the laughter, the adulation of the toadies, the skepticism of the professional poet (45).”

While women’s rights have come such a long way since the sixteenth century, parallel societal expectations still dominate. The media particularly displays these uniform expectations. Cosmopolitan Magazine passionately advocates today’s woman as one with a bold career, a phenomenon so common today, but unheard of in the sixteenth century and even in Woolf’s generation. However, accompanying pictures meant to exemplify the average American woman do so, but quite unrealistically. The pictures show celebrities and models, in designer clothing, with hair and makeup professionally done. A “makeup tips” page typically follows an article like this. Cosmo glorifies the independent woman but its publications are infiltrated with dating and sex advice. All of this is what came to my mind upon reading Lady Winchelsea’s statement about “good-breeding, fashion, dancing, dressing, play.”


The pictures below are examples of women either conforming to or defying their gender role




Maybe 200 years from now, the fact that women were once advised in magazines to look a certain way will be as shocking as is to us today, the plight of the female writer in the sixteenth century. We certainly have our own “Virginia Woolfs” and “Lady Winchelseas” many of whom have also been “forced to anger and bitterness” as a result of all the “sneers and laughter” they’ve received from society. It seems as if society’s outcasts often end up glorified by culture eventually.

The chief idea of the passage is the role social class plays in opportunities for women. Lady Winchelsea was in the best possible position for being able to write because of her high standing in English society. She certainly was given far more opportunity than writers of lower class, like Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Lady Winchelsea, however, was given a room of her own and only that. To Woolf, the bitterness in Lady Winchelsea’s writing was not ironic, despite her position and level of opportunity. Lady Winchelsea experienced natural human emotions that produced an outlook on society far ahead of its time. While she was given a room of her own, she was dissatisfied, despite society’s beliefs, at the fact that her writing would never travel further than that room. Woolf implies that a schism in social class such as this is destructive, because writing does not necessarily differ among women according to financial and social circumstances.

Jane Austen


In today’s society, wealthier women are given more opportunities and they set social standards. Women like Queen Elizabeth, Kate Middleton, and Michelle Obama are expected to adhere to certain ideals because of their power and wealth. Perhaps they too disagree with something in society, whatever that may be, just like Lady Winchelsea disagreed with the status of women in writing.

Michelle Obama Fashion, Best Campaign Looks, Fab Flash