The poem ?The Critick and The Writer of Fables? published in 1713 by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, is an ambitious attempt at a satirical play on gendered and formal limitations of Augustan poetry. The critick is representative of a male poetic society, and yet by acquiring a voice from Finch within the poem, it appears to represent one side of Finch?s own internal debate in deciding where her writing belongs. She makes a case for a new style of writing by satirizing the forms already in existence. The poem, at once, exemplifies an Augustan commentary about poetic definition while it inserts the thinly veiled female object of Finch, the fable writer, as the subject in the style of the Romantic poets. Finch carves a place for her own poetry between the satirical, warring poet and the pastoral, peaceful muse, making room for her various resulting combinations. Finch?s poetry resides somewhere between two chronological, poetic traditions, as well as a gender division, without fully occupying any one more than another. It is in her displacement that she finds her own space.
Challenging the Reproduction of Gender Inequality in Anne Bront??s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
In Anne Bront?’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, ideological apparatuses, as defined by Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, work to mold and sustain vast differences between men and women in the early nineteenth century. Each gender is groomed to occupy a separate societal sphere, men as master of the public realm and women as mistress of the domestic. These distinctions foster inequality and oppression of women, yet they are consistently reinforced by both genders within the patriarchal system. The danger of such inequality, at worst, allows for the abuse and silent oppression of women while, at the very least, it reproduces the same oppressive social system from generation to generation. Helen Huntingdon, the novel?s heroine, is the tool by which Bront? experiments with an alternate existence. Helen challenges the traditional role of motherhood by raising her son Arthur differently than a more traditional mother, Mrs. Markham. She also takes issue with the oppressive nature of marriage for women. By examining the cycle in which inequality of gender is enforced and reproduced, Bront? successfully confronts the traditional Victorian ideals which foster inequality, vice and abuse.
Bront??s Markham family is the epitome of late nineteenth century societal views. The topics that Mrs. Markham, as an authority on traditional Victorian motherhood, uses to reprimand Helen are telling of the general opinion of her day. Her first criticism is of Helen?s wine restriction for her young son, Arthur, which in turn leads to a critique of Helen?s child rearing practices in general. “If you would have your son walk honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them — not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone” (Bront? 28). Mrs. Markham is arguing that a young boy?s education requires experience, not shelter, and that a mother?s role is to be unobtrusive, not overbearing. Mrs. Markham undermines her own authority by requiring a man with religious authority, the vicar, to validate her claim on this tradition. ?[M. Millward will] tell you the consequences; ?he?ll set it before you as plain as day, ?and tell you what you ought to do? (Bront? 30). In doing so, Mrs. Markham maintains a discriminatory stance for herself and broadcasts it among her parlor. In the vicar?s absence, Gilbert defends the veracity of his mother’s words, unaware of his own role in reinforcing the societal precedent. He reiterates what his mother had said, that Helen must not shelter her son like a hot-house plant. “Shielding it from every breath of wind, you could not expect it to become a hardy tree, like that which has grown up on a mountain-side, exposed to all the action of the elements” (Bront? 30). Laura Berry?s scholarly article, ?Acts of Custody and Incarceration in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,? addresses this ideology:
Bront??s fictions deny the idea of sentimentalized motherhood as a potential haven from imprisoning or torturous anti-familial or institutional structures. If homes imprison, mothers do not, in this novel, liberate ? The family then is the place where gender difference is created. It is by ?protection? and ?influence? that a mother forms a daughter; but ?making a man? of a boy is achieved in giving him a liberal hand. (Berry )
Essentially, as is evident within the previous passages, mothers are expected to remain in the domestic realm and to mature their sons through the freedom of experience, an effort championed by free men and sanctioned by the church. Interestingly, both genders within the same family share this male-centric point of view, one perpetuated unawares until Helen challenges the requirements of motherhood.
Mrs. Markham is not without defiance within her own household. Her daughter Rose naturally opposes her mother?s reverence toward her brothers, sensing through her societal innocence, the disparity between herself and them. She complains to Gilbert when asked to make him tea once tea time is over, ?you?we can?t do too much for you ? I?m nothing at all ? I?m told not to think of myself? (Bront? 53). Rose is young and still in training. Her burning opposition is repeatedly snuffed out by her mother’s constant discipline in accordance with the laws of gender. ?You know, Rose, in all household matters, we have only two things to consider, first, what?s proper to be done, and secondly, what?s most agreeable to the gentlemen of the house?anything will do for the ladies? (Bront? 53). According to feminist theorist Judith Butler in her essay ?Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,? the body becomes a cultural sign:
Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis; the tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions?and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them; the construction ?compels? our belief in its necessity and naturalness. (Butler 2500)
Rose doesn?t naturally understand the distinction between genders because it doesn?t naturally exist. Mrs. Markham, having fully absorbed gender ideology, believes that not only must she conform, she must teach Rose to conform as well; to submit to the rules of difference is preferable to the punishment offered if either one of them does not.
This snapshot of Victorian life demonstrates that religion, motherhood and education are the vehicles which perpetuate rather than challenge the rule of inequality. According to Marxist theorist Louis Althusser in ?Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,? an imaginary social construct is used to coerce submission to and reproduction of the labor condition. This ensures the power of the ruling class:
Of course many ? contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are ? taught in the Family, in the Church ?in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the ? relations of exploited to exploiters, and exploiters to exploited are largely reproduced. (Althusser 1495)
The domestic realm espouses the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA), particularly as it functions within the previously mentioned private, rather than governmental, realms of religion, family and education. In addition to class division, this enforced separateness also applies to gender, illustrating the masculine social power driving women into submission. Within Helen?s first marriage to Huntingdon, she has assumed the role of modesty and submission in response to his self importance, smooth talk and cunning. Helen understands the failure of this system for women and seeks an escape from its grasp.
Bront? intentionally creates the Markham setting ripe for Helen’s retort, allowing her to challenge not only the way in which men are socially groomed, but to rebuke the male dominant religious authority over the subject. ?Mr. Markham here, thinks his powers of conviction at least equal to Mr. Millward?s. If I hear not him, neither should I be convinced though one rose from the dead? (Bront? 30). Holding fast to her spirituality while simultaneously rejecting the domination of religion, Helen directs her rebuttal to Gilbert, specifically challenging the unseeing portion of his male point of view. She asks how he would raise a girl as compared to a boy:
You affirm that virtue is only elicited by temptation; — and you think that a woman cannot be too little exposed to temptation … It must be, either, that you think she is essentially so vicious, or so feeble-minded that she cannot withstand temptation ? whereas, in the nobler sex, … exercised by trial and dangers, is only further developed. (Bront? 30-31)
By exposing the duplicity between the rearing of young men and women, Helen logically questions whether or not Gilbert believes feminine character and virtue is inherently fallible. Gilbert trapped within the machine of a defunct society, objects. ?Heaven forbid that I should think so!? (Bront? 31). Herein lies exposed a great contradiction between the practice of a disguised lack of faith in women and the heralded ideal of the virtuous “angel in the house.”
Seeking balance and equality, Helen defends her practice as a mother with a strong presence in her son?s life. She breaks from prevalent expectations saying:
You would have us encourage our sons to prove all things by their own experience, while our daughters must not even profit by the experience of others. Now I would have both so to benefit by the experience of others, and the precepts of a higher authority, that they should know beforehand to refuse evil and choose the good, and require no experimental proofs to teach them the evil of transgression. (Bront? 31)
According to Helen’s declaration, Bront? rejects the idea that such freedom afforded young men should be fully experienced only to later be reigned in through marriage. She also rejects the opposite extreme of sheltering young girls to the point where they have no self-actuated sense of wisdom and virtue, ill preparing them for independence and strength in difficult times. Scholar Elizabeth Gruner, in her essay ?Plotting the Mother: Caroline Norton, Helen Huntingdon and Isabel Vane,? says of the same passage quoted above:
Helen?s argument here neatly defends the novel, as teaching by others? experience, and her own maternal practice, while simultaneously undercutting any conception of an essential gender identity. Masculinity and Femininity are taught in this novel and can be played, revised, changed?as Gilbert himself learns. (Gruner 312)
A compromise must be met. The possibility exists, for which Helen is an example, where each gender benefits from preparedness to function in all aspects of society rather than to perform supplementary roles from separate spheres of a distinct division.
As Rose requires constant reminders to conform to her feminine identity, Gilbert also requires more than one lesson in his education to break free from engrained gender perspective, demonstrating how deeply entrenched the importance of gender identity is to the commonwealth. The town gossip darkens Helen?s true virtue because, as a wife who left her husband regardless of his abuse, she no longer fits within the ideal of ?angel in the house.? Here the machine manipulates Gilbert once more. Performing his gender duty, he avoids Helen, punishing her for doing her gender wrong (Butler 2500). Silence aggrieves the lovers, and Gilbert finds himself ?deceived, duped, hopeless, my afflictions trampled on, my angel not an angel, and my friend a fiend incarnate? (Bront? 102). Not until Helen offers her journal, appointing a witness for her story, does Gilbert escape his torment. While he does loosen his grip on the feminine definition, the reader is left to wonder if this change is binding. Scholar Russell Poole, in his article ?Cultural Reformation and Cultural Reproduction in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,? argues:
Helen?s diary is often identified as the means of instruction ? but we should not exaggerate its effect ? A few of [Gilbert?s] comments as a narrator suggest that a mitigation of his more aggressive traits has occurred subsequent to marriage rather than before it and certainly not as a precondition of it. (Poole 863)
Gilbert is like a child under the instruction of Helen, one in constant need of a reminder not to fall into old habits, learning who Helen is as a person, not as a misunderstood cog in the gender hierarchy. Regardless of Gilbert?s retention level, more importantly demonstrated is the fact that silence must be broken by women and their stories acknowledged by men before change can occur.
Bront? appears to fall short under the contemporary lens of feminism when Helen?s relationship flourishes with Gilbert and their wedding merely reinserts her into the same system from which she fled. Her property becomes Gilbert?s; it is he who must grant permission for Helen?s aunt to stay in the home that was once hers; and Arthur ?he was my own Helen?s son, and therefore mine? (Bront? 469). Gilbert makes a statement of claim on both mother and son, as if they are property to be owned. This reads as if Bront? could envision no practical solution for the plight of women. Although she is not able to write Helen out of society?s grasp, all is not lost. Rather than becoming an example by which women may redeem their power, Helen, more realistically for Bront??s time becomes the subject for discourse among Bront??s readership. Scholar Carol Senf, in her essay ?The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Narrative Silences and Questions of Gender,? explores the value in Bront??s delineated story telling technique, one by which Helen?s tale is both divulged edited through Gilbert:
Like the unique narrative structure, the wife?s story framed by that of her husband, this emphasis on domestic life?especially on the relationships of men and women during courtship and marriage?encourages the reader to focus on questions of gender, especially to see the way that nineteenth-century notions of marriage consigned women to silence. (Senf 450)
As Helen?s full story unfolds, Gilbert and the audience of the novel learn of the horrors that can exist when expectations of women remain unchallenged. Beyond that initial lesson, a more subtle lesson is also divulged. Helen?s experience of oppression and abuse, that which had been locked within the confines of her journal until shared with Gilbert, becomes the property of Gilbert once they marry. Personal expression is no longer her own. Bront?, may not have had the vision to free Helen from the stranglehold of mastership without denying her love, yet she offers this subjection up to all of society to reform as a whole.
These social values and customs of the early nineteenth century are of importance to study because remains of those gender imbalances are still present in society today. To understand where gender inequality fails and reproduces oppression of women can help to pinpoint ways in which it can be remedied. Historic trends provide commentary through literature, allowing for study of the causes and effects within this division. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in particular, provides a most valuable social commentary as it is the first novel of its kind to reveal the harsh reality of those women who suffered the worst of oppression of the time. Without discussion of the process by which women perpetuate their oppression, the importance of the challenge posed by Bront? is unable to be fully appreciated for the impact it has had in liberating the minds of women and imparting change upon a nation.
Althusser, Louis. ?Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 1476-1508.
Berry, Laura C. ?Acts of Custody and Incarceration in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.? NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 30.1. (1996): 32-55. JSTOR. 4 April 2007
Bront?, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992
Butler, Judith. ?Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.? The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. 2488-2501.
Gruner, Elisabeth Rose. ?Plotting the Mother: Caroline Norton, Helen Huntingdon, and Isabel Vane.? Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. 16. 2. (1997): 303-325. JSTOR. 4 April 2007
Poole, Russell. ?Cultural Reformation and Cultural Reproduction in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.? Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 33.4 (1993): 859-873. JSTOR. 28 March 2007
Senf, Carol A. ?The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Narrative Silences and Questions of Gender? College English. 52.4 (1990): 446-456. JSTOR. 28 March 2007
A Research Proposal:
In Anne Bront?’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the character of Helen Graham challenges the inequality of gender in society. This inequality, at worst, fosters abuse and the silent oppression of women while, at the very least, it reproduces the same oppressive social system from generation to generation. Helen?s debate at the Markham house addresses this societal reproduction. The role of the mother in the raising of a child is dependant upon the gender of the child. For boys, learning from experience is most valued. For girls, virtue is attained through the sheltering of their innocence. Helen believes in moderation for either gender, particularly since experience has taught her well and made her no less virtuous. As Helen?s full story unfolds, Gilbert Markham and the audience of the novel are educated about the horrors that can exist if societal expectations of women remain unchallenged. Because Helen remains moral regardless of the experiences she faces and is rewarded with love and happiness in the end, Bront? demonstrates that to break from those aspects of tradition that foster vice, abuse and inequality can and must be a success.
The social values and customs of the early 19th Century are of importance to study because remains of those gender imbalances are still present in society today. To understand where gender inequality fails and reproduces oppression for women can help to pinpoint ways in which it can be remedied. Historic trends provide commentary through literature, allowing for study of causes and effects of this division. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall provides such a social commentary as it is the first novel of its kind to reveal the harsh reality of those women who suffered the worst of oppression at the time.
Materials regarding this line of inquiry are present in JSTOR. A cursory search provided three pertinent points of reference and more surely exist. The first is ?Cultural Reformation and Cultural Reproduction in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? by Russell Poole, the second is ?Feminism and the Public Sphere in Anne Bront?’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? by Rachel K. Carnell, and third is ?The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Narrative Silences and Questions of Gender? by Carol A. Senf. As for the application of theory, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism provides a wealth of information.
Theoretical application can move in several directions. Feminism is an obvious lens through which the novel can be viewed. Gayle Rubin speaks of women as a social gifts for societal connection. For the women in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, consideration of societal connections is of high important as mothers are continually concerned with their daughters? acceptance of socially respectable gentlemen. To move just outside the feminist realm, Franz Fanon speaks of being defined in relation to ?other.? Although this novel does not deal with racism, it does deal in the oppression of women as they are defined by men. Women, like Fanon?s description of black men, are imprisoned within the nature of their bodies by social structures outside their own being. Additionally, Althusser is applicable. As a Marxist, he speaks of repressive and ideological state apparatuses such as religion, school, family, laws, and political systems which have a cyclical effect on the reproduction of society. These apparatuses reproduce gender roles and class distinctions in addition to the reproduction of labor Althusser discusses. Because Helen moves, as a woman, beyond the limitation of class distinction when she marries Gilbert, she contradicts those apparatuses doubly.
Margaret Oliphant, in her novel Miss Marjoribanks, uses the seasons and external spaces to indicate the status of Lucilla Marjoribanks’ social influence. At the age of nineteen, Lucilla enters Carlingford and crafts it into the social sphere of her desire. Her own thriving garden, in what appears to be summer by its established lawn and shrubs, represents her full sense of social influence over her newly formed society. The initial wane of her influence is suggested through the imagery of Mrs. Mortimer’s garden as fall approaches. Lucilla’s complete social dormancy is represented by the encroachment of winter as she mourns her father’s death. When she is once again feeling ambitious, summer has returned and she is ready to nurture the entire village at Marchbanks into new growth. While these seasonal settings are not representative of a chronological year, they are strategically placed to represent the seasons of Lucilla’s life as she experiences it.
Lucilla’s initial abilities as Carlingford’s social leader are evident in Oliphant’s garden imagery early in the novel:
By this time the garden was full of pretty figures and pleasant voices, and under the lime tree there was a glimmer of yellow light from the lamps, and on the other side the moon was coming up steadily like a ball of silver over the dark outlines of Carlingford; and even the two voices which swelled forth up-stairs in the fullest accord, betraying nothing personal sentiments of their owners, were not more agreeable to hear than the rustle and murmur of sound which rose all over Dr. Marjoribanks’ lawn and pretty shrubbery. (134)
This seamless integration of society and nature illustrate Lucilla’s “natural ability” to mold the constructs of her social sphere. Lucilla’s planned concentration of light under the lime tree is significant because the lime tree is traditionally known to possess protective power against evil and catastrophe. Symbolically, Lucilla uses this to thwart the threat posed by Cavendish as he diverts his attention from Lucilla to Barbara. Lucilla’s name itself means light and her far reaching impact is represented by the moon rising over the dark outlines and people of Carlingford. Her voice too is likened to the murmur of a breeze over the lawn and shrubs, blending with Barbara’s in a sweet melody that speaks of her control over her passions. She is seen mingling with all including Barbara, a perceived enemy, without faltering. Each of these garden details illustrates how Lucilla is at the peak of influential power at the beginning of the novel.
Approaching the time of fall, when the harvest is nearly ripe, the garden Lucilla creates for Mrs. Mortimer’s school yard appears withered and broken much like Lucilla’s image of herself:
Miss Marjoribanks could not help observing that the branches of the pear-tree, which was that the garden contained in the shape of fruit, had come loose from the wall, and were swaying about greatly to the damage of the half grown pears … it is astonishing how many little things go wrong when the man or woman with a hundred eyes is absent for a few days from the helm of affairs … the espalier had got detached, some of the verbenas were dead in the borders, and the half of the sticks that propped up the dahlias had fallen, leaving the plants in miserable confusion. (203)
In this passage Oliphant suggests the wane of Lucilla’s influence. This garden is significant because Lucilla creates it in attempt to both manage and establishing Mrs. Mortimer in Carlingford. Leaving the garden to the attention of anybody but herself, a woman with a hundred eyes, has had a disintegrating effect. This line reveals that only Lucilla can keep an eye in every direction but she has been absent from this space. The pear-tree is particularly telling because it traditionally represents lust and desire which, like Lucilla’s love interest, is damaged and bruised. The pears are merely half formed, meaning that Lucilla’s lust for the Archdeacon is not fully realized when he abandons her company to speak with Mrs. Mortimer. Lucilla’s immediate thought in response is to perform the job of garden maintenance, tying up the pears and dismantling the confusion of the plants. With this she seeks to find the secret connection behind Mrs. Mortimer and the Archdeacon. Essentially, when forces beyond the reach of Lucilla’s influence take their toll, she might temporarily lose control, yet she does eventually maintain it.
The encroachment of the snow on the night of her father’s death suggests Lucilla’s pending dormancy:
Meantime, the snow fell heavily outside, and wrapped everything in a soft and secret whiteness. And amid the whiteness and darkness, the lamp burned steadily outside at the garden-gate … that night the snow cushioned the wire outside, and even made white cornices and columns about the steady lamp, and the Doctor slept within. (396)
This illustrates how the beginning of Lucilla’s dormant and mourning state affects not only her, but the town as well. The snow falling around the house also falls around the whole of Carlingford. Thursday evenings are about to be suspended The Doctor’s bell is silenced as the snow cushions the wire, telling that he is dead. At the same time, the light burning at the garden-gate is slowly dimmed by stacking flakes, just as darkening circumstances are about to stack up against Lucilla. Still, as the light in the lantern never goes out, Lucilla continues to illuminate her space from within the house.
When Lucilla reaches her new peak of ambition, fueled by her marriage to Tom, summer has returned once more.
… the sight of the village at Marchbank was sweet to her eyes … It occupied a great deal more than the gardens did … Lucilla’s eye went out over the moral wilderness with the practical glance of a statesman, and at the same time, the sanguine enthusiasm of a philanthropist. She saw of what it was capable, and already, in imagination, the desert blossomed like a rose before he beneficent steps, and the sweet sense of well doing rose in her breast. (494)
While Tom takes on the actual gardens of Marchbank, Lucilla envisions the influence of her illumination on all of Marchbank village. In the moral wilderness, she sees an untamed society barren of social skills, waiting to be formed by her masterful hand. She sees the desert blossom like a rose at her feet, just as she believes the less fortunate will gratefully bloom before her with her assistance. As she did at Carlingford ten years prior, she can imagine the possibilities for the people here and she has every intention of bringing their new society to fruition. This challenge requires more skill than she exerted in Carlingford because the social landscape has never been primed as it was there. Through this hopeful vision, we are led to believe that if Lucilla can imagine it, she can achieve it. Summer will bloom under her authority.
Oliphant’s use of seasons and space indicates more than Lucilla Marjoribanks’ social influence. In each instance, it becomes obvious that Lucilla, regardless of her situation, is never fully defeated. Cavendish’s betrayal has little impact as her ability to rise above is represented with thriving garden-scapes. Mrs. Mortimer’s garden reveals a stumbling block and nothing more, for when the Archdeacon abandons her for Mrs. Mortimer, Lucilla simply talks of maintaining her power and dismantling the confusion. In the face of her father’s death, Lucilla’s light is dim and dormant under the snow but it never goes out. In the end, she is rejuvenated and ready for an entirely new project beyond her accomplishments in Carlingford. Her constant triumph reveals that she will likely succeed as she tends to her goals at Marchbank.
Oliphant, Margaret. Miss Marjoribanks. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
Questions up for debate:
1.) Which candidate do you (not the people of Carlingford) think is better for Parliament, Mr. Ashburton or Mr. Cavendish? Why?
– Dr. Marjoribanks wrestles with his opinion (353 bottom)
– Colonel Chiley’s opinion (364 middle)
– Lucilla’s opinion of Mr. A in social circles (365 middle)
– Summary of both candidates (371 all)
– Mr. Centrum’s conversation with Cavendish (384 bottom-385 top-middle)
2.) Did Dr. Marjoribanks suspect he was going to die so soon, or was he simply reminded of the fact that the end eventually comes via Mrs. Chiley’s health and his worry for Lucilla?
– Dr. M and Lucilla discuss Mrs. Chiley’s health (391 top)
– Dr. M suggests Lucilla marries (392 middle to bottom)
– Mention of change/”next morning” reference (393 top)
– Lucilla talks with lawyer John Brown (408 bottom – 409 top)
3.) Although they can’t legally vote, do the women have influence over the outcome of the election? If yes, how? If no, why not?
– Lucilla: Mr. Ashburton’s campaign manager (341 middle)
– Does a “woman’s touch” matter? (342 middle, 355 middle)
– Spin Doctor (362 middle, 363 top, 369 top, 372 bottom, )
– Social talent a plus (367 top)
– The last word on politics (394 middle)
4.) Will Lucilla live a “single woman’s life” successfully at her father’s house? What details support your theory?
– Aunt Jemima’s practicality (413 bottom half)
– Public opinion (417 top half)
– The first declaration (not solely) of independence (420 middle)
– Consider the House (420 bottom)
– Curbing Nancy (424 bottom)
Part I: An Introduction
This portfolio contains my collection of work focusing on Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. I chose to include this particular collection because each stage of rewriting, from thesis inception through final analysis, demonstrates a systematic increase in understanding of Paul D’s continuous journey toward his sense of “manhood.” My literary scholarship has been furthered through close reading of the novel and two peer reviewed research sources while carefully revisiting and expanding support for my thesis.
The final draft of this paper has been improved technically by addressing two considerations. Initially, euphemistic language was used to describe the difference in cultural issues. Gaining confidence in handling these issues openly, the terms “black” and “white” are used more frequently as appropriate. Also, the previous drafts seemed to address my concepts well enough, but the paper would not appeal to some one who had never read Beloved. Because my audience may someday include the uninitiated, more description was used to illustrate the points. Close attention and reworking of the overall sentence structure removed wandering verbiage, keeping my thoughts concise and poignant. This new version achieved the desired effect on my test subject as I read the paper aloud. This entire process allowed me to see how effectively my thoughts were conveyed.
Conceptual additions to the final draft move beyond a cursory glance at how Paul D is stripped of the label “man” and offer further analysis on his diminishing sense of self. In a half page of text on 125 in the novel, a new close reading reveals vivid details and important events in Paul D’s deconstructive history. Incorporating the transfer of Paul D’s ownership from schoolteacher to Brandywine, his attempt on Brandywine’s life, and time spent on the Alfred, Georgia chain gang demonstrates Morrison’s quick depiction of how Paul D is whisked from one place to another and also allows for the inclusion of Sitter’s theory on Morrison’s tree imagery. Having found Sitter’s ideas intriguing, I was unsure how to work them into my existing paper. The addition of two new pages opens the door, using her theory as complimentary support for my examination into the significance of Paul D’s trembling. This new material also equates white culture’s power with guns, spanning beyond previously argued examples of how Garner gives guns to his “men” and schoolteacher takes them away. By discussing Paul D’s inferred and repeated oral rape at the mercy of the barrel, sobering description adds weight to “the enormity of Paul D’s degradation in the irresponsible hands of white authority” (Clune 4). And lastly, as described in the rain scene in Georgia, I break through my original assessment of Paul D’s treatment as an animal, realizing that “his life is worth less here than that of an animal, and only slightly more than the dead” (Clune 4). These inclusions strengthen the support of my thesis by allowing for deeper analysis.
Because I have received the highest grade possible in all stages of this developmental process, I found that discovering new directions in which to move is more difficult than reworking something known to have failed. This challenge has forced me to exceed my best effort. It has also taught me the importance of keeping notes on possible exploration and revisiting abandoned ideas. As this final paper comes to a close, I would still like to examine how Paul D encounters the feminine embrace of “white” manhood from the point of view of Baby Suggs, Sethe and Denver and the eventual abandonment of that interpretation by Sethe and Denver. I would also like to inspect the shift in Paul D’s sense of identity beginning with his own introduction to Denver as “Paul D Garner” and his eventual acceptance of himself as his own man, in the end, as she calls him “Mr. D.” That, unfortunately, will have to wait for another paper. Having surprised myself with the amount of my own interpretations and conclusions I will really enjoy writing it some day.
Part II: Understanding the Guidelines and Objectives
At the start of the semester, I only vaguely understood the objectives of the course. Unfamiliar with certain concepts and terms in relation to literature, I was unable to define what made literature worthy of study. Even as we began to address that question early on, I had no idea what my answer would be. I used to determine whether a book was good by how it made me feel, but that has since changed. The past few months of study have taught me that literature reaches far beyond emotion. Reading back on my first essay, I can see how wide my eyes have opened.
Doubtful that I could say something new, I have discovered that my original interpretation is worthy of analytical study and expansion through research. I was fascinated by the new meaning historical documentation provided when reading Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and the types of critical approaches developed from its study, particularly New Colonialism. In reading and writing about Morrison’s Beloved, I was glad to engage with an alternative text to the traditional canon. This expansion of the canon offers a greater opportunity for students/scholars to dialogue with the text about relevant issues facing marginalized portions of society. Marginalization and diversification, the most prevalent topics in all my classes, are a grand departure from what was taught even in the late eighties. I enjoyed venturing into the world of research for Beloved after first using “The Tempest’s” training-wheel criticism because it gave me the chance to explore so many credible and relevant sources. This was one of the goals I had hoped to reach as mentioned in my first essay. Also, as much as the aforementioned facets applied to the poetry explication, I found that identification, understanding and employment of literary terminology reinforced its meaning. Now these terms are always close at hand for future projects.
Together, the abilities gained through this class have offered me a confidence I had not otherwise possessed when discussing various aspects of literature. Class discussion and development of papers has been a great exercise in abstract thinking and the feedback to my work has been a wonderful reward. One thing I have learned is that, while getting an A is nice, even an A is not the end of the road. Room for improvement always exists and I can still use much of that in public speaking. While my poetry explication was fraught with a case of nerves, it was a great personal triumph just to stand at the head of the class, particularly since I chose to speak at the podium rather than my seat. Since I remember very little about the experience, the most intriguing part of the presentation, for me, was the preparation. Next time can only be better. Overall, with the small exception of public speaking, this semester has broadened my skills and my enjoyment of reading and writing.