Archive for October, 2017

Aftermath by Rachel Cusk: Blogpost by Rachel Chandar

Within Aftermath Rachel Cusk discusses motherhood through her feminist viewpoint, writing about other women’s voices on motherhood, and the effect of divorce upon herself and her children. As a feminist, Cusk wished for equality in her marriage. As a working mother, she longs to maintain a balance between her career and her home life, to have a marriage as a ‘transvestite couple’ allowing her to be ‘both woman and man’. This transgression from the stereotypical role of a woman is fresh, showing the new desires or ‘new reality’ for the married woman and upon motherhood. She powerfully speaks out and encourages women to transgress from societal expectations of motherhood, as women do not have to conformingly be the stay-at-home mother living entirely for their children, but can help define the ‘stunning refinement of historical female experience’.

From her husband’s view ‘he believed he had taken the part of woman in our marriage’, yet he finds the motherly role too feminine, that it is simply the womanly duty to shop and cook for the family, and pick the children up from school. A father is seen as helpful for doing tasks a mother is expected to perform. But surely these fatherly duties should be no different from the mother’s duties? As well as this, should a mother not have the opportunity to work for her family without scrutiny, unlike the working husband who is simply praised?

From Cusk’s experience, she voices motherhood as being ‘foreign’, as though it is a ‘cult’ in which she must fully surrender her identity. She could not find the expected femininity that comes into motherhood within herself, and so takes on a masculine identity, while her husband somewhat emasculated himself, leaving them both with a sort of equality- as ‘hybrids’. It can be seen that Cusk does not have this ‘maternal instinct’, the motherly bond that is expected from all mothers. She experiences a loss of identity by not only rebelling against societal expectations of motherhood by being a working mother, but also being immersed in new motherly duties. Aftermath also expresses the mother’s voice from the point of view of Cusk’s mother. The fact that Cusk’s mother had taken on her maternal duties to live for her children depicts the expected image of motherhood, as well as the adulterated male values of patriarchal society, one in which Cusk feels alien to.

 

Aftermath is a text that truly voices the frustration in the divide between motherly and fatherly roles, and how today many women are the working mother, constantly battling with their identity in the need to be both male and female to justify their working self.  By defying societal expectations she is scrutinized, losing her voice and thus her identity, pushing her back into the ‘chink in the tall wall of womanhood’.

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Who is Toni Morrison speaking for through Beloved? Blog post by Camara Butler

Toni Morrison’s phenomenal novel speaks for the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade who were unable to speak for themselves. Beloved is based upon the factual event of Margret Garner who felt it necessary to murder her own children after a failed attempt to escape slavery. Garner committed this crime because she felt it was better for her children to die than grow up as slaves. Due to her social standing as a slave, and the brutality of her actions, her story remained quashed until Morrison decided to write it in 1987. Due to a lack of recording of the events surrounding Garner’s decision, Morrison has fabricated the majority of the novel, basing it upon records of the lives of other slaves around the same time that Garner was alive.

Despite the majority of the narrative being fictionalised (particularly the supernatural aspect and Garner/Sethe’s freedom), Beloved gives a voice, not only to Garner, but to all female slaves. While it is true, that since the 1960’s the world has been exposed to more and more accounts of the lives of slaves, through media and fiction, such as Alex Haley’s Roots, or Steve McQueens Twelve Years a Slave, few have focussed on the lives of black women. So why did Morrison? Why did she focus a novel around the lives of women? Perhaps because their suffering was so often merged in with the suffering of men, or presented in how it hurt men. It would be wrong to say that enslaved women suffered worse than their male counterparts, but it is fair to say they suffered differently. It is true that writers like Haley did document the rape of black women, but it was simply as a means of moving the narrative along, he does not focus on the damage this would have had on, not only the woman (his ancestor), but also her son. Morrison does! Morrison has focused on the abuse enslaved women suffered, abuse so horrific it drove Margret Garner to kill her own children because she honestly believed death was better than the life awaiting them. Morrison highlights this idea in her novel by only killing one of Sethe’s children; her eldest daughter. In Beloved, Sethe could see a real person emerging and could no doubt imagine, more vividly than she could with Denver, the life this enslaved woman would lead.

The events based around Garner are only half of the central narrative in the novel, the other is the suppressing of these events. Sethe spends the majority of this novel suppressing her actions, ignoring them in the hopes they will disappear, until she can’t because Beloved returns in a physical form, disrupting her life. Here, Morrison is writing to those who ignored the terrible events of slavery, presenting her view that one day a physical reminder will be brought. In many ways Morrison’s novel is that physical reminder, as through it she also speaks to those who may want to ‘move one’ from slavery. Beloved demands that society opens their eyes to the travesty’s of slavery in order to heal.

Thus, Morrison’s Beloved is an essential piece of literature for all people, as it gives a voice to black women, and also to the African American community as a whole. Men are given a voice, through the character of Paul D, mixed race people are given a voice, black culture and beliefs were given a voice. What is more, Morrison has achieved all of this without vilifying white people, speaking for those who disdained it or attempted to destroy it. She has even spoken to those who attempted to uphold slavery in the past and today by ignoring it. This novel doesn’t just speak for the black community, it speaks for and to everyone, of all ages, sex and race. One would be hard pressed to find a person Toni Morrison has not spoken for through Beloved.

The House on Mango Street – blog post by Georgia Balch

“I had started Esperanza in Iowa at the University of Iowa, feeling very displaced and uncomfortable as a person of color, as a woman, as a person from working-class background. And in reaction to being there I started to have some Mango Street almost as a way of claiming this is who I am. It became my flag. And I realize now that I was creating something new. I was cross-pollinating fiction and poetry and writing something that was the child of both. I was crossing borders and I didn’t know it.”

This quote is particularly interesting when relating the novel to the idea of locating the subject. Here, we are presented with a young Hispanic girl growing up in Chicago, in a home that she is not happy in. It seems that here we can relate the creation of Esperanza to Shoshana Felman’s idea that women are, ‘trained to see ourselves as objects and to be positioned as the Other,’ Throughout the novel, we are reminded of the struggles Esperanza faces as ‘the Other’ because she is a woman, because she is Hispanic and because she is from a working -class background.

 

Cisneros presents us with a coming-of-age story through the use of vignettes, and a narrator that grows up as the plot develops. As she continues to become a woman throughout the story we can compare our protagonist to Rose’s theory of, “‘the subject in process’ to convey the sense of the subject as incomplete, always becoming, never stable.” After meeting the elusive, glamourous and beautiful Sally, we see Esperanza start reflecting on sexuality and femininity. However, this Cleopatra-esque character has her own issues, trapped on Mango Street and later in an abusive relationship. As Esperanza experiences her own sexual encounters, most notably, ‘Red Clowns’ she directly addresses Sally, saying “Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl.”

 

The use of the words ‘Spanish girl’ are reflective of the struggles that she faces not only by being a woman, but also because of her background. As a child, she says, “All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighbourhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake,” She only feels safe within her Hispanic neighbourhood, yet she wants to escape. In ‘The Rice Sandwich’ we see her attempt this in a sense, but it all goes horribly wrong.  The story concludes with ‘Mango Says Goodbye’ in which our protagonist still looks ahead in hope of freedom, “They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.”