During the 1920s and 1930s, a cultural movement took place which was called the Harlem renaissance. Many forms of art have been used in expression of the sentiments of the people pursuing the ideals of this period. This has been a unique expression of their fight which were evidently depicted in literature. Although the end of this movement was not accurately documented, many scholars say that it lasted from its beginning on the year 1920 to 1940 (Aberjhani, 2011).
It is very known how African-American experiences discrimination through the years and that they are deprived of the freedom of speech because no one would want to listen to what they would say or no one would care about how they feel. In the history, the Harlem Renaissance was one of those moments where blacks had the chance to express their feelings and that there are people who are listening to them. Rau wrote in his book The Harlem Renaissance (4)
This night is filled with voices—African-American voices during a time called the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance refers to the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s, when literature, art, and music flourished in the black community. It was a time of creativity, when black people had something to say, and others were willing to listen. (Rau, 2005)
The Harlem Renaissance was about creating art that could be shared with others—both whites and blacks. Poems, stories, music, theater, painting, and sculpture were ways for African-Americans to share their ideas with the world. African-Americans at this time were redifining themselves. It had been rare up to this point in American history that a black person was thought of as much beyond a slave, servant, or hired hand. African-Americans wanted to create a new identity as a people. Identity describes where you come from and where you are going. It is thinking about what you feel about yourself, and how you want others to see you. The Harlem Renaissance was an exploration of ideas. People did this in different ways and did not always agree. But what was important was that all voices had the freedom to speak and all voices were heard. (Rau, 2005, 5-6)
Through this movement, the voices of the people in general have been heard, regardless of where they come from, their age, their gender, and especially their race. Even before, the isolation of the African-Americans is rampant. Fortunately, as time goes by, black Americans learn how to fight for their rights and release their ideas and sentiments to different forms of art – as stated above, music, painting, and literature. In line with this, this research focuses on the treatment of women during the Harlem Renaissance movement. Many factors are to be considered to come up with accurate analysis of the literatures that will be used as the subjects of this study. However, significant factors such as the race and the gender will be the focus as this research will find close reading analysis and interpretations of the chosen literatures with regards to the theories that will be used accordingly.
Literary works are one of the most reliable sources of past events including chaotic situations, triumphant events, revolutionary acts, theories, discoveries, transitions and personal struggles. Writers find their voices though writing because several factors such as threats, social pressures and standards keep them from publicly expressing their opinions and needs in the society. This brings us to the idea of the oppressed and the challenges that they face during the process of representing themselves through art, or more specifically through literature. Being one of the most common group of people who are often challenged by social and traditional standards, the female gender has long found refuge in literature in order to preserve their sacrificial pasts and express their continuous fight for gender representation. They have utilized writing not only to present their own thoughts, but more importantly, to persuade others to constantly join them in their aspiration for further changes that could develop the woman identity and this became prevalent during the 20th century. Different countries across the world experience various forms of female oppression but they may imply one significant message to their readers and that is one of the main points that this study seeks to unravel through in depth interpretation of different contemporary writings from China, United States of America, and France. The discussion mostly includes the history of feminism in each country and on how the modern century embraces all their social differences in order to come up with a unified message that has long been conveyed by women of different generations and cultural beliefs.
From this study, one is able to trace that feminism in various countries had its own distinct roots due to sociopolitical and historical differentiations. However, as the contemporary period promotes the significance of communication and interaction through literature, women across the world have learned how to influence, adapt, and persuade others to follow the same feminist thought and theory. This study unravels how Western ideologies regarding Feminism has partly influenced the Asian Feminism, as portrayed through Chinese Literature. In addition to that, the study presents the ideas of different female activists from different countries and on how in one way or another, do they unify and create a particular aspiration.
Williams stated in her book Harlem Renaissance: A Handbook that (11)
By 1910 the community of Harlem had become a middle-class neighborhood with spacious homes, beautiful churches and thriving business. Two-hundred thousand blacks who could afford the high rent had moved there, mainly from the older boroughs of Manhattan. Historian Gilbert Osofsky foundthat “Negro churches played a more important role in the development of Harlem than all other institutions in the Negro community.” When the downtown Negro Baptist and Methodist congregations began their move to Harlem, their pastors followed them to the new Negro neighborhood. The members established store-front churches, most of which became independent, stately structures in which to worship. A notable black newpaper, the New York Age, moved its plant and editorial office into the district. The Age was the largest journal of its kind in the country. Under the direction of Fred Morton it ran real-estate advertisemens which aimed at Negroes and empasized the building of a fine neighborhood. Its editorials advocated the political leadership of the Republican conservatives and the program of Booker T. Washington. (Williams, 2008, 11-12)
This shows the influence of church in the community of African-Americans during the period and how their faith to their religion helped them to achieve the freedom they had during that time. Church has always been supportive to the community that they conduct whatever it is that they think will be helpful to the people. For this, the church contributed a number of factors to which it resulted to a better life for the black Americans which gave birth to Harlem Renaissance where their voices have been heard and where their feelings matter to the whole community. Many years have passed and many notable events took place in the history of black Americans as well. Williams noted (14)
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, agents went to he South to recruit and transport thousands of Negro politicans, businessmen, educators and skilled workers to large industrial cities such as Manhattan, Chicago and St. Louis. Other migrants became restless and dissatisfied with the rural South and left the plantations for the city to “better their conditions.” The new arrivals to the cities, while creating a diversified community, frequented churches, established fraternal organizations and marched in colorful parades that became attractive entertainment. Success came to a few southern migrants who were attracted to Manhattan. The most interesting among them were Madam C J Walker, who discovered a hair-straightening process and Ferdinand Q. Morton, who was prominent in Democratic politics, ruled “Tammany Hall.” Despite the efforts of the new arrivals to better their condition, life in the large industrial cities rendered them harsh, strange and difficult places for Negros to live. They became victims of racial hatred, prejudice and inhuman rights. (Williams, 2008, 14)
Williams added that (15)
While negroes wondered about the declaration of war and their participation in it, on July 2, 1917 a devastating race riot broke out in the industrial city of East St. Louis, Missouri. Thousands of laborers had been recruited to th city for the purpose of suppressing the Organization of White Union Aluminum Ore Workers. Hundreds of Negroes perished in the riot, and others were burned out of their homes. DuBois wrote in Crisis that “No land that loves to lynch ‘niggers’ can lead the host of Almighty God.” Three weeks later the NAACP led a silent march down Fifth Avenue with James Weldon Johnson, who had accepted a position as field secretary of the NAACP, and W E B DuBois leading the ranks. The marchers carried signs reading “Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy” and streamers saying “Your Hands are Full of Blood.” Young black political and race radicals, who had migrated to Harlem from the South, raised arguments concerning the war from soapboxes at the corner of Lenox Avenue and 135th Street. Chief among them were socialists Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, who in 1917 co-founded and published the Messenger, a radical Negro magazine. Its editorials promoted their views on socialism and worl conflict, and the Negro masses were urged to join the trade union movement instead of fighting in a “capitalistic” war. (Williams, 2008, 15)
Since then, the freedom of the Black Americans was already marked in the history. Many forms of self-expression were established whereas African-Americans regain their confidence in contirbuting to Arts. This also gave breakthrough to the establishment of their identities, giving them opportunities to prove the importance of their existence and the works that they could contribute to the beauty of different kinds of Art. Among the many forms of Art that flourished during that time, it has been depicted that Literature was the one wherein most of the artists focused on in which transformations were seen. During the height of the Harlem Renaissance, black Americans used literature which gave birth to their identity in literary expression. For that reason, numerous literary pieces have been written and published during the Harlem Renaissance. The limelight on literature has once and for all lighted upon the Black Americans in the United States. This became the way for them to regain their confidence and find their identity as they discover their place in the society.
Harlem Renaissance as a Literary Movement
Hutchinson (125) wrote in his book The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White that
To understand the institutional contexts of the New Negro movement requires a careful examination of the overall cultural politics of the journals and publishing houses that promoted it and of the conditions that gave fise to these journals and houses in the first place, rather than a single-minded focus upon their treatment of racial issues. Such issues cannot be walled off from the complex negotiations of cultural power within the American field as a whole. Neither can the mere interrogation of the racial attitudes of various individuals and gossip about the parties they went to get one very far in understandin how American literary traditions interacted and changed bthrough the mediation of institutional settings. The Harlem Renaissance followed not only (as is often stressed) the black migration and World War I but also the emergence of a whole new matrix of magazines centered in New York city. As V. F. Calverton would later recall, “The day when The Atlantic Monthly was the final authority for American intellectuals was dead. . . . New magazines had arisen and the old magazines had to change their characte; that is become more American, in order to survive. Publishing houses also had to give audience to the new tendency.” Indeed, to a great extend the magazines found and created the audience that would support the new publishers. Significantly, before the teens, these magazines either did not exist or were under the control of more conservative editors, a fact that has a lot to do with the timing of the Harlem Renaissance. Combined with magazines created by organizations of African American “uplift” and reform, such journals governed the literary field inhabited by Harlem Renaissance writers. Attention has focused in the past on literary discussion groups and social gatherings, and these did play a role in the emergence of black modernist networks. But what was discussed in these meetings, as far as we can tell, had to do with what was being published, and what resulted from the meetings in turn found its most reliable expression in published form. (Hutchinson, 1995, 125-126)
These relevant facts about the history of literary transformation during the Harlem Renaissance serves as the foundation of this study wherein the researcher disected the idea of analyzing fictions in relation to the movement. Although the movement did not last for long, it has been seen that in a short period of time, many changes took place and many remarkable literary pieces have been contributed to the field of literature—not just in the United States but across the globe as well. Hutchinson (126) added
The “white” magazines—particularly The Nation, The New Republic, The Liberator, and The Seven Arts—and the writers and editors associated with them first shaped and promoted what is now thought of as the American literary “canon,” before authors such as Whitman, Poe, Thoreau, Melville, Dickinson, and Mark Twain had been accepted in the universities. Indeed, contrary to current assumptions, the formation of the now-“traditional” American Renaissance canon and the blossoming of the Harlem Renaissance were parallel and complementary, not antagonistic, developments. They not only happened at the same time but were promoted by the same people, magazines, and publishing houses (including African American writers, magazines, and publishing houses). Black writing fit into the basic social and cultural reforming program of these magazines that wanted to distinguish American from English aesthetics, often on grounds of cultural pluralism, vernacular experimentation, and social egalitarianism. Primitivism, for the most part, was a later and always subordinate concern, although it too fit the broad front of attack against the “general” tradition. (126-127)
The magazines that allied with the New Negro were by and large “highbrow” or “intellectual” general-interest journals. “White” mass-circulation magazines like the Saturday Evening Post had virtually nothing to do with the movement besides providing grist for the mill of citique and satire (to which the editors of these popular magazines apparently paid little attention). On the other hand, the strictly “literary” magazines such as Palms, Poetry, and The Little Review published some black writing, even an occasional special issue focusing on the New Negro, and the Saturday Review, Vanity Fair, and The Bookman published some criticism; but the main support and publicity for the movement came The Nation, The New Republic, American Mercury, The Liberator, Modern Quarterly, and the like. Among black publications, the strictly “literary” organs such as Harlem and Fire!!, although of great interest, for the most part died too quickly to have a sustained impact, and so The Crisis and Opportunity became the chief journals of African American literature and criticism. These factors in the institutionalization of the movement are especially interesting because of the way the clustering of audiences and contributors linked people across bondaries of genre as well as of race. The new writing appeared in a broadly interdisciplinary context—concerned with new developments in anthropology, social theory, literart criticism, and political commentary. Thus, although a book review or poetry editor might have a slightly different political and social orientation from that of the chief editorial writers, the mutual attractions were stronger than the repulsions, and often quite strong indeed. Furthermore, the general social and cultural orientation of the magazines shaped the production and the reading of all that appeared within each issue as well as largely determininh the likely audience. (127)
Essentially, Bloom (17) cited in his book The Harlem Renaissance
In Black Manhattan, Johnson gives this assessment of the artistic movement in progress:
The most outstanding phase of the development of the Negro in the United States during the past decade had been the recent litrrary and artistic emergence of the individual creative artist; and New York has been, almost exclusively, the place where that emergence has taken place. The thing that has happened has been so marked that it does not have the appearance of a development; it seems rather like a sudden awakening, like an instantaneous change. (17)
If anyone understood the Harlem Renaissance, could see it forming, encourage it, analyze it, help to explain it to the world, it was James Weldon Johnson. As both a forerunner and a member of the movement, he presented a living example of the artist-humanist triumphant in a society that sought to disinherit him. He would not be defeated, and he inspired other to feel the same and to express the sentiments of being black in American society. It was said by many, both black and white, that Carl Van Vechten used Harlem and made a cult of its exotic and more colorfully exciting sections. James We;don Johnson believed that this was a false view of his friend, and Arna Bontemps agreed with Johnson’s judgment of the one white man who literally soaked up black culture during an extensive portion of his life. One of the objections to Van Vechten was his novel, Nigger Heaven, published in 1926. Johnson’s opinion was that “most of the Negroes who condemned Nigger Heaven did not read it; they were stopped by the title.” It is a fact, in any case, that Van Vechten did introduce the publishers Alfred and Blanche Knopf to several Negro writers—James Weldon Johnson, for one, and also Rudolph Fisher. According to oe of Van Vechten’s biographers, “Alfred Knopf often relied on Van Vechten’s judgment entirely in decisions about manuscripts [from Negro writers]”. (17)
In relation to that, many authors wrote books during the 1920s-1940s with regards to Harlem Renaissance and the women of that time. They also have a personal touch to these kinds of texts. Often, writers relate their works to their real life. It’s a common ground for the known artists to have something where they draw their inspiration from for an art to put into creation. Some of them draw their inspiration from their loved ones, some from drugs, there could also be some from severe depression or extreme happiness, some could think creatively while smoking, some even became insane because to too much thinking, but most of them drink first until they are fully under the control of alcohol – drunk.
In that sense, these writers have a tendency to create a character on a text that reflects their personal feeling while under the influence of the characteristics of the era or their personal knowledge about it. These could be concerning their behavior, way of talking, gestures, way of dealing with the conflict of the story, etc. These characteristics of women during the Renaissance Harlem can provide symbolic meaning to the readers and thus giving them a deeper figurative understanding of the text. Yet, some writers, on the other hand compose a text that depicts the history or background of the movement even if they did not have any personal experience on it, which brings out the conclusion that people of those times have powerful influence on some writers. Imagination also works, in this case. Some literary works even imply a peculiar idea of the Harlem Renaissance that is not even possible to happen in real life. That is where Imagination VS. Reality takes into account.
From the various short stories and poems contributed by a number of excellent writers in African-American, literature, 2 of them are selected to be the subject of this study. These texts could be from different authors and of different topics. The depiction of treatment of women in Harlem Renaissance in these texts must be seen, in any way. From these selected stories, depictions of the treatment of women during the Harlem Renaissance are analyzed in connection with the usage of feminist approach.
Statement of the Problem
This study interrogates the diverse delineation of the treatment of women during the Harlem Renaissance in African-American fiction by various writers. African-American fictions which contain female characters in any way are selected to be the subject. From sorting these sources, variety of concepts rises up. Thus, the description of women during the Harlem Renaissance and its relation to the different aspects relevant to African-American literature such as elements of a story, biographuical background of the author and influences, etc. are theoretically analyzed.
Specifically, this study attempts to lay open view on the following:
How are the treatment of women depicted in the selected fictions?
What is the importance of embodying women in the story and on the identity of the characters?
How do reality and the author’s imagination differ from the depiction of the treatment of women on the narratives?
How do the biographical backgrounds of the authors and their influences contributed in the depiction of alcoholism in the seleced fictions?
Significance of the Study
This study attempts to provide a clearer view of the treatment of women during the Harlem Renaissance involved in the selected fictions. Female characters in literary works can sometimes be over looked by the readers, or others mind intend to ignore them, for the reason that their gender seems not essential to the story at all. Some short stories, for example, have female characters that most of the time are not given focus on the interpretation, and as well as women personas in some poems. This doesn’t just address on the characters or persona, alone, but also on the whole story. Other aspects such as sociological, psychological, physiological, mental, etc. can also be factors for the readers to understand the whole meaning of the text in a better way. Women on literary works constructs concerns on many aspects, especially psychological and sociological. Female characters actually affects the flow story more than other gender present in the story, although these are not commonly seen in the texts.
In this light, writers of African-American fiction and poetry uses female characters as a technique to portray a role that can be seen in the reality. Women’s tendency to be deprived of freedom of speech and to do what they want can represent the African-American community in the United States as a whole which can be a way for an author to create a different twist or style on hitting the whole point of the story. This way, the poem or short story can create different and new identity as of the previous ones and thus, giving the readers more excitement and requiring them the ability to analyze the personality of the characters upon reading the poem or story.
It is a given fact that most of the readers, especially those who are not really into critical analysis of these kinds of stories tend to ignore the essential content of the characters’ attitude towards the other characters and its effect on the story. With this study, these over looked aspects of the story can be fully understood. It is important for the readers to get the elemental content of the story and use it as their basis of interpretation.
Over the years, African-American writers have written variety of good literary works. Some of these reflect the reality of the society, while some of these are products of their imagination. Either way, the depiction of the treatment of women can be seen and must be given enough attention to be clearly analyzed. By just mere looking at the women on these stories, themselves, the essential facts will never be absorbed. Instead, must be given enough focus to digest the content of its effect on the elements of fiction (Plot, Setting, Characters, Conflict, Symbol, Point of view, Theme) and poetry (Alliteration, Assonance, Metaphor, Onomatopoeia, Repetitions, Rhyme, Rhythm, Simile, Style, Symbol, Theme). Moreover, the relationship of the author to the text shall be examined in this study as well.
Thus, this study attempts to unleash the importance of the women characters in selected African-American short stories; providing the readers deeper and better analysis of the given literary works.
Scope and Limitation
For a precise and comprehensive analysis and study of the depiction of treatment of women in Harlem Renaissance in African-American literature, this research considers several short stories written by various African-American writers. From a number of excellently written poems and short stories which contain female characters, 3 texts are chosen to be the subject of this study. These selected literary works, in order to be considered falls on any/all of the following:
The text has women character/s who severely affects the other characters because of his/her condition.
The text personifies characteristics of Harlem Renaissance to portray a role in the short story or poem.
The text contains scenes wherein the characters are set in time during the Harlem Renaissance.
The text will have other meaning or interpretation if women characters weren’t depicted in the story.
The text conveys important facts of Harlem Renaissance in connection to the elements of fiction and poetry.
The text’s depiction of treatment of women during the Harlem Renaissance was influenced by the background of the author.
African-American writers have notably been producing many notable short stories and poems which contains female characters in reflection of the society and of the imagination, but the above mentioned consquences are the ones considered in this study basically because these indicates that the depiction of the treatment of women in Harlem Renaissance in the selected texts aren’t simple but rather those which need critical analysis.
Particularly, this study focuses on the effect of the “theme” itself, on the whole story. Treatment of women during the Renaissance Harlem depicted on the selected texts, in relation to the elements of fiction and poetry and the author.
This paper does not also focus to other short stories, poems, novels, essays and classical facts about women during the Harlem Renaissance. However, they may be referred to as additional information, secondary materials and may serve as framework of the study.
This thesis analyze the literary pieces in accordance to Simone de Beauvoir’s and Marguerite Duras’ theories of feminism as they are relevant in the chosen literary works. Born January 9, 1908 on Boulevard Raspail, Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir famously known by her shortened name Simone de Beauvoir was a French theorist, philosopher and writer dealing with issues and arguments of existentialism and feminism. (A&E Television Networks, 2011). She is known in the field of literature and philosophy for developing ideas that has been useful in the respective fields over the years. de Beauvoir was educated in private schools and has passed her aggregation in Philosophy with her thesis about Leibriz where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Nizan and Andre Hermaid – there then began the lifelong partnership between her and Jean-Paul Sartre. Jean Paul Sartre and de Beauvoir were best of friends and intellectual equals as they pair ranked as the first two students with the highest mark in their graduating batch. (European Graduate School EGS, 2010).
The interests of de Beauvoir also include politics which also contributed to her number of writings. In the year 1943, she was able to complete four books in connection with the Nazi occupation in France. These includes Les Bouches Inutiles (Useless Mouths), The Blood of Others, Men are Mortal, and Pyrrhus et Cineas. She taught several schools in Paris, Marseille and Rouen for a decade in 1931-1941. Over the years of her experiences in politics, teaching, travelling and her polygamous love affair with Sartre, she was able to publish a number of novels and conceptualize theories that tackle issues in discrimination, politics, feminism and existentialism. Her other literary pieces include She came to Stay, Who Shall Die?, The Ethics of Ambiguity, The Second Sex, America Day by Day, The Mandarins, Must We Burn Sade?, The Long March, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, The Prime of Life, Force of Circumstance, A Very Easy Death, Les Belles Images, The Woman Destroyed, The Coming of Age, All Said and Done, When Things of the Spirit Come First, Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre, Letters to Sartre, and A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren. (Bair, D., 1991).
Essentially, Simone de Beauvoir was one of the most famous women in France during her lifetime. She was very particular with the purpose of being a woman and the women’s stand in the society. “As she approached her 40th birthday, Simone de Beauvoir began increasingly to be preoccupied with the question, ‘What has it meant to me to be a woman?’” (Appignanesi, 2005 p. 85) Concerned to emphasize that her own intellectual and authorial voice was not a marginal one – one specific to her place as a woman – Beauvoir was always fierce in her declarations that within her own circle she was treated and acted as an ‘equal’, indeed a priviledged equal: and that the question of her femininity rarely came into play: “I had never had any feeling of inferiority, no one had ever said to me: ‘You think that because you are a woman’; my femininity had never been irksome to me in any way” (cited in Appignenesi, 2005 p. 85).
Beauvoir was not really a feminist until she task herself to write about her own life and then there the question of her womanhood took place. “Wanting to talk about myself, I became aware that to do so I should first have to describe the condition of women in general…I looked and it was a revelation: the world was a masculine world, my childhood had been nourished by myths formed by men, and I hadn’t reacted to them in at all the same way I should have done if I had been a boy.” (cited in Appignanesi, 2005, p. 85).
Starting with Simone de Beauvoir’s distinction between sex and gender, which points to the social construction of gender stereotypes, to Monique Wittig and Collete Guillaumin’s more radical claims that sex and race are themselves socially constructed, the denaturalization of sex, gender, and race have been important to Anglo-American feminism. French feminists and American feminists alike have had varied reactions to Beauvoir’s attempts to make women equal to men by denying marriage and motherhood, criticizing love relations, and rejecting stereotypical gender roles. (Oliver, 2000). Beauvoir is among the first feminist thinkers to develop what has now become widely known as a social constructionist portrait of gender, believing that women are not born as women but are made into women by the pressures and expectations of a patriarchal world. Beauvoir explains that the relationship between the two sexes may be necessary for the continuation of both but it is not a reciprocal relationship. Men are the norm—the essential beings of Western culture—and also represent all that is positive about human endowments and creations.
According to Beauvoir, women, on the contrary, represent merely what men are not. Women are defined wholly in terms of their deficiency to men and therefore represent what is base, frivolous, and contingent to human experience.
For Beauvoir, the concept of ‘Woman’ is synonymous with the concept of the ‘Other.’ ‘Woman’ cannot be defined concretely or positively, but only as the dark, nebulous side of ‘Man’. Women, claims Beauvoir, have no shared history of oppression, no shared cultural traditions, no shared religions like other oppressed groups, such as racial minorities or Jews. Beauvoir also claims that within patriarchal culture, men are those creatures capable of transcendence—they are capable of acting upon the world and bestowing meaning upon it—while women are immanent beings who derive their meaning from their relationship to men. (cited in Oliver, 2000, p. 3)
De Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex (1949) helped many people comprehend the complexity of the female conditions in general. Women of that time were suppressed of human dignity and that the patriarchal society took their voices to invent and to create art or simply to convey their ideas. Also, women are unjustly treated as masculinity was viewed as the superior gender. Beauvoir argues that:
Man ‘remodels the face of the earth, he creates new instruments, he invents, he shapes the future’; woman, on the other hand, is always and archetypally Other. She is seen by and for men, always the object and never The subject. (The Second Sex, 1949).
Women has to deal with the façade and aesthetic issues that other people criticize of her because her body and its appearance play a large role in making her desirable. In Beauvoir’s chapters of The Second Sex (1949), “The Mother” and “The Woman in Love” Beauvoir demonstrates the ways in which women are not destined to be the second sex or merely immanent beings. Women, though they align themselves with men, do so only in order to escape their freedom. For Beauvoir, all human beings, regardless of biological differences, are born free and must struggle to engender their liberty; all human beings must rebel against traps and lures, as well as oppressive social conditions, to become all that they have potential to be in this world. (Oliver, 2000, p. 4). Women, however, evade their freedom that they are in bad faith—to use Sartre’s term (Oliver, 2000, p. 3)—because they content themselves with finding the meaning of their existence in the successes of the men they marry or of their sons.
According to Oliver (2000), de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex presented a clear definition of how female and male as genders are differentiated in the society. He stated that
The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes in not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. (Oliver, 2000, p. 8).
Essentially, the concept of the Other emphasized in The Second Sex was also discussed in Oliver (2000) wherein he stated that the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of a duality—that of the Self and the Other. This duality was not originally attached to the division of the sexes: it was not dependent upon any empirical facts. (Oliver, 2000). When man makes of woman the Other, he may, then, expect her to manifest deep-seated tendencies toward complicity. Thus, woman may fail to lay claim to the status of subject because she lacks definite resources, because she feels the necessary bond that ties her to man regardless of reciprocity, and because she is often very well pleased with her role as the Other. (Oliver, 2000, p. 12). This is in relation to most of the scenarios wherein a woman depends her success on her husband or her son. It is one of the reasons why women are treated as the second sex, because most of them, especially in the early years were not confident enough that they will be successful by themselves, but rather, they depend their success and wealth to the man in their life.
The Second Sex is a fascinating, overpowering, and finally bewildering book. It represents prodigious research and enormous reading but does not pretend to be an objective and scientific study. Rather it is a strange combination of facts, history, myth, rationalistic philosophy of existentialist persuasion and sheer lyrical flights. (Leighton, 1975, p. 26). This is because most of what is written in the book are reflections of what de Beauvoir saw in the society as a woman who can create a medium to express her likeness for women to be treated equally.
The influence of de Beauvoir’s ideas continue to inspire as other feminists use her concept in their works. Judith Butler (1998) in her essay Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex argues whether, if gender is choice, women could conceivably be blamed for choosinf their situation; her conclusion is that although Beavoir is well aware of the complex material origins of oppression, which prevent it from being simply generated by choice, her emphasis on choice is empowering because it reminds us that oppression is contingent and that oppressive gender norms only persist to the extent that individuals take them up repeatedly. She also argues that despite Beavoir’s emphasis on the need for women to seek transcendence, she does not intend women to imitate the masculine project of disembodiment. (cited in Fallaize, 1998, p. 30).
The Second Sex prepares the way in a number of respects for the influential theoretical texts which Butler has gone on to write in the 1990s. Gender Trouble (1990) analyses the rule-bound discourses which generate gender and sexual identity and proposes a performative theory of gender. Both here, and in Bodies That Matter (1993), she argues that far from being ‘natural’, gender is acquired through the repetition of a multiplicity of injuncttions and performances which can be subverted and parodied to expose the illusion of fixed gender identity. Butler’s work is a striking example of the way in which Beauvoir’s insights in The Second Sex continue to inspire feminist theorists. (Fallaize, 1998, p. 30).
On the other hand, Born on th e 4th or April year 1914, Marguerite Donnadleu most commonly known as Margurite Duras – (She got her pen name from the name of a village in France near where her father had owned a property) (Luikkonen & Pesonen, 2008) – is a French writer and film director who is greatly known in the fields of literature and films for her several contributions. Duras grew up in Sa Dec, – which is considered one of the busy towns in – Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Her childhood memories were the most special ones wherein her autobiographical novel entitled The Lover mostly narrates on. The Lover (1984) was published in France and the publication of its English translation was in the year 1985. (Literary Traveler, 2010).
French novelist, representative of the nouveau roman, scenarist, playwright, and film director, internationally known for her screenplays of HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, directed by Alain Resnais, and INDIA SONG (play 1973, screenplay 1975). After relatively traditional novels and stories, Duras published in 1958 the novel MODERATO CANTABILE, which first summarized her themes of sexual desire, love, death, and memory. However, Duras did not publish a manifesto of her ideas like so many representatives of the noveau roman did, but her final work, ECRITE (1995, Writing), gave a brief account of her life and theory of writing. (Luikkonen & Pesonen, 2008).
Duras took up political science and law at the Sorbonne, France at the age of 17 and she graduated from college in the year 1935. French novelist, Marguerite Duras lived and died doing what she does best, to write. In an excerpt from her final work, Writing (1995) she describes her own life as a novelist, scenarist, playwright and a passionate writer as she explains that:
“the solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be produced, or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write. When it loses its blood, its author stops recognizing it. And first and foremost it must be never be dictated to a secretary, however capable she may be, nor ever given to a publisher to read at that stage.” (as cited by Adler (1998) from Writing, transl. by Mark Polizzotti, 1998)
While reading her works, one would be able to know what kind of life Margeruite Duras had because of the descriptive account of her theories about life and writing is vividly described in her novels and stories. Born in April 4, 1914, French Incdochina (Vietnam) she had five siblings who were all boys and she was the first girl in among her brothers namely, Pierre, Paul, Jacques, and Jean. Her father, a Math teacher died when she was only four years old due to contagious fevers in France at that time. Then, it was her mother Marie Legrand who raised her in Indochina until her teenage years. They were experiencing a life of poverty and Marguerite and her family suffered as they struggled for a better life and until the end she always keeps “a damned mentality of being poor”. She firmly explains that once a person is born poor, everything will stay as poverty is “hereditary and everlasting” (Adón, 2001)
Her given name is Margeruite Donnadieu, she eventually used Duras as her pseudonym because of the memories that she had as a child in the French village named Duras. Before her father died, he saved enough money for them to have their own house in that village (Cohen, 1993). Unfortunately he caught the disease shortly after buying the house that he wanted for them to live there and change his surname to Duras. She eventually took on her father’s wish and used Duras as her pseudonym.
She then moved to France when she was 17 years old because she studied Law and Political Science. After graduating, in 1935 she started working as a Secretary at the Ministry of Colonies during World War II and became part of the French Resistance. Her husband is also a member of a resistance group Richelieu. Their story about love in a time of revolution and war became the source of her short stories, La Douler in 195 and her first book in 1942 entitled Les Impudents. She wrote about her obsession for writing and how she views her experiences in life and in love (Lamy and Roy, 1981).
After that, she then became a journalist for the Observateur and that was the time when she started to build her status in literature. It was in 1950’s when her works became famous and her name is associated with how she describes the characters in her stories. She focused more on their emotions and inner feelings rather than just the description of the characters. The readers were engrossed with her works for they are being told n such a way that one would be able to feel how the characters felt. It was more on dealing with reality most especially during that time for her work Un Barage Contre Le Pacifique in 1950 or known as The Sea Wall (transl. by Herma Briffault) / A Sea of Troubles (transl. by Antonia White) – film 2008, dir. by Rithy Panh, starring Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Grass, Isabelle Huppert, Lucy Harrison has a resemblance to her life when she was young. It features the struggle of a poor family settled in Indochina fighting against poverty (Selous, 1988).
Margeurite Duras had an interesting take on how she deals with her experiences in life as featured in her writings such as the psychological romantic novel Le Marin de Gibraltar in 1952. She lives a life full of hardships but learns how to deal with it. Her characters shows yearning, bitterness, love, loss and one can only write about such drama based on the obstacles that she experienced personally. She is not like other avant-garde writers because she mostly wrote things regarding the reality of the world’s cruelty and not in the form abstract literary theories than “examining the power of words, remembering, forgetting, and feelings of alienation” (Payne, 1999). Most especially in her novels about race, discrimination and love on her novel Hiroshima, Mon Amour that later became films. It is related to her life because it depicts a love story of a French actress as the character Emmanuelle Riva. It shows how the main character struggles to fight for love in a life with no purpose or direction through madness or alcohol. According to Adler (2001) on her brief account of Duras life she states that:
“Hiroshima, Mon Amour received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. All reviews were not enthusiastic. “That a film so amateur should receive so much critical acclaim is a sad commentary on the state of Western culture… the enthusiasms of a-political critics for this picture reveals a mental confusion so close to intellectual bankruptcy as to alarm everyone who believes the West has a mission.”(H.H., Films in Review, June/July 1960) Duras was also accused of ignoring Okada’s story, and drawing parallels between the Hiroshima holocaust and Riva’s suffering. After the May 1968 students’ revolt, Duras’s writing grew increasingly abstract. Although she rejected allthe aesthetic and stylistic techniques familiar from her earlier work, she returned to this material to turn it into new plays, novels and films. Duras’s sparse, yet suggestive style, and her use of language, was much discussed by feminists as embodying feminine writing” (2001).
Marguerite Duras then focused more on making films and publishing screenplays in 1970 until 1980s. She admits that she became an alcoholic and tries hard to rehabilitate herself. She even wrote a successful nover entitled Practicalities in 1987 about her fan that became her secretary Yan Andrea Steiner who published books about Duras’s life shortly before she died. During that time, Marguerite Duras still published novels and made films which received great reviews and award. She lived a well off life because of her success and until her death in Novemeber 3 1996 she still did what she does best, to write.
CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW
Over the years, there had been many reviews regarding the pieces of literatures produced during the Harlem Renaissance. There were many transformations and developments done during this time wherein African-Americans started to practice expressing their thoughts into writing. Aside from the many other issues tackled in the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, the females are the ones who were chosen to be the subject of this study. With this, a number of factors can be considered as how and/or why many individuals in the society are under this condition. As far as the society is concerned, there is actually increasing number of discrimination of females in a community which affects greatly in different aspects such as physiological, economical, sociological, and political, among others.
Various writers and researches have been incorporating this topic to their text or study in relation to literature. Moreover, many writers had been personally involved in this scenario, giving them the personal idea and personal touch upon writing a text in connection to this issue. This chapter discusses the related literatures and studies to this research.
De Beauvoir and Duras
Simone de Bauvoir’s stand on the concept of the Second Sex and Duras feminist point of view come hand in hand with other European writers such as Margaret Ferguson, Sidonie Smith, and Joan Scott, as they all articulated the 17th and 18th centuries introduced a “newly sexualized” figure of a woman, that opposes the Medieval and Renaissance conservative image of the female gender.
“The ‘stronger’ is the force of active masculinity whose ‘essence’ lies in his assimilating others into functions that serve to promote his desired expansion as the subject. The ‘weaker’ is the body of passive femininity whose ‘nature’ lies in her ‘wish’ to be desired and assimilated into functions of the ‘stronger’” (Yan, 2006 p.3).
This so called ‘biopolitical’ perception is applies in the Chinese society during the time when the modern Western canon was translated into Chinese in the early 20th century. Due to this theory and distinction between the weaker and stronger sex, which is also evident in the Second Sex stand of de Beavoir that is further discussed in the next section of this study, different interpretations arise. Yan mentions that for some categories, the biology of the weaker sex is destined while others see this as a dimension that goes beyond the categories of gender and sexuality. An example of this is the social implication of this argument as the “third- fourth world feminist projects” also implies the “multiply oppressed women” who suffer not only because of their sexuality but also due to their “race, ethnicity class, and nationality” (Yan, 2006 p.4). The various interpretations of the “Weaker” and “Stronger” categories conflict the focus of African-American feminists when it comes to the treatment of their desires and objectives. That is to say that aside from the idea of uplifting the female gender, feminist writers also maneuver into social dimensions, where in the female gender acquires multiple amounts of oppressions. The root of women’s oppression can be traced down to ancient superstitious beliefs, particularly, the Medieval witchcraft, which is also evident in the Puritan Age. Majority of the victims of the trial were women because of the medieval belief in the unknown power of women and their association with negativity. Quoting from Steven Katz, he said that:
“The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. In both cases, a perennial attribution of secret, bountiful, malicious “power,” is made. Women are anathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society. Whatever the social and psychological determinants operative in this abiding obsession, there can be no denying the consequential reality of such anxiety in medieval Christendom. Linked to theological traditions of Eve and Lilith, women are perceived as embodiments of inexhaustible negativity. Though not quite quasi-literal incarnations of the Devil as were Jews, women are, rather, their ontological “first cousins” who, like the Jews, emerge from the “left” or sinister side of being” (1994). The relevance of witchcraft and feminism is very crucial because the ideologies of both ponder on the breaking from the established power. Both debunk the monopoly of truth that the patriarchal society is imposing. Man sees the world as constructed under the binary oppositions; there is a great deal that is put upon difference and the inevitable dominance of power.
“The medieval conception of women shares much with the corresponding medieval conception of Jews. In both cases, a perennial attribution of secret, bountiful, malicious “power,” is made. Women are anathematized and cast as witches because of the enduring grotesque fears they generate in respect of their putative abilities to control men and thereby coerce, for their own ends, male-dominated Christian society. Whatever the social and psychological determinants operative in this abiding obsession, there can be no denying the consequential reality of such anxiety in medieval Christendom. Linked to theological traditions of Eve and Lilith, women are perceived as embodiments of inexhaustible negativity. Though not quite quasi-literal incarnations of the Devil as were Jews, women are, rather, their ontological “first cousins” who, like the Jews, emerge from the “left” or sinister side of being” (Katz, 1994).
The canonical Christianity is a religion dominated by men; God is always portrayed in the masculine figure and the Pope, bishops and priests were all assumed by the male gender. On the other hand, women were deprived of those roles because they were victims of the hegemonic binary opposition. The patriarchal notion maintains that masculinity represents all the good and the positive while femininity embodies that which is evil and negative. The belief in the sacredness and divinity of Christ in Christianity is acceptable in the eye of society while declaring the worship of nature and other acts that goes against the Christian teachings as pagan, heretic, blasphemous, and evil. Because women are always confined in their domestication, there is not much understanding of their individual psyche, emotion, and prejudices which makes them vulnerable targets of the witchcraft trials because the society are not used to see women do anything beyond their given roles.
There are a large percentage of nations in the whole world that are structured in the patriarchal fashion. In this context, the male gender dominates in the different aspects of society which includes the economic, political, and religious areas and women, most of the time, are left in the household domain.
First wave feminism was coined in the 1970’s as a term for the rise of feminist activists against the political inequality between genders. It happened during the latter part of the 19th century that spanned through the early part of 20th century in the regions of United Kingdom, Canada, and in the United States. The emergence of this activism focuses mainly on the legal equality of the right of women to vote.
The first noted feminist work in America is Margaret Fuller’s “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” which was first published in 1843. This paper speaks of the realities of gender inequality in the American society and states the yearning for reformation of the status of women, that which would make them an active part in society. Qouting from her work, Fuller said:
“Meanwhile not a few believe, and men themselves have expressed the opinion, that the time is come when Eurydice is to call for an Orpheus, rather than Orpheus for Eurydice: that the idea of Man, however imperfectly brought out, has been far more so than that of Women, that she, the other half of the same thought, the other chamber of the heart of life, needs now to take her turn in the full pulsation, and that improvement in the daughters will best aid in the reformation of the sons of this age” (1855).
Fuller remarked that there is no absolute union in society because of the existence gender inequality. She concluded that before a genuine union occurs, each member of the community must know individuality and learn to be self-dependent. In order to make way for women to become such individual, men must first abolish their imposition of their dominance and in turn, women also must release themselves from the influence of men.
The formation of women activist in the 19th century was also the time of the activism regarding the abolishment of slavery. In fact, the two movements was recorded to come hand in hand when in 1840, during the event of the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London two women, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, tried to join to the said convention. But the convention refused to allow women to seat as delegates and the only thing they could is to watch what was happening from the gallery. This behaviour of the two, who wanted to become part of a movement that would exterminate slavery, just shows women’s yearning for equality. This discrimination of women’s involvement in politics, inspired Mott and Stanton to hold a Woman’s Right Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 and was attended by more or less than 300 women and men. This convention generated a “Declaration of Principles” which also encompassed the resolution seeking the franchise for women.
The slaves were granted right and suffrage was released by the Thirteenth Amendment after the Civil War. By 1869, the movement of woman’s rights was divided into two, The American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone, which supported the Fifteenth Amendment of which to grant the Negroes the right to vote. They believed that the Fifteenth Amendment would be in danger if the right of women to vote was pushed along. This strategy used by this group is grounded on a more realistic stance for the enfranchising women by the state laws. On the other hand, The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), spearheaded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, antagonizes the Fifteenth Amendment for the reason that it does not include the granting of the right of women to vote. The intention of the NWSA focuses on the amendment of the national constitution. Because of this movement, some states such as Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870 had acknowledged the right of women to vote which soon affected other states to bestow suffrage to women (Marilley, 1996)
Moreover, the second wave of female activism came after World War II and spanned from the early 1960’s and lasted through the late 1970’s. This second wave addresses the inequality in terms of sexuality which encompasses issues regarding family, society, work capabilities and the reproductive rights. The aim of this second wave is for women to acquire a more liberal status in society (Duggan and Hunter, 1995)
The main target of this movement was the absolute equality of gender. This second generation of feminist activism erupted as a response to the experiences of women after the World War II. The latter part of the 1940’s was a period marked by the unexpected economic growth, an increase in birth rate, suburban expansion and the overpowering of capitalism, promoted the importance of a patriarchal family life.
This movement advocates the inclusion of women to become part of the workplace dominated by men. It abolishes the idea that women should only be confined in the occupations in the household. Their domestication is seen as oppressive because it prohibits women to realize their potentials.
One of the prominent figures in the feminist movement of the 20th century in America, Betty Friedan, wrote a book entitled “The Feminine Mystique” (2001) which ignited national debate about the roles of women and was considered as one of the major works of the contemporary women’s movement. In her work, Friedan states that the idealized image of femininity confines women to their role as housewives and mothers, which spoils their education and career goals. This barricades women from developing their own identity. This standardization of the role of women is what Friedan terms as the “The Feminine Mystique” because the failure of the female gender to realize what she wants conceals her identity from society. The long period of the suppression of women had established the expectations of society regarding gender role and a sudden defiance from this established ideals might be seen as rebellion. Quoting from her work she said that:
“It is no longer possible today to blame the problem on loss of femininity: to say that education and independence and equality with men have made American women unfeminine. I have heard so many women try to deny this dissatisfied voice within themselves because it does not fit the pretty picture of femininity the experts have given them. I think, in fact, that this is the first clue to the mystery; the problem cannot be understood in the generally accepted terms by which scientists have studied women, doctors have treated them, counselors have advised them, and writers have written about them. Women who suffer this problem, in whom this voice is stirring, have lived their whole lives in the pursuit of feminine fulfillment. They are not career women (although career women may have other problems); they are women whose greatest ambition has been marriage and children. For the oldest of these women, these daughters of the American middle class, no other dream was possible. The ones in their forties and fifties who once had other dreams gave them up and threw themselves joyously into life as housewives. For the youngest, the new wives and mothers, this was the only dream. They are the ones who quit high school and college to marry, or marked time in some job in which they had no real interest until they married. These women are very “feminine” in the usual sense, and yet they still suffer the problem” (2001).
A woman’s pursuit of her desire for self-fulfilment would have to violate the laws of femininity. Defiance from the societal constructed role is the only way which would lead them to their personal happiness. As Friedan said, those whose aspirations are only limited to the roles as housewives or mothers cannot achieve absolute happiness because they only limit themselves to the boundaries of their female nature. Friedan said that the psychoanalytical concept of Sigmund Freud of the “penis envy” was used by the proponents of the feminine mystique to explicate the reason why women are not happy with their roles as housewives and mother.
Consequently, emerging in the mid-1990’s, and is in present continuity, the Third Wave of feminist activism targets the issues involving women of colour, non-heterosexual women, women from the lower class, and other concerns regarding the inequal status of women during the period that was not resolved during the Second Wave of feminist activism.
Third Wave Feminism also opposes the stereotypical perspective of the woman. The proponents of the Third Wave Feminism states that they allows feminists to define feminism according to their individual subjective perspective of their own identities as a woman. In the book entitled “Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future”, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (2000) said that alteration in the definition of feminism can change with different generation and context. Quoting from the introduction of their work they said that:
“The fact that feminism is no longer limited to arenas where we expect to see it—NOW, Ms., women’s studies, and redsuited Congresswomen—perhaps means that young women today have really reaped what feminism has sown. Raised after Title IX and William Wants a Doll [sic], young women emerged from college or high school or two years of marriage or their first job and began challenging some of the received wisdom of the past ten or twenty years of feminism. We’re not doing feminism the same way that the seventies feminists did it; being liberated doesn’t mean copying what came before but finding one’s own way– a way that is genuine to one’s own generation” (2000).
One of the major concerns of the Third Wave Feminists is the societal status of women of colour. America is known to be a melting-pot nation because of its interracial identity and as can be derived from Baumgardner and Richard’s statement, the definition of feminism can come differently in the subjectivities of the different races of women in America. The American society is not only monopolized by the descendants of its European ancestors but also by the other races who also settled in America. It is notable that the African Negroes had been transported to America as slaves during the British settlement in the 17th century.
Other Feminist Writers and Theories
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “Madwoman in the Attic”
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination” (2000), takes a survey of the literature from the Victorian era in the point of view of feminism.
This paper takes a critical survey of the works of English writers such as Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Baret Browning, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf and found out the recurring patterns regarding the representation of women in literature was limited only to either to the category of either the “angel” or the “monster”.
The “angel” represents the ideal feminine character in a patriarchal society. This persona characterizes qualities of being dispassionate, submissive, and passive. On the other hand, the “monster” representation of women in Victorian is the very contrast of the “angel” because it embodies women in her rebellious state, being sensual, passionate, and consciously uncontrollable. These characteristics of the feminine “monster” are deemed to cause angst among men in the Victorian period.
Nonetheless some writers of the period had risen to their sensibilities regarding the condition of women in society. For instance, Charlotte Bronte did not constrict her characterization of the female character strictly between the “angel” and “monster” and Jane Austen, despite being the very quintessence of the “angel” type, still manage to be courageous, passionate and independent. Austen did not conform to subjugating herself to inferiority caused by her relationships with men. In attempting to debunk the traditional notion of the female character in society, Bronte’s writings were regarded as a threat by men in her time.
Strengthening their argument, Gilbert and Gubar supplemented their study using Virginia Woolf’s idea regarding the empowerment of women writer because their image had been sabotaged in literature. According to Woolf, female writers must “kill the aesthetic ideal through which they themselves have been ‘killed’ into art” (Woolf, 1942).
Kate Chopin (1850-1904)
Kate Chopin, was an American writer known for her short stories and novel and is considered in the present period as one of the proponent of the American feminism in the 20th century. She had published two novels and about a hundred of short stories
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8, 1851 to Thomas O’Flaherty, a businessman who migrated from Ireland, and to Eliza Faris, who came from a French community in St. Louis whose mother was of French Canadian descent.
In 1870, by the age of 20, she had married Oscar Chopin, whose French father brought them to the United States during the period of the civil war. They settled in New Orleans and Oscar engaged himself in the cotton industry. Kate bore six children between the year 1871 and 1879. And just like the other wealthy family in the city, they would have their vacation to a Creole resort in the Gulf of Mexico called Grand Isle.
Because of the financial crisis incurred by Oscar’s business in New Orleans, he was forced to close it and brought his family to move to Cloutierville, a small French village in Natchitoches Parish, in north western Louisiana.
Kate was widowed in 1882 when her husband died of malaria and she was left the responsibility of raising their six children and a debt of $12,000. She struggled to keep her deceased husband’s plantation and general store running but was later taken over by its hardships and sold it after two years. She did not remarry but one of her biographer, Emily Toth, reports that between 1883 and 1884, Kate had an affair with a local planter. After the request of her mother, she had moved back with her children to St. Louis. Her mother soon died which aggravated her grief of her loss of her husband.
As an advice from her obstetrician and friend, Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, who thinks it, would help her cope up through writing; Kate began to compose fiction in 1889.
Most of her works features the struggle in the life of women who lives in a male dominated society, which reflects her reflects her life in Louisiana and most of her outstanding stories highlights the life of women who shows sensitivity and intelligence.
One of the most celebrated of her works is her novel entitled “The Awakening”. This novel, published in 1899, received mostly negative response because of its moral content. This reason why the public did not receive it positively is because of the existence of social constrains and the idea that it attempts to convey is considered inappropriate for the societal set-up at that time. But nonetheless, few critics praised it for its artistry (Toth, 1999).
Analysis: “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin
In the past centuries, the female gender has struggled a great deal a under an oppressive society. This society, dominated by the male gender, has placed women in a lower disposition. And as it can be noted in different histories of nations, the activities of women are invisible. The very constricted and suppressed roles of women make it looked like they are automatons being controlled by the masculine gender. During the past century and before the emergence of female activism, women only have one option to happiness – marry a man and become a wife and a mother. This very limited status women in the United States had experienced in the past was also experienced by women in other regions but the formation of activism was influenced by different events in the history of America.
Kate Chopin’s novel, “The Awakening”, narrates the story of a woman’s struggle in her attempted to step outside the boundaries of the social norms of her society in order for her to attain freedom and personal bliss.
The story revolves around a woman, Edna Pontellier, who has to deal the hardships of living in a society populated by Creoles as a consequence of her marriage a French Creole, Leonce Pontelliere. The conflict begins to ignite when Edna starts to feel that she is no longer satisfied with her life with her husband and has become weary of her role in the household. Leonce’s busy engagement with his business had lessened his time to devote to his wife and family and because of this, Edna being left out to take care of the children felt as if she has lost her self-worth. Without affection, she felt like she is being incarcerated to her role in the household and it’s as if her presence depends on the responsibility of taking care of their two sons, Etienne and Raoul.
Motherhood is considered to be one of the primary and most essential roles of a woman in a family. Psychosocial studies show that the role of mother is to nurture her child with affection in order for him or her to develop a normal maturation and women had been locked up to this role which is hard for them because its need of full time devotion bereaves them of the opportunity to do things they want. Edna’s relationship with her children is characterized as “uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them” (Chopin, 1899, p. 47). This quotation suggests the division of Edna’s heart. She loves her sons but she also yearns for her personal happiness. After Leonce noticed that their son, Raoul, has an abnormal temperature, he ordered Edna to look after him. Edna express a sudden indignation to this and her husband accused her of “habitual neglect of the children” (1899, p. 12). In this part, the rigid responsibilities of a husband and wife are indicated. Leonce’s demand to Edna suggests that it is her liability as a wife to take care of their son and it is not his concern, as a husband, to take care of the children because he works to provide his family what they need.
Leonce, taking Edna for granted after which he became busy with his work, also indicates men’s low regard for women. It resembles a treatment of nonliving objects that are unable to feel rejection. Men seem to manipulate their importance, they would use a woman when they needed to and it is not the same the other way around when women needs to be fulfilled with attention.
Their vacation trip to Grand Isle for the summer marks the point where Edna begins to become aware of her own subjective wants. Her bonding with her friend, Adele Ratignolle, made Edna aware of the very repressive role of a woman in a Creole society which ignited her yearning to break away from the restrains her society puts upon women. Her husband notices her deviant behaviour and remarked how Edna is unlike the other women in the island who are “mother-woman” (1899) who are:
“fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (1899).
Edna’s liberal passion, that which distinguishes her from the other women in the Creole society, have made her the perfect example of what Susan Gilbert and Sandra Gubar calls as the “monster” persona of the female gender. Her behaviour goes beyond the periphery of the expected passivity of women. On the contrary, Adele Ratignolle is portrayed as the very quintessence of the traditional “mother-woman” in their society. Adele is just like the other women who had accepted her subjugation in the male dominated society. But this conformation deprives her of the opportunity to become a master of her own self and Edna refuses to become one of those women.
But a woman’s expression of her own individual subjectivities has to undergo the consequence of incurring the ridicule of society. By her defiance, Adele is making herself unacceptable to the eyes of society.
Her encounter with Robert Lebrun altered Edna’s feeling of isolation and emptiness and it sort of satiated the attention she longs from her husband. Robert is the son of the owner of the resort Edna and her family is staying at in Grand Isle. Every year Robert role plays as an attendant to women who are having their vacation in the resort, especially those women who are already married. The early part of their encounter is nothing more than a friendly company but as summer progress, their feelings for each other started to develop. Edna was, at first, very reluctant to engage herself into developing a relationship with Robert but soon gave in because of she felt a sudden feeling of self-importance. Edna reveals that she feels more alive than she used to and because of this, started to paint again as she did when she was younger.
One symbolic part in the story can be pointed from the chapter wherein Edna is on a beach having a hesitation in swimming in the open waters but soon gave. She then swims out alone and in indulging herself in the waters, she feels a sense of control over her body and soul. In letting herself swim, Edna experiences:
“A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.” (1899).
Before a developing an affair with Robert, Edna was still afraid to swim in the sea but after she engaged herself to what she feels she had allowed herself to swim. The situation when Edna is wary of the waters symbolically indicates something about her hesitation of having an affair with Robert and the idea of freeing herself from the social chains and fear that keeps her from realizing her own happiness. Edna’s desire to swim in the area of the sea that is farther than what other women can reach indicates her yearning for liberation from the limitations of the social norms. The strict roles of the female gender in the society are just patriarchal constructs that subjects women to inferior status in society.
Another symbolic part in society is the part where she had gone with Robert to Chienere Caminada Island. It is early Sunday morning when her husband is still asleep she goes out of bed and fetched Robert to go to the island. They sailed to Chienere Caminada and upon their travel, Edna
“felt as if she were being borne away from some anchorage which had held her fast, whose chains had been loosening – had snapped the night before when the mystic spirit was abroad, leaving her free to drift whithersoever she chose to set her sails” (1899).
Leaving Great Isle to Chienere Caminada with Robert, is also symbolic of Edna deviant actions. Leaving the Great Isle where her husband and children still stays as well as other Creoles, she is releasing herself from the society who expects her to act according to the patriarchal construct.
The recurrence of the avian image plays a significant representation in the story. One of these symbolisms can be identified in the two caged bird in the first part of the story, one of the bird is a parrot and the other is a mockingbird. The parrot represents Edna who “could speak a little Spanish, and also a language which nobody understood” (1899). Because she goes out of the bounds of the traditional role of women, Edna suffers the pain of not being understood by her society except for Mademoiselle Reisz who seems to embody the mockingbird who is the only one who could understand the parrot’s misunderstood language. Edna’s expression of her sensibilities as a woman distinguishes her from the other women in the society of Creoles that which makes her like the parrot that has “a language which nobody understood”. Mademoiselle Reisz can be considered to be the most influential person in the novel because it is she had played a great part in the changes that happened to Edna. Mademoiselle Reisz inspired Edna to become her own self and told her that to be a successful artist one must “possess the courageous soul” (1899). The cage from which the two birds are imprisoned represents male dominance and being kept as pets may symbolize patriarchal ownership. The idea of confinement prohibits the birds from using their wings to fly that their wings became a useless part for them. This idea can be similar to the condition of women in society because even though they are humans who have free will, they are disabled from using it because they had been suppressed in society. The parrot as a colourful bird possessing a green and yellow colour can be reflective of Edna as a woman prized for her beauty in society. Mademoiselle Reisz’s comparison to the mockingbird can also be pointed to her musical talent.
Another instance where the bird image which appears in the story is when Edna is listening to Mademoiselle Reisz’s music playing and entitled the piece “Solitude”. As she listens, Edna’s unconscious pictures a naked man being left into isolation by a flying bird. The bird may once again represent Edna or women like her who had transcended themselves to pursue their personal happiness. But as a result of their liberty, they are leaving men helpless because the patriarchal society would no longer have women to impose their power to. The man in her mind being naked may indicate the vulnerability of man who is left by women because the strength and dominance of men relies on the presence of women.
After their vacation, Robert decided to go to Mexico and because of his absence Edna was hurt and saddened but still continued to live her life and seeks Mademoiselle Reisz’s company whenever she felt loneliness. She lives her life in a more independent manner, often neglecting Leonce and their children. When she had learned to be happy without thinking about Robert indicates that she had absolutely learned to live life for herself without the dependence to a man to make her happy. The feelings of attachment she felt for Robert turns out to be only a replacement for her husband’s lost love. It is stated that Edna, towards the end, is now painting, going out alone, and even not returning back calls. It signifies her absolute liberation from all her responsibilities and living her life for herself.
To her society, Edna represents the “monster” female character because she had turned to an uncontrollable woman but on the positive side, she can also be read as a heroine who is victorious in liberating herself.
The title “The Awakening” indicates Edna’s coming out of her own sensibilities and realization of the realities of the oppressive life of women in the patriarchal society. It is her awakening from the constraints of being passive to being passionate and independent. The story is a breakaway from the traditional representation of women in literature. It is one of the few stories which feature women who were neither an absolute “angel” nor an absolute “monster” but as woman being true to her self in the socio-political reality. This story helps elevate the status of women in society because it empowers them to stand up to their own rights. It portrays how they are also humans who have freewill and are worthy of the dignity to live for themselves and not just another item that can be used and discarded after.
The events that happened during the end of the World War II, which stresses on the role of women as housewives and mothers, is an oppressive treatment of women because it also stresses on the limitations of women in the household. It bereaves them the freedom to choose what they want to do with their lives and because of this, they are unable to achieve a sense of individuality and to live their life to its full potential.
Essentially, Feminism in the United States can be compared to the feminism in France because it both became a revolution in the end of both parties as to how they strive for the freedom of hearing their real and own voices through their writings. For instance, Cavallaro (2003) cited in his book French Feminist Theory: An Introduction “a woman should realize that if she marries a rich man more readily than a poor one, and desires her husband more for his possessions than for herself, she is offering herself for sale.” (Héloïse 1101-64; quoted in Radice 1974;114) and “Many different men – and learned men among them – have been and are…inclined to express both in speaking and in their treaties and writings…many wicked insults about women and their behavior…it seems that they all speak from one and the same mouth…And the simple, noble ladies, following the example of suffering God commands, have cheerfully suffered the great attacks which…have been wrongfully and sinfully perpetrated against women…Now it is time for their just cause to be taken from the Pharaoh’s hands. (Christine de Pisan 1365-c. 1430, quoted in Richards 1994) (cited in Cavallaro, 2003, p. 1).
Suppose we believed the Scriptures indeed order woman to submit to the authority of man because she cannot think as well as he can, see here the absurdity that would follow: women would be worthy of having been made in the likeness of the Creator, worthy of taking part in the holy Eucharist, of sharing the mysteries of the Redemption, Paradise, worthy of the vision, even possession, of God, but not the status and privileges of men. Wouldn’t we be saying that men are more precious and sacred than all these things, and wouldn’t that be the most grievous blasphemy? (Marie de Gournay 1565-1645, quoted in Sunshine for Women 1999) (Cited in Cavallaro, 2003, p. 1).
“The protofeminist assertions of writers such as the ones quoted above bear witness to the existence of oppositional voices in France since at least the Middle Ages” (Cavallaro, 2003, p. 1). This kind of assertions can evidently be seen until the present and many famous women in France put their oppositions into their writings. There has been many movements assembled to fight for women’s rights and the equality between the two genders as gender difference in France is clearly depicted, politically and socially.
Nineteenth-century feminists, however, believed that the unchanging patriarchal system was simply background to a drama rich with historical change. They were inspired by their belief that civilization had progressed to a point where further change would transform the patriarchal system itself. (Goldberg Moses, year, p. 1).
Goldberg Moses (year) stated in his book French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century the roots of the French Patriarchal Society. Historically, French social patterns are a fusion of three main traditions: the Greco-Latin, the Judaic, and the Germanic. (Goldberg Moses, year). The major characteristics of the patriarchal family in Western cultures are the insistence on legitimacy, since descent is through the male line and paternity must be certain; the requirement that the wife be economically dependent on the male head of the family; and the exculsion of women from civil or political participation. Adultery—if committed by the wife—was seen as a threat to the male-centered social structure, as evidenced by harsh punishments meted out for female adultery: in Judaic society the adulterous wife was stoned; in Greek society she was forced to dress in such a manner that others would not fail to recognize her transgression; and in the old Germanic tribes, the adulterous wife was either put to death or mutilated. (Goldberg Moses, year, p. 2).
According to Oliver (2000), the women’s movement in France is as much about political and social activism as it is about theory. Like the women’s movements in the United States, England, Australia, and elsewhere, activism is central to the women’s movement in France. Feminism in the twentieth-century France is defined by a history of controversies and antagonisms, especially those between materialist feminists and psychoanalytic feminists. In the early 1970s, the women’s movement in France coalesced into the Movement de Libération des Femmes, or the Women’s Liberation Movement, called the MLF. In May of 1968, there were monumental protests, riots, and strikes on college campuses and elsewhere in France. (Oliver, 2000).
The name the Movement de Libération des Femmes was first used by the media reporting on a group of women who were arrested for putting a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe and dedicating it to a person more unknown than him, his wife. The right to legal abortions was the mobilizing issue of the MLF in the 1970s. On April 5, 1971, the weekly magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published a Manifesto signed by 343 women who claimed to have had illegal abortions. Simone de Beauvoir was at the top of the list followed by some of the most famous women in France (Oliver, 2000, p. ix).
As more women and groups of women became part of feminist movement in France, more disagreements and factions arose within the movement. Like their Anglo-American counterparts, feminists in France disagree on questions of equality versus difference, relations to mean, the status and nature of femininity and masculinity, and the role of feminism and feminist theory.
The feminist development in France reveals a history that is discontinuous, tied in important ways to the political fluctuations of French history, to a variety of traditions that contradict one another and to a set of particular experiences in defianable epochs. This discontinuity contrasts dramatically with the largely continuous history of American and English feminism and explains the comparatively slower pace of success. (Goldberg Moses, year). Essentially, the fate of feminism in France has always been linked to political issues as they fight for their rights as women. In the modern world, it can be depicted that women have harvested the results of their planted urge to fight ever since the early years. Unlike before, women of today have the freedom to do what they want. Although there are still moments wherein the gender issues can be experienced or seen, it is still fortunate for the 20th century generation to have experienced the advantage of living in the modern society.
An application of theory: FEMINISM ON MICHELE ROBERTS “The Looking Glass”
Michele Roberts is a French novelist and poet who was born in Hertfordshire, England on the 20th of May year 1949. Her parents were of different religions whereas her mother is French Catholic while her father is an English Protestant. She went to a convent first before she was sent to Somerville College, Oxford University, and University College in London. She has worked as a librarian and wrote many novels pertaining to feminism and several of her writings have been awarded by many prestigious award giving bodies in the field of literature. (British Council, n.d.).
Smith (2008) provided several critical perspectives of the writings of Roberts wherein the roots of her feminist writings came from:
As she describes, Roberts’ early writing was encouraged by her participation in feminist theatre and writing groups. Her journalism started to appear in associated magazines of the early-mid 1970s, notably Spare Rib (of which she became poetry editor), Red Rag and later on, City Limits; her stories were included in the collective publication Tales I Tell My Mother: A Collection of Feminist Stories (1978). That same year she published her first novel, A Piece of the Night, which – as most of her subsequent books do – moves between France and England, between the past and present. Its heroine Julie looks back to her convent schooling by nuns, and at her current life in a London commune with her lesbian lover. In depression she thinks of herself as ‘a fragment of dark’ but finds the strength to leave the commune, ‘no longer corpses in the church and mouths of men’. The ‘secret gospel’ story of another errant woman in the eyes of the church, Mary Magdalene, is the basis of The Wild Girl (1984), which puts together religious feeling, women’s lives and sensuality in a more sophisticated fictional form. Spiritual and bodily concerns of a differing sort inform the playful narrative of In the Red Kitchen (1990), based on a celebrated charlatan 19th-century medium, using multiple female voices to tell the tale. Interspersed with Flora Milk’s travails is the narrative of a modern woman decorating a Victorian era house – and seeing a vision of Flora’s ghost in the basement. (Smith, 2008)
Essentially, her 10th novel entitled The Looking Glass was inspired from the brick cottage owned by her mother which unfortunately they had to sell. Also, on an interview conducted by Linda Richards (2000) for January Magazine, Roberts said “The Looking Glass begins with a lost landscape because, just recently, my mother felt she had to sell the little, tiny brick cottage where we’d spent our summer holidays” (Roberts, 2010) (cited in Richards, 2000). Roberts also said in that interview a brief background of where her voice is coming from whenever she writes a novel or a poem wherein the product has always been something related to her thoughts about radical feminism. Richards (2000) also asked about the rampant appearance of sensous and voluptuous on her writings. On the other hand, Roberts (2000) answered the ideas underlying in the depiction of the said words in her literary pieces.
…but maybe it’s a sort of political urge I’ve got, as well. A feminist urge. I want to put the body always into language. I was brought up in a tradition of reading and thinking at university that, in a sense, left the body out. It was all about your mind. That good writing didn’t have a “self” in it, didn’t have an ego in it. Oh my God, I had so much to unlearn when I became a writer! And because I’d been a Catholic and the body is very scorned in Catholicism — particularly the female body — I wanted to rescue the body and cherish it and love it and touch it and smell it and make it into language. Make language actually a body, as it is to be human. That’s one of my aims, I think. So there are a lot of smells and tastes. And I’m voluptuous: I’m not thin and I never will be, so I want to celebrate voluptuousness in real life, too. (Roberts, 2000) (cited in Richards, 2000).
Consequently, Roberts The Looking Glass (2000), “she speculates that ‘Perhaps Eve’s punishment, thrust forth from paradise, was to become a storyteller’. Again set in France, through its multiple voices we observe Genevieve, a young girl taken from an orphanage run by nuns. She works for bar owner Madame Patin, whose meanings she perceives ‘were sealed under a skin of silence, as you seal pate under fat’ (one of Roberts’ typical culinary metaphors). The girl’s domestic life of cooking and cleaning is disturbed by the growing interest in her by the men she encounters through the bar. But her loyalty remains to the past, ‘my country and my prison and my home’” (Smith, 2008).
In a close reading of this novel, the feminism can be clearly depicted as Genevieve who is a young convent-raised woman speaks her voice in the whole novel. Despite the fact that Genevieve is not the main character in the story, it was still her voice who is being heard and that small detail in the novel already conveys a touch of feminism. On the other hand, the main character in the story is Gerard Colbert who was actually partly inspired by a biography Roberts read from the French poet named Mallarmé. (Richards, 2000). The focus of the whole story is Colbert and the women who loved and were involved with him—but through Genevieve’s voice. The women who had an important marks in Colberts’ life was his niece, her governess, his mistress, and her maid, Genevieve.
An analysis of this novel can be based from de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) wherein the portrayal of a woman as an object of desire can be seen. The aesthetics of a woman can always be seen as one of the materials wherein a woman can take over a man since the desire has been implied. In The Looking Glass (2000), despite the historical background Roberts knew about feminism, she rescues the female characters in this novel against the stereotypical margins of women wherein she “creates a tale of beauty and triumph that echoes under their feet” (Roberts, 2000) (cited in Richards, 2000).
The concepts of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) can obviously be seen in the novel since the female characters were presented to be objects of desire of the main character. Actually, women empowerment can be seen in this novel as women tend to manipulate male characters in a story because of their aesthetic beauty. It is evident in this literary piece that the women who were involved with Gerard Colbert were not of those who belong to the same level in the society. However, Colbert admired each of them in their own ways and personalities. Thus, the desire of Colbert is presented as to be a venue for the women to have a certain control over him – this then implies the feminism in this novel.
The spirit of female sensibility is manifested in some of Marguerite Duras’ works of fiction and in some of her critically acclaimed films.
The novel “Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein” or “The Ravishing of Lol Stein, narrates the story of a woman in her late thirties. The story flashbacks and tells Lol’s marriage to a Michael Richardson at the age of 19. But after her husband met an older woman named Anne Marie Stretter, he left Lol and married Anne. After she recovered from the separation, Lol married a musician named Jean Bradford. Conflict started to arise when Lol became involved in an extramarital affair with her friend’s husband. The story portrays the feminine gender at its cunning persona which was crafted by the provocative action of men. It seem to instruct how women can also do what men can do; Michael broke Lol’s heart in replacing her with an older woman, and Lol seemed vengeful when she had an affair with her friend’s husband. This piece shows the potential capabilities of women which are often disregarded because of the established social construct of gender in-equality.
There is still a large percentage of the aspect of the female gender that is left concealed because the patriarchal dominance limited women in the household domain. It often cast shock when a woman attempts to defy the social roles given to her. According to Duras:
“When a woman drinks it’s as if an animal were drinking, or a child. Alcoholism is scandalous in woman, and a female alcoholic is rare, a serious matter. It’s a slur on the divine in our nature. I realised the scandal I was causing around me. But in my day, in order to have the strength to confront it publicly – for example, to go into a bar on one’s own at night – you needed to have had something to drink already.” (from Practicalities, 1990)
“L’Amant” (“The Lover”), Duras’ autobiographical novel, tells the story of a15 year old nameless French girl, daughter of a poor and bipolar widow. She attracted the attention of a rich 27 year old Chinese businessman while riding a ferry traversing the Mekong Delta. Overwhelmed with what the businessman can offer, she starts to develop an affair with him. Things became complicated for her when her lover conforms to his father’s disapproval of her. Set in the context of Vietnam as a French Colony, Duras’ compares the condition of women of her period to the colonization. The fact that the female character had been given no name symbolically indicates the disregard of women in society.
Duras also wrote the script for the award-winning “Hiroshima Mon Amour”. It tells the story of a French actress filming an anti-war film, referred to as she, and a married Japanese architect, known only as him. They have a short relationship as they share opposite perspective regarding war. This idea presented in the film reflects the idea of the opposition of men and women in society.
Her two works “L’Amant” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour” both involve the engagement of a French woman to Asians. The two also expels similarity when it both did not give a name to the female characters. This is indicative of the status of women in society, they are regarded as insignificant in nation building, there is also no inclusion of women in history books, and other aspects. The engagement of her female French characters to oriental men can be seen as an antagonism to the Western patriarchy. The East had been a European colony and these colonizers had imposed upon their imaginary superiority. The Western patriarchy had always been too egocentric with regards to power – they had it imposed to the East and to their woman. These female protagonists can be seen as seeking a more egalitarian relationship with the oriental men.
It is noticeable that most of her works depicts women who involve themselves with an affair with the male gender. And this repetitive use of theme and ideas corresponds to an experienced reality.
“Destruction. A key word when it comes to Marguerite Duras, who uses her novels, her plays and her films to study herself in as many mirrors; she identifies herself with her work to the point that she no longer knows what is autobiographical fact and what is fiction.” (Jea-Jacques Annaud, CNN, March 5, 1998)
Duras has crafted her works to reflect the condition of women and their sensibilities in her own feminine perspective.
CHAPTER III: ANALYSIS
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
One of the most controversial yet transparent novels of the Harlem Renaissance is created by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston who possessed the courage to utilize her literary skills in representing the liberated image of an African American woman. The author unravels the power of a woman through the character of Janie Crawford, whose search for her own identity guides her on a journey where she experiences the true meaning of love, joy, passion, peace, and sorrow. Her life is narrated by her best friend, Pheoby. Janie Crawford embodies a woman free from the threats that were previously imposed by the society especially to African American women. This is primarily identified by Hurston with the way she physically describes Janie, — attractive, self-assured, middle- aged black woman who comes back to Eatonville, Florida after years of absence. The author transparently portrays the manner on how the society has treated women during that time in the particular chapter of the novel where in townspeople started to spread rumour s and gossiped about where Janie has been and what particularly happened to Tea Cake, her young husband. The society viewed her confidence as something that is not acceptable, except for Pheoby who stood up for her best friend.
The story begins with the narration of Janie’s childhood and past experiences. From this part of the story, readers are taken to the social status of women during the early times when they’re treated as nothing but slaves. Janie’s grandmother for example said that due to her miserable experiences from the past as a slave, she was forced to let Janie marry a man who can possibly secure her future. From this idea, we clearly see how women have been very dependent on men for the sake of their social status. The different men in Janie’s life may indicate the various stages she’s undergone prior to the establishment of her own identity as an independent woman. To further understand this context here is a brief summary of Janie’s lovers and her experiences with them.
Logan Killicks, an old farmer was the first man who married Janie not because of love, but for the security of Janie’s recognition in their community .Since no emotional attachment is involved in their relationship, Janie’s life became miserable. She did not experience any romantic and sincere moment with Logan until Joe Starks appeared and married her. They escaped the town and went to Eatonville to continue their life as a couple. Joe has always been an aspiring politician and soon attains this dream when he became the mayor, storekeeper, and most powerful landlord in town. During the height of Joe’s career, Janie realized that she wants something more than an influential man. She eventually loathed how she’s been treated as an ornament rather than a wife. Despite her dreams and aspirations, Janie remained submissive to Joe. She followed all his decisions and plans until one day Janie finally fought back after Joe insulted her appearance. She embarrassed Joe in front of townspeople by telling them how obnoxious and incapable he is. Despite this brave reaction, the author shows the struggles of women before they can totally savour the best things in life, when Joe savagely beats her in front of the public. The death of Joe on the other hand due to an illness, signifies another progress towards the freedom of women.
The next man who entered Janie’s life was Tea Cake, a younger man whom Janie felt tremendously in love with. Amidst the rumours and gossips of townspeople, Janie continued dating Tea Cake, eventually married him, and they both moved to Jacksonville. Although they had rough beginnings, they still learned how to trust each other well. They both had time for work and social life which portrays how they genuinely enjoyed their married life. The author again symbolizes hardship and struggles but this time, through a hurricane. As the couple tried to escape the rising waters, Tea Cake gets himself bitten by a dog. During the time when Tea Cake’s severely affected by rabies, he fully convinced himself that Janie’s being unfaithful to him. He fired a pistol at her but Janie fought back, killed him, and saved her own life. Acceptance of the white community is manifested in the novel when an all- white, all-male jury insisted that she’s not guilty and she’ll not suffer from any penalty after killing her husband. Another manifestation of the concept of race and racism is shown in Chapter 19 where in Janie is comforted by her white friends but ironically despised by black women. Gender and race are both depicted in this chapter that fully support the idea of Harlem Renaissance. After that incident, Janie returned to Eatonville, and remained strong despite rumours and gossips. Pheoby on the other hand, embodies the women community who fully support each other during those challenging times.
One of the most notable characteristic of the novel is on how Zora Neale Hurston manipulated the language in order to efficiently show the identity of the characters. The distinct vocabulary and tone manifest the personality of each character. This line for example, shows the strong character of the protagonist, “two things everybody;s tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find outabout livin’ fuh theyselves” (Janie’s Character, Hurston, 1937). The author also shows varying moments where in Janie decides to use her voice or remain silent. Both actions however, signify glory and sorrow.
Hurston highly contributed to the African American Women during the Harlem Renaissance through this novel, as she boldly presents both the nightmares and the epiphany of women. She is able to show the varying moments where in women experience the worst and the best times of their lives. Each man who’s been part of Janie’s life symbolizes the different stages or struggles that greatly challenge the determination of women to remain strong and establish their identity in the society without being dependent on men. Although the protagonist does not imply a happy ending, because all of her lovers seemed to fail her, the author shows the victorious moment in which Janie is finally able to contain all her emotions and face the judgments of the society. Janie makes us understand how women during that period highly prioritize and value independence. They possess the strong will to make and follow their own decisions although lots of circumstances try to make women’s freedom such an impossible objective to attain.
Chica da Silva: A Brazilian Slave of the Eighteenth Century by Júnia Ferreira Furtado (2009) presents a tale of a woman who was born a slave but eventually gained power at the end. More than a portrayal of socioeconomic status, Chica da Silva symbolizes the challenges that exist in colonial Brazil when it comes to racial identity, culture, and the struggles that black females face in order to attain liberty. The first few parts of the book unravel the lives of Chica and her family in a typical environment called diamond district, where issues on illegitimate children and sexual relationships are vividly seen. The social pyramid of diamantine was arranged in the same manner as that of captaincy as their environment is comprised of a large population of slaves, only a number of freed citizens, and thin yet powerful population of Portuguese elites who monopolized the supervisory posts and titles. From this point of view, Furtado already draws the readers into the harsh reality of social hierarchy in a colonized society presented in her novel. While residents who share the same race and beliefs outweigh the number of elite foreigners, they are still dominated by the influential and manipulative ideas that these elite people present to them. People’s desire for freedom, including Chica da Silva, intensifies because of this reason to the extent that they willingly sacrifice their pride to reach liberty. The next few sections of the book reveals sudden transitions in her life especially after Joao Fernanded de Oliveira, who is an owner of a diamond mine and also takes the role of a mining Governor of Arraial to Tijuco, bought her. Their informal relationship freed Chica from slavery and that’s when her life starts to change. However, despite the development of her social status, Chica still clings to the concept of slavery as she greatly benefits from her own slaves in Minas Gerais. In order to protect her children from slavery and sexual exploitations, Chica sends her daughters to a religious institution in Macaubas. Furtado starts to depict her life on a higher socioeconomic level as Chica strengthens her interactions with elite groups of people. In line with this, Furtado raises the point that Chica’s life is patterned after her African descent. Her perceptions of achieving a better life despite her unsecured relationship with Joao Fernandes and career are products of “racial democracy” at the same time that her noble goals for her children are representations of the colonial Portuguese reality. Furtado argues that due to racial discriminations, challenges, and judgments that the society has long imposed on people of African descent, they tend to emulate western practices, or as to how Furtado puts it, “whiten [their] way into a more favorable position” They apply the lifestyles and aspirations of white people in order to achieve acceptance and justice in the society, but instead of developing a unified community because of this “paradoxical” thought among Chica’s descendants in colonial Brazil, it eventually creates a society that fully displays social hierarchy. In Chica’s case for example, she might enjoy the perks of being wealthy due to her partner’s riches and power, but some of her neighbors and acquaintances remain in the lower status. She once experienced being a slave, but rather than escape this nightmare during the turning point in her life, she more likely engaged herself into this social crisis as she also handled enslaved workers.
The reason behind this engagement in slavery and their continuous struggle yet acceptance of being slaved and exploited by men are supported by their high hopes that someday just like Chica da Silva, their lives would improve due to their partners’ political powers and wealth. They see slavery as a way to escape slavery and once they’ve already found the ideal person that can “free” and uplift their status in the society, that is the time that they long for noble goals for their children, especially for their daughters. Also, through Chica’s story, readers find how concubinage with white men becomes beneficiary for women during those times. According to the author, “Once freed, the stigma of color and slavery would be diminished, not only for themselves but more importantly for their children and descendants”.Furtado’s novel reveals the challenge imposed on people with African descent in colonial countries that transcends time and space. It is passed from generation to generation and this just conveys how racial discrimination and social pressure constantly test the identity of black females in colonial Brazil. In Chapter 4, “Black Diamond”,Furtado gives instances that unite the situation of Chica with her descendants. Maria de Sousa da Encarnacaofor example shares the same manner with Chica on how they attained liberty. She was also the mistress of a white man named Domingos Alves Maciel who bought her but manumitted her soon. Just like Chica, she had a wealthy life and most importantly enjoyed the amount of liberty given to her. Chica, Maria de Sousa, and other freedwomen in a colonial society all felt that “they had paid for their own liberty”since they sacrificed their own identities to white men in order to gain higher reputations in the society. Another factor that makes these freedwomen say that they paid for their freedom is the reality that their marginal situation, bounded by the stigma of sex, is worse than the struggles of other women who fight for their respective desires. All these reasons and instances that show the struggles of black females during the 18th century, particularly their involvement in slavery, present to the readers the reality that people sometimes take the wrong path in order to achieve their aspirations for better life, not only financially or materially but most importantly is the establishment of their freedom.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
This fiction represents the deprivation of women of the freedom they must have been getting from the society eversince the early times. Essentially, holding the aspirations of women in this fiction depicts the use of Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. For instance. Women are treated that way because they are not considered as the primary gender in the society, in general. In addition to that, the racial differences also affects the unjust treatment of the people to the women of the Harlem Renaissance.
A cursory reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man can create one of two impressions with respect to his treatment of women. One impression is that Ellison leaves women out altogether by reducing them to “peripheral roles.” (Tate, 253) A second response is that Ellison represents women as they were typically stereotyped. For instance there is:
“…the old slave woman, the magnificent blonde, the rich sophisticate Emma, the annoying seductress, and finally the prophetic and pathetic Sybil…” (Tate, 253)
Claudia Tate warns however, that these representations of women in Ellison’s Invisible Man are merely surface characterizations beneath which Ellison conceals and slowly reveals the complexity of the female persona. (Tate, 253-254)
Tate draws on an excerpt taken from an essay titled Twentieth-Century Fiction written by Ellison in which he contends that stereotypes are by nature “one dimensional” and “oversimplified” to the extent that they conceal the complexities of human nature. (Ellison, 253-254) Ellison points out that:
“…the Negro has been more willing perhaps than any other artist to start with the stereotype, accept it as true, and then seek out the human truth which it hides.”
By taking this approach, the reader comes to the realization that Ellison’s portrayal of women is not intended to reduce them to a peripheral role in his Invisible Man. His intention is to demonstrate that these women, although marginalized by a male dominated world, are far more complex than they appear to be on the surface.
While not immediately obvious, the novel’s protagonist, an unnamed man has traversed life in relative anonymity as a result of the prescribed role of blacks. The plight of women in Invisible Man runs parallel to this theme. Like the protagonist who is the Invisible Man because of his seeming insignificance to mankind and society, women too suffer a similar fate. Ironically, however, the protagonist who is referred to as the Invisible Man acquired self-identity and this marginalized man is unwittingly encouraged to embark upon the path of self discovery by an equally marginalized woman. This is gleaned from the narrator’s interrogation of the old slave woman in his daydreams in the his self-imposed exile in the novel’s prologue.
In one of his daydreams the narrator encounters an old slave woman who tells of her love affair with her master with whom she had sons. She tells that she both loved and hated her master who had promised to free her sons. When he reneged on his promise she killed him. The narrator imagines the following dialogue between himself and the old slave woman:
“ ‘Old woman, what is this freedom you love so well?’ I asked around a corner of my mind.
‘I done forgot, son. It’s all mixed up. First I thing it’s one thing, then I think it’s another. It gets my head to spinning. I guess now it ain’t nothing but knowing how to say what I got up in my head.’” (Ellison, 14)
The dialogue with the old slave woman contained in the narrator’s day dream encourages the Invisible Man to recall his past “which form the sequence of event for the story.” (Tate, 256) For the invisible man, the woman was at least motivated to respond to her quest for freedom.
Perhaps more importantly, what can be gleaned from the imagined encounter with the old slave woman was the parallel situation of women and blacks. Ellison is largely putting together a very poignant question with respect to both women and blacks through the old slave woman and the narrator. On the one hand, the reader might wonder how a woman can love a man who treats her as no more than a piece of property when considering the old slave woman’s feelings toward her master.
The reader may also be compelled likewise to wonder how the narrator can feel a modicum of responsibility to a society the refused to acknowledge his actual humanity. This is more succinctly demonstrated in the prologue when the narrator tells of an incident in which he accidentally meets a white man who calls him an offensive name. While tempted to strike out violently against him the narrator withdraws realizing that the white man was driven by his inability to see the narrator as he really was, human. (Ellison, Prologue)
In order to understand this parallel between the black man’s anonymity and the female’s anonymity one needs to appreciate the plot and the major themes in Ellison’s Invisible Man. Only then can the protagonist’s relationship with women and their equally challenging struggle toward individuality and identification can be explained. To start with the narrator, Ellison’s protagonist introduces himself in the prologue of Invisible Man explaining that he is not invisible as a result of some scientific wonder but because a white dominated society refuses to see him for who or what he really is. The Invisible Man explains:
”I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” (Ellison, 4)
This opening to Invisible Man depicts the narrator’s ongoing struggle between who he really is and how he is perceived by society. He is a human being, but the racist attitudes of the time barred any acceptance of him on his own merits. In other words because he was a black man, his was characterized by the color of his skin. (Okpewho, Davies and Mazrui, 325) In response to this juxtaposition, the narrator informs the reader that he has taken up residence underground. It is here that he daydreams and listens to jazz records. (Ellison, Prologue)
This distorted image of the narrator as a black man lacking in humanity from the perspective of the white man is similarly depicted of women in the Invisible Man. Ellison’s depiction of women, black and white alike are mere manifestations of the “distorted stereotypes established by the white American male.” (Sylvander, 77) For Ellison, both women and blacks are represented as:
“…instruments for the exercise of another’s control and assertion of power.” (Tate, 262)
It must be remembered that the narrator’s recollection of events start out with his inability to recognize his own exploitation. As a result his attitude toward women would have been entirely unrealistic had he been able to recognize the exploitation of women at least until he came to terms with his own exploitation. (Tate, 262)
The narrator has chosen to live underground so as to write about his invisible life. As his story unfolds the reader learns that he grew up in the south and was a star pupil at both high school and college. This period of his life takes place in the late 1920s to early 1930s. (Ellison) He tells of how he won a scholarship to college. Having been chosen to give a speech to a group of white men he is awarded with a scholarship to a black college but before he can claim the reward he must fight other black men in a boxing ring match where all the contestants are blindfolded. In a more humiliating gesture, following the fight, the white men force the young black men to collect to collect fake gold coins over an electrified surface. (Ellison)
In further development of the narrator’s background Ellison has him relate a tale of having shown Norton, a white trustee of the college that the narrator is enrolled at in the south around the college. To end the tour the narrator takes Norton to an old black bar where some blacks are not happy to see the mixed duo. The college president is unhappy with the narrator’s choice of tour and tells the narrator that he ought to have taken Norton to a more agreeable section of the black community. To this end the narrator, having completed three years of college is expelled and sent to New York with a number of letters of recommendations. It is against this background that the intelligent narrator ends up in 1930s Harlem and despite his letters of recommendations he is unable to find work. (Ellison)
As it is the letters of recommendations turn out to be unflattering and actually accuse the narrator of being disingenuous. (Ellison) Mr. Emerson, a trustee to whom one of the letters is addressed helps the narrator to obtain employment at low wages at Liberty Paints. That employment does not work out for the narrator and during a fight with his black supervisor a tank explodes leaving the narrator unconscious. He is treated at the paint hospital and experimented on by white doctors before he is released. Falling unconscious in the street the narrator is taken to Mary’s home by some black members of the community. Mary permits the narrator to live with her for free and invokes in him an interest in his black heritage. (Ellison)
While Mary may have been presented as the typical plantation mother figure she is much more than that below the surface. She becomes much more than the typical mother figure to the narrator, she provides him with an ambition which sets him well on this way to self-identification. So although Mary comes off as entirely marginalized as a result of her gender, she has deeper and inner strengths that are not accounted for by her presentation as a the narrator’s mother figure and the typical ascribed role of women as nurturers. As Tate explains:
“She nurtures his faltering vision of himself, by renaming him Jack the Bear and, thereby announces his potential to achieve great strength but only after enduring a temporary period of hibernation. By naming him John Henry, she also announces his potential to acquire full confidence and power as a leader of his people.” (Tate 261)
Armed with Mary’s wisdom and nurturing the narrator is motivated to act, although he will stumble along the way. He joins the brotherhood and in Ellison’s unique style he exploits the social and cultural mores of the Harlem Renaissance. Through the brotherhood a measure of the black unity that prevailed in Harlem during this period is exploited. However, the attitude toward women remained stagnant as blacks were just beginning to identify their own exploitation. One of the prerequisites for black brotherhood initiation was a completion of three dances with three different women. It is through these dances that the narrator’s attitude toward women and their marginal role are accentuated by Ellison. Moreover, these three dances also represent the attitude toward women in general.
Even so there is a moment early on where the narrator vaguely makes the connection that women are exploited in no less a manner than blacks. For instance at the contest arranged by the white man who arranged for the narrator’s scholarship, a white nude female dancer is present and the narrator notes that:
“…above her red, fixed-smiling lips I saw the terror and disgust, in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys.” (Ellison, 23)
As a result of his brotherhood initiation he encounters and responds to a number of women, three of which challenge the narrator’s conscience with a mix of sexual and racial. Emma with whom he dances with on the night of his initiation is color conscious, wondering if the narrator is black enough for the brotherhood. Hubert’s wife, represents another challenge as the neglected and forlorn wife of Hubert. (Ellison, 411) Sybil with whom the narrator dances with awakens the narrator’s conscience to the similarities in the subjugation of women and blacks. As the narrator gets close to each of these women he struggles with racial and sexual tension as the two collide.
Two important concepts are on display at this juncture as Ellison highlights both the corresponding roles of women and blacks. Both are confined to minor roles in society and as Claudia Tate maintains, these encounters are significant for the narrator’s development on the road to self-discovery. (Tate, 262) By placing the narrator in a situation where he must interact with an equally subjugated class he becomes conscious of his own exploitation and only then can he identity the exploitation of others.
This is more particularly unveiled when the narrator meets with Sybil the final female in this three woman dance. Although she tries to seduce him he refuses as he compares exercising his physical power over her to the exploitation of blacks. As Tate explains:
“By confronting her, he realizes that possessing her sexually is not identical to possessing some vague sense of freedom. His confrontation also forces him to acknowledge his complicity with his exploiters, in that he has willingly allowed them to reorder his priorities and to force him to lose sight of his original ambitions. He sees that he has imitated the Brotherhood’s tactics and interpreted freedom as the exercise of power over another.” (Tate, 263)
It is therefore through the narrator’s encounters with these minor female women and their corresponding stereotyped roles that he comes to find himself. He comes to the realization that he is a much a victim of society’s marginalization as women are. As Sybil tells him:
“Oh, I know that I can trust you. I just knew you’d understand, you’re not like other men. We’re kind of alike.” (Ellison, 450)
The cumulative impact of the narrator’s encounters with an equally exploited class helps him to come to terms with marginalization. Now that he has reached this plateau in his maturation he is ready to emerge from his self-imposed exile and re-enter society. In this way women and the manner in which they were portrayed by Ellison in Invisible Man were instrumental in the representation of the black culture during the Harlem Renaissance. They represented a subjugated group by which the narrator could come to terms with his own subjugation.
Home To Harlem by Claude McKay
Home to Harlem depicts the kind of reality men and women undergone during the Harlem Renaissance. This fiction was written in accordance to the history of the blacks during that time wherein the freedom of the African-Americans was just just coming along the way after all the slavery and deprivations that they have experienced over the years. With this, Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was also seen as the two protagonists express their desires for the female characters in this story—whereas, as stated in Beauvoir’s theory, women can use their power over men when men are being attracted to them. In this way, they can manipulate them since they feel certain desires to the aethetics of the female body and features.
McKay’s work Home to Harlem is set in late 1920s Harlem and features two protagonists, Jake and Ray, two contrasting black men. Jake is the uneducated hedonist who is seeking life’s pleasures while Ray is the intellectual seeking a deeper meaning in life. As in Ellison’s Invisible Man, McKay uses his protagonist to draw attention to the contribution that the Harlem Renaissance made to black unity and identity. Just as Ellison’s narrator succumbed to an urgent desire for self-identification so does McKay’s Jake and Ray. Equally significant to this journey of self-discovery is the protagonists’ relationship with women. McKay’s approach differs somewhat in that he uses women to illustrate how masculinity by a victimized race impacts upon the black man’ treatment of women. For instance, Jake expresses his masculinity by viewing women as sexual objects which is evidence by his description of women upon his return to Harlem following the First World War:
“Brown girls rouged and painted like dark pansies. Brown flesh draped in soft colourful clothes. Brown lips full and pouted for sweet kissing. Brown breasts throbbing with love.” (McKay, 8)
While this attitude toward women in general is demeaning since it depicts them as mere sexual tools, it is also symbiotic of Jake’s carefree attitude. This attitude puts in at great odds with Ray. To start with Jake who was previously stationed in Europe with the American armed forces becomes disenchanted with the segregation of blacks by US armed forces personnel and leaves without permission, returning to Harlem. Ray, a Haitian native escapes US military occupation of Haiti and migrates to Harlem. The two protagonist meet on board a train where Ray is a waiter and Jake is a cook. (McKay)
What is unique about these differences is that although they divide Jake and Ray, they are united by a broader commonality. That broader commonality is the prejudices they suffer on account of their race. It is these differences that they overcome to forge a friendship that helps them to mature. In much the same way Ellison uses the differences between the narrator and women together with their corresponding rejection of society to transform the narrator.
Jake’s maturity however is more pivotal to this paper’s discussion since his relationship with women demonstrates how women were as equally marginalized by society as were blacks. On his first night back in Harlem, Jake hires the services of Felice, a prostitute. While prostitution outlines the commercial and sexual status of women, it also points to Jake’s attitude toward women and how he expresses his masculinity through the sexual exploitation of women. It is also important to note here that women, black women in particular were increasingly forced out of job opportunities even in Harlem during this period. Most of the domestic jobs usually available to black women were increasingly taken up by white women. (Carby, 738-755)
Nonetheless, the onset of change takes shape that night when Felice returns his fee with the result that Jake sees her differently and falls in love with her. Jake’s metamorphosis continues reaching a crescendo when he finds himself in danger of being ousted for fleeing the armed forces. He is at a bar with Zeddy and they argue over “whose woman” Felice is. (McKay, 327) Again, women are portrayed or at least viewed by the protagonists and his friends as no more than property to be owned or leased. The argument escalates into a fight after which Jake is disenchanted with himself acknowledging that he is acting in the same prejudicial and hateful manner as the soldiers he had left behind. McKay writes:
“…he was caught in the thing that he despised so thoroughly…Brest, London, and his America. Their vivid brutality tortured his imagination. Oh, he was infinitely disgusted with himself to think that he had just been moved by the same savage emotions as those vile, vicious, villainous white men who, like hyenas and rattlers, had fought, murdered, and clawed the entrails out of black men over the common, commercial flesh of women.” (McKay, 328)
Ironically, it was women, whom Jake is referring to as “commercial flesh” that was his prime concern upon his return to Harlem. Women represented Harlem’s appeal to him. Yet, it was a woman who has the wisdom to point out the senseless nature of the war and how it served a nonsensical masculine virtue. It was Felice who pragmatically points out that Jake was justified in leaving the armed forces:
“What right have niggers got to shoot down a whole lot a Germans for?…Is they worse than Americans or any other nation a white people? You done do the right thing, honey…” (McKay, 323-333)
Jake’s attitude toward women are clearly shaped by a male dominated culture that permeated Harlem. What can be gleaned from Felice’s observation and Jake’s realization is that a dual exploitation had eroded the moral fibre of America. The exploitation of both blacks and women. Even the exploited black man fell in line with the idea that masculinity was achieved by power over another leaving the female vulnerable to exploitation. Even the women appear to accept that they were weaker sex. For instance, Rose, a bisexual singer implores Jake to beat her as a show of masculinity.
As Hazel CArby observes, Jake seeks his masculinity by “subordinating women.” (Carby, 749) In fact, Felice’s act of returning the prostitution fee to Jake served to restore Jake’s lost masculinity, the masculinity he lost as a result of the discrimination against him in the armed forces. Most of the plot in Home to Harlem focuses on Jake’s search for Felice who has for all intents and purposes gone missing. She serves Jake’s masculine ego well since Jake sees in her a woman who lives only to satisfy her man.
McKay’s women repeat this tenet throughout the novel. Rose for instance tells Jake, “I don’t care what you do while you is mah man.” (McKay, 40) Another women Susy comments that women “were born foh love”. (McKay, 85) Despite these manifestations of female subjugation and the stark impression that they were no more than tools for the satisfaction of their male counterparts, there is ample evidence that women are emerging from this subordinate role in Renaissance Harlem. Jake finds himself growing ever more anxious over this transformation. More and more women were paying rent and buying clothes for their men. Jake observes soon after his return to Harlem that the women:
“…were so realistic and straighgoing. They were the real controlling force of life.” (McKay, 70)
Despite these changing roles, women who have found independence however continue to pander to the ideals of masculinity. As noted earlier, Rose with whom Jake had a brief relationship had encouraged Jake to beat her up as a show of his masculinity. Rose was not only an independent woman, but she also took care of Jake by giving him money and expensive gifts. She admits that she enjoys Jake’s lovemaking but is unhappy because:
“She had wanted (Jake) to live in the usual sweet way, to be brutal and beat her up a little, and take away her money from her.” (McKay, 113)
When Jake finally slaps Rose she tells her friend Gertie that she’s happier than she’s ever been because she has now felt the “real strengths” of her man. (McKay, 117)
Jake in Home to Harlem reflected the fact that black men were subjugated by a white male dominated society and were unable to express their masculinity by virtue of status and the power that accompanies it. In order to achieve status and its rebounding masculinity they resigned themselves to asserting their power over women. The women in turn, recognized this struggle and by and large acquiesced. For both the black female and the black male the struggle for masculinity was indistinguishable from the struggle for strength.
McKay has by portraying the growing independence of black women together with their insubordination to men, demonstrated the strengths within the black community as well as the societal pressures that threatened progress. These women are strong, although on the surface they are seemingly obsessed with the idea of pleasing their men. What is happening on a much deeper level is support and encouragement. This is a concurrent trend in the relationships between the protagonists in both the Invisible Man and Home to Harlem.
Mary, Sybil and the old slave woman nurtured the narrator in Invisible Man but in doing so, they also provided spiritual guidance and wisdom. The same is true of Jake’s relationships with Rose and Felice. While Rose subscribed to the traditional role of nurturer and lover all at once, she was in her own way helping Jake to come to terms with his strengths. By insisting that he beat her, she helped him to come to the realization that asserting his power over another did not automatically propel him to masculine status. It was this kind of conduct that drove him out of armed forces and although it is not immediately obvious, Jake’s relationship with Rose planted the seeds for this realization.
Jake’s relationship with Felice however is far more complex. Jake comes to the realization that he has regarded her as property following his fight over her with Zeddy. It is equally obvious that, like Rose, Felice panders to Jake’s ego, giving the impression that she lives to please men. At the same time she furnishes Jake with words of wisdom particularly in her denouement of the war and the role that black men played in it. For Felice the war was a white man’s war and for all the abuse that black men suffered at the hands of white men, black men had nothing to gain by fighting the white man’s war. By pointing this out to Jake she is encouraging him to face reality.
Felice however, represents the greatest tool in Jake’s journey to masculinity. She becomes the center piece of the novel Home To Harlem since the plot works its way around Jake’s search for her which only comes about because she returned the prostitution fee. As Hazel Carby notes, “sleight-of-hand” Felice makes the transition from prostitute to a rather non-threatening “figure of wholesome sexuality” with respect to Jake’s search for “black masculinity in formation.” (Carby, 749)
That search for masculinity was thwarted by a culture in which segregation and discrimination barred lucrative employment for blacks in general but particularly blacks with little or no skills. These circumstances gave way to the subjugation of the female class as a show of masculine strength. This is the trickle down effect of race discrimination and represents the pressure that blacks lived under in Harlem in the late 1920s. In his foreword to Home to Harlem, Wayne Cooper writes:
“In Home to Harlem, McKay celebrated the potential of the Afro-American community but remained aware of the pressures within it that threatened its future.” (McKay, xxv)
Another striking consequence of the black man’s quest for masculinity in Home to Harlem is its impact on the relationship between women. Caught up in the male obsession women see each other as rivals in their scramble to claim a man as their own. Susy, for instance who is described as of mixed racial heritage throws parties with liberal displays of alcohol and only invites men to her parties. The impression is that she is seeking a sexual partner. McKay writes of Susy:
“There were whisky and beer also at her sociable evenings, but gin was the drink of drinks. Except for herself, her parties were all-male. Like so many of her sex, she had a congenital contempt for women.” (McKay, 58)
But as McKay explains, Susy went to great expense in vain. He quest for a lover at the expense of her wages were unfruitful since the men would just graciously accept her free alcohol, drink until they were intoxicated and “left her place in pursuit of pleasures elsewhere.” (McKay, 59)
The rationale is that black men in their show of masculine strength took advantage of women in ways that were not entirely sexual. The irony is that women like Susy made themselves available for men to take advantage of them. No doubt this sort of conduct personifies the abiding pressures that permeated black culture as a result of discrimination. These are the pressures that McKay thought would hinder future progress for the black race.
Perhaps what is more disturbing is that the men looked down upon Susy in a way that was different from their usual discriminate treatment of women in general. Despite these attitudes toward her, they had no difficulty taking advantage of her generosity. The reader is told that:
“Apart from Susy’s repellent person, no youthful sweetman attempting to love her could hold out under the ridicule of his pals. Over their games of pool and craps the boys had their cracks at Susy.” (McKay, 59)
The treatment of Susy is also indicative of the emphasis on women’s sexual value. Women are meant to be attractive if they are going to be loved by men, otherwise they will be used in much the same manner as Susy was. They could still subscribe to the traditional domestic role of women. For instance, Jake like Susy’s cooking and observed:
“She may be fat and ugly as a turkey…but her eats am sure beautiful.” (McKay, 78)
Susy’s abuse by men are described in the following synopsis of what she told her new friend Miss Curdy:
“When Susy came to know Miss Curdy, she uploaded a quantity of the stuff of her breast upon her. Her drab childhood in a South Carolina town. Her early marriage. No girlhood. Her husband leaving her. And all the yellow men that had beaten her, stolen from her, and pawned her things.” (McKay, 60)
Susy also becomes McKay’s mouthpiece for the typical relationship between men and women. From Susy we learn that women are typically subservient and remain chained to their partners and their homes while their men are free to wander the streets under the guise of a boys’ night out excuse. McKay sets this up when Susy responds to Zeddy, with whom she was by then having a relationship with, announces that he is going into the city with Jake. Susy lets Zeddy know in no uncertain terms that she does not agree with his decision to leave with Jake. Zeddy wants to know who will stop him to which Susy replies, “I is.” (McKay, 79) Zeddy wants to know why and Susy replies:
“’causen I don’t wanchu to go to Harlem. What makes you niggers love Harlem so much? Because it’s a bloody ungodly place where niggers nevah go to bed. All night running around speakeasies and cabarets, where bad, hell-bent nigger womens am giving up themselves to open sin.” (McKay, 79)
While Susy’s objection exemplifies the New Negro during the Harlem Renaissance, it also pointedly reflects the rivalry between women who seek to please men and pander to the prevailing black masculinity idealism. While Susy is represented as being wise to the subordinate nature of women, she is taking a stand. And by doing so she reveals the dynamics of this dominant male, subservient female relationship in Harlem.
When Zeddy explains that he’s not going into Harlem for the caberets and the speakeasies, but merely to accompany Jake to “see somathem boys” (McKay, 79) Susy lets him know that she’s wiser than the average woman when it comes to serving their men. She admonishes:
“Can that boy business!…I’ve had anuff hell scrapping wif the women ovah mah mens. I ain’t agwine to have no Harlem boys seducin’ mah man away fwom me. The boy business is fine excuse indeedy foh sich womens as ain’t wise. I always heah the boss say to the missus, ‘I gwine out foh a little time wif the boys, dearie’ when him wants an excuses foh a night off. I ain’t born yestiday, honey. If you wants the boys foh a li’l game o’ poky, you bring ‘em ovah heah. I ain’t got the teeniest bit of objection, and Ise got plenty o’ good Gordon Dry foh eve’body.” (McKay, 79-80)
By speaking through Susy, McKay adequately ties together the exploitation of women in general. The fact that Susy has to fight for her man at all explains the male worship which is entirely a result of the manner in which black masculinity was achieved in this black culture. Men who had low paying jobs if any and no societal status depended on women for their masculinity. Women provided sexual, quite often violent exploits, adoration, nurturing and subordination for this men seeking masculinity. This state of inequality ironically was brought on by racist discrimination, another form of inequality in the first place.
Color Struck by Zora Neale Hurston
Set on a train in the beginning of the play, this fiction was set on the year 1900s when the black community members from the town of Jacksonville gathered to go to the cakewalk competition in St. Augustine. With this, the author made it to a point to emphasize on the first scene the location “Inside a ‘Jim Crow’ railway coach which symbolizes an important part in the African-American history. Emmaline, the lead female character expressed a feeling of jealousy to Effie, a woman who has a lighter tone of skin since John seems to be showing gestures of likenessto her. The main focus of the play is its revolution on colorism – which is extremely important to the history of African American especially that they are usually outcasted and discriminated because of their black complexion. This can be severely depicted as the lead character, Emma felt a feeling of insecurity and jealousy to lighter-skinned women because her boyfriend left her to be with other woman who happened to possess fair skin. After the incident, the author shifted the story to a huge change in the characters by moving on 20 years later. By then, Emma already had a child who was named Lou Lillian. She was a lighter-skinned girl compared to her mother. Then there John arrived who confessed that he is already married although his wife was already dead. With that, he told Emma that he came back to marry her and he saw the poor situation of Lou Lillian so he brought it to the doctor. The daughter could have been cured and safe. However, because of Emma’s insecurity, she throught that John was being nice to her daughter because of her white skin. So she attacked John and he left. The doctor hen arrived and told them the her daughter has just died, it was too late for Emma to retrieve her daughter’s life. And this is all because of her insecurities. This story greatly depicts what has happened during the Harlem Renaissance wherein people feel a sense of unworthyness and insecurity because the society has focused their attention too much on people with white skin. African-American individuals, especially the women have been judged to be of different character just because of their skin color. With this, the women of the Harlem Renaissance have always been deprived of real freedom and true happiness as they have been suffering from insecurity and jealousy of other races.
Plum Bun: A Noverl Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset
This is a story of two sisters named Virginia and Angela Murray; both of them grew up together with their parents in a town rich with African American culture – Philadelphia. Angela as she inherited from her mother has a lighter skin color compared to her sister Virginia. She was actually the one to spread the beauty of white around their area. She was tasked to “pass” white complexion to their community. Virginia grew up to be a good daughter who have not been taking the pressure of races but rather, she has accepted herself for who she is. Angela on the contrary has always been a victim of unsuccessful friendships because people would usually misinterpret her as to having white mask, and when they later own found out about her ethnicity, she is stripped of everything that she only care about. Upon the death of their parents, Angela went to New York City to start a new life. There she hid her true ethnicity and she was accepted as one of the whites. She then met Roger who became her love interest. However, the two of them turned out to be using each other; Angela needs Roger in order to get through her financial needs while Roger needs Angela to satisfy his sexual desires.Virginia then arrive to meet Angela, but she was denied because Angela is afraid that people would leave her when they found out about her real identity. Later on, when the truth about Angela’s and Roger’s personal intentions to each other came out, the truth regarding Angela’s identity also came out together with it. Angela lost some of her acquiantances and so they moved to Paris to start a new life. Angela was accepted as an artist in Paris where she met Anthony who became her true love interest as he does not entertain discriminations despite the racial differences which gave birth to a brighter future for the both of them.
On a close reading of this novel, it was depicted that its subtitle implies the idea of morality as not being an instrument to define oneself. For that reason that when Angela left her hometown for New York, she lost the traditional African-American within her which she has to regain along the story. Angela learned to accept herself for who she really is so that she can later be accepted by other people. Also, de Beavoire’s theory concerning women as objects of desire has also been seen in this novel as Roger’s intentions of Angela were fully to satisfy his sexual needs.
The African- American Feminist Literature roots from the jailed desires of women during the earlier times. Their gender representation is often armed by the distinction of their race, thus also encompasses the dilemma of social division or social hierarchy. Although Renaissance Harlem resulted to the unification of diverse blacks and upheld an atmosphere in which a new culture of expression was cultivated, the ongoing inequities between the races and the sexes presented challenges for the Afro-American’s progress. In both the Invisible Man and Home to Harlem the authors in their own unique ways demonstrate how gender bias is as much a product and consequence of white male domination, and this was thoroughly represented in Furtado’s novel, Chica de Silva. Although Harlem may have brought blacks together in such a way as to awaken a new brand of black consciousness, it could not eradicate the gender gap. However, what becomes increasingly clear in both novels as they move along, the male protagonist eventually begin to see the parallel between the exploitation of blacks and the exploitation of whites.
AuthorsDen, Inc. “The Approaching 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance (part 1 of 2). AuthorsDen, Inc. AuthorsDen, Inc., 2011. Web. 7 September 2011 <http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?id=62700&AuthorID=25279>
Rau, Dana. The Harlem Renaissance. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2005. Print.
Williams, Ella. Harlem Renaissance: A Handbook. United States: AuthorHouse, 2008. Print.
Hutchinson, George. The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White. United States: President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1995. Print.
A&E Television Networks. “Simone de Beauvoir”. A&E Television Networks., 2011. Web. 9 September 2011. <http://www.biography.com/articles/Simone-de-Beauvoir-9269063>
Adler, L. Marguerite Duras: A Life by Laure Adler translated by Anne-Marie. Glasheen: Paris, France. 2001. Print.
Adón, P. “A Contributed Biography”. 2001. Web. <http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/ucbio_duras_margaret.htm>
Appignanesi, L. Simone de Beauvoir. London: Haus Publishing. 2005. Print.
Bair, D. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography. France: Simon & Schuster. 1991. Print.
Baumgardner, J. and Richards, A. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2000. Print.
Cavallaro, D. French Feminist Theory: An Introduction. New York: Continuum. 2003. Print.
Chopin, K. The Awakening. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone & Co. 1989. Print.
Cohen S.D. (1993). Women and Discourse in the Fiction of Marguerite Duras
De Beauvoir, S. (2011). The Second Sex. Reprint. New York. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Duggan, L. and Hunter, N. D. Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. New York: Routledge. 1995. Print.
European Graduate School EGS. Simone Beauvoir – Biography. 2011. Web. 9 September 2011 <http://www.egs.edu/library/simone-de-beauvoir/biography/>
Fallaize, E. Simone de Beauvoir: A Critical Reader. London: Routledge. 1998. Print.
Fraser N. & Bartky, S. L. Revaluing French Faminism: Critical Essays on Difference, Agency, and Culture. United States: Hypatia, Inc. 1992. Print.
Frey, S. R. and Morton, M. J. New world, new roles: a documentary history of women in pre-industrial America. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. 1986. Print.
Friedan, B. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton. 2001. Print.
Fuller, M. Woman in the Nineteenth Century: and Kindred Papers Relating o the Sphere, Condition and Duties, of Woman. Virginia: J. P. Jewett. 1955. Print.
Gilbert, S. and Gubar, S. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press. 2000. Print.
Goldberg Moses, C. French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century. New York: State University of New York Press. 1984. Print.
Katz, S. T.The Holocaust in Historical Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1994. Print.
Lamy S. and Roy A. Marguerite Duras a Montreal: France. 1981. Print.
Leighton, J. Simone de Beauvoir on Wom an. England: Associated University Presses, Inc. 1975. Print.
Literary Traveler. “Marguerite Duras in Sa Dec.” 2001. Web. 9 September 2011 <http://www.literarytraveler.com/authors/marguerite_duras.aspx>
Marilley, S. M. Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820-1920. Cambridge: Harvard UP. 1996. Print.
Oliver, K. French Feminism Reader. United States: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2000. Print.
Thickstun, M. O. Fictions of the Feminine: Puritan Doctrine and the Representation of Women. New York: Cornell University Press. 1998. Print.
Toth, E. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press. 1999. Print.
Trista Selous. The Other Woman: Feminism and Feminity in the Works of Marguerite Duras: France. 1988. Print.
Yan, H. Chinese Women Writers and the Feminist Imagination, 1905-1948. NY:Routledge. 2006. Print.
Furtado, Júnia Ferreira. Chica da Silva: a Brazilian slave of the eighteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Carby, Hazel. “Policing the Black Woman’s Body in the Urban Context”. Critical Inquiry vol. 18(4) 1992, 738-755.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, 1995
Locke, Alain. “The New Negro” cited in Locke, Alain and Rampersad, Arnold (eds) The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Albert and Charles Boni, Inc. 1992.
McKay, Claude. Home to Harlem. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1987.
Okpewho, Isidore, Davies, Carole and Mazrui, Ali. The African Diaspora: African Origins and New World Identities. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Sylvander, Carolyn. “Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Female Stereotypes.” Negro American Literature Forum. Vol. 9(3) 1975, 77-79
Tate, Claudia. “Notes on the Invisible Women in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Cited in Callahan, John (ed) Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: A Case Book. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2004