The Madwoman in the Attic

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Asia-Pacific Science and Culture Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 23-41 OPEN ACCESS

ISSN 2220-4504 www.ieit-web.org/apscj

Women’s Secret Language: the Madwoman in the Attic in a Cultural and Psychological Context JIA Shi 1
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The University of Iowa

E-Mails: daisy-wreath@hotmail.com Received: Apr. 2011 / Accepted: May 2011 / In Press: May 2011 / Published: Jun. 2011

Abstract: As an outstanding representative of the second-wave feminism, The Madwoman in the Attic is still useful in handling the relationship between women and language, especially when it is in comparison with other strands of theory. Culturally, women writers’ revision of the existing male discourse that the book suggests bears remarkable resemblance with de Certeau’s tactic against strategy. Psychoanalytically, women writers’ pursuit of successful foremothers corresponds well with Chodorow’s “Pre-Oedipal Gender Configurations”. Hence, the book’s way of secretly gendering the language is firmly grounded. Keywords: Women; Language; Tactic; Pre-Oedipal stage; Criticism

One of the most interesting topics in feminist criticism is the complicated relationship between women and language. Entailed with the social contract, the symbolic system of language resumes and reveals the uneven distribution of power caused by gender difference. To obtain a language of their own, women are in their way to empower themselves and define themselves as women. To further explore the relationship between women and language, this paper is going to center on Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s prominent work The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Coming out in 1979 as an outstanding representative theory of the second-wave feminism, the book might seem fraught with deficiencies and blind spots nowadays, especially taking the third-wave feminism into consideration. Nonetheless, I still find it useful in handling the relationship between women and language. In addition, with its multiple

Asia-Pacific Science and Culture Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3

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approaches including text analysis and psychoanalysis, the book greatly enables us to establish connections between it and other strands of criticism. One basic issue involved in the relationship between women and language is repression. Indeed, this is a centuries-old issue which may put Gilbert and Gubar into the old track of striving for gender equality in the social institution; however, this issue should by no means be regarded as solved or outdated. This is a basic situation that women have to face, no matter how far they’ve gone on the road of transcending it. In the beginning of The Madwoman in the Attic, Gilbert and Gubar point out that women are doubly repressed by patriarchal language: “Women have not only been excluded from authorship but in addition they have been subject to (and subjects of) male authority.” (Gilber & Gubar, 11) Gilbert and Gubar should be given credit not only for bringing this problem up but also for seeking an effective way to deal with the problem rather than unproductively complaining and blaming men for repressing women while confining women in the role of the victimized. For them, the first step that women should take is to “attempt the pen”. Here they refer to the myth of Lilith in apocryphal Jewish lore. Created not from Adam’s rib but from the dust too, Lilith, Adam’s first wife, is his real equal in origin. And she did what an equal would do – refusing to submit to Adam by fleeing away and speaking the Ineffable Name. Here, Gilbert and Gubar notice that naming is just as rebellious as getting away. Therefore, female speech as well as its being doomed to be monstrous is a revelation of male domination of the language, and at the same time a revolt from the female world. It is relatively easy to see the meaning of women’s speech; the core problem lies in what language to speak. When women start to write, they transform from objects being...
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