Instructor – Mrs. Lucinda Peart
ENGL331 – Literary Criticism
6 December 2011
Feminism and its function in a critical reading of the short stories The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the poem “Poem in Praise of Menstruation” by Lucille Clifton.
The Feminist movement began as an attempt to underscore the despotism of the patriarchal society that is reflected exceedingly in literature and permit women to be established as equals. According to Paul Ady, associate professor of English at Assumption College in Massachusetts, the feminist literary critic is predisposed to the rebuffing of patriarchal models in literature “that privileges masculine ways of thinking and marginalizes women politically, economically and psychologically” (Lewis). Feminist criticism scrutinizes gender politics in works and delineates the subtle assembly of masculinity and femininity and their status in relation to each other, their position and marginalization within literary works. Feminism’s purpose ergo is to change the degrading view of women so that all women will realize that they are not a nonsignificant Other, but that each woman is a valuable person possessing the same privileges and rights of every man (Bressler 144). The status of women is what concerns feminism. Jonathan Culler argues that “feminist criticism” is “the name that should be applied to all criticism alert to the critical ramifications of sexual oppression, just as in politics ‘women’s issues’ is the name now applied to many fundamental questions of personal freedom and social justice” (Culler 56).
Feminism has its origins in the struggle for women’s rights which began in the late eighteenth century chiefly with Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) (Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory). However, it was those that purported the movement in the twentieth century that greatly influenced Feminist thought. Theorists such as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Elaine Showalter have made momentous contributions to the historical development of Feminism and Feminist Criticism.
Feminist criticism comprises a variety of approaches in its practice, for it encompasses facets of Reader Response Criticism and Cultural Studies; for interpretation is influenced by one’s status, race, gender, class, sexual preference and so forth, hence different individuals will react differently. Structuralism and Deconstructionism act also as aspects of Feminism, for “feminism aims to break down the public/private split in relation to reason and feeling and the binaries of masculinity/femininity so as to allow for a different vision of gender and society” (Waugh & Rice 144). Feminist criticism also connotes Psychoanalytic Criticism, for it exerts ‘the psychological sentence of the feminine gender’ according to Woolf (Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory). It is important to feminism because it tries to clarify why people invest in behaviours which seem irrational, counter-productive and against their best interest, an example of which is De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Feminism is able to embrace these critical schools of thought, Marxism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis and New Historicism for it is more an approach or mind-set than a school of criticism.
Feminist criticism lends itself then to comprehension through an investigation of its historical growth, the assumptions posited through the theory and the components of its methodology. In addition, the application of feminist criticism to the short stories The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Lucille Clifton’s “Poem in Praise of Menstruation” will explore the practices of the theory in critical analysis to allow for a better understanding of the literary pieces.
A study of feminist criticism, its historical development, the assumptions associated...
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