«The Sigma Tau Delta Review Journal of Critical Writing Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society Volume 10, 2013 Editor of Publications: ...»
Sigma Tau Delta
Journal of Critical Writing
Sigma Tau Delta
International English Honor Society
Volume 10, 2013
Editor of Publications:
St. Norbert College
De Pere, Wisconsin
Honor Members of Sigma Tau Delta
Chris Abani Katja Esson Marion Montgomery Kim Addonizio Mari Evans Kyoko Mori Edward Albee Philip José Farmer Scott Morris Julia Alvarez Robert Flynn Azar Nafisi Rudolfo A. Anaya Shelby Foote Howard Nemerov Saul Bellow H.E. Francis Naomi Shihab Nye John Berendt Alexandra Fuller Sharon Olds Robert Bly Neil Gaiman Walter J. Ong, S.J.
Vance Bourjaily Charles Ghigna Suzan-Lori Parks Cleanth Brooks Nikki Giovanni Laurence Perrine Gwendolyn Brooks Donald Hall Michael Perry Lorene Cary Robert Hass David Rakoff Judith Ortiz Cofer Frank Herbert Henry Regnery Henri Cole Peter Hessler Richard Rodriguez Billy Collins Andrew Hudgins Kay Ryan Pat Conroy William Bradford Huie Mark Salzman Bernard Cooper E. Nelson James Sir Stephen Spender Judith Crist X.J. Kennedy William Stafford Jim Daniels Jamaica Kincaid Lucien Stryk James Dickey Ted Kooser Amy Tan Mark Doty Li-Young Lee Sarah Vowell Ellen Douglas Valerie Martin Eudora Welty Richard Eberhart David McCullough Jessamyn West Dave Eggers Erin McGraw Jacqueline Woodson Delta Award Recipients Richard Cloyed Elizabeth Holtze Elva Bell McLin Kevin Stemmler Beth DeMeo Elaine Hughes Isabel Sparks Bob Halli E. Nelson James Sue Yost Copyright © 2013 by Sigma Tau Delta All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Sigma Tau Delta, Inc., the International English Honor Society, William C. Johnson, Executive Director, Department of English, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois 60115-2863, U.S.A.
The Sigma Tau Delta Review is published annually in April with the continuing generous assistance of Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL) and St. Norbert College (De Pere, WI). Publication is limited to members of Sigma Tau Delta. Members are entitled to a one-year subscription upon payment of the initial fee. The subsequent annual subscription rate is ten dollars (U.S.).
HESTER KAPLAN is the author of “The Edge of Marriage” (1999), which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Kinship Theory (2001), a novel. Her stories and non-fiction have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories series (1998, 1999), Ploughshares, Agni Review, Southwest Review, Story, and Glimmer Train. Recent awards include the Salamander Fiction Prize, the McGinness-Ritchie Award for Non-Fiction, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is on the faculty of Lesley University’s M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing. She lives in Providence, RI and is working on a collection of stories and a novel. Her latest novel, The Tell, was published by HarperCollins (2013).
Contents The Sigma Tau Delta Review, Volume 10, 2013 Essays The Failed Subversion of the Patriarchy in Salman 6 Rushdie’s Shame Alexis Catanzarite Frederic Fadner Critical Essay Award Cramped and Civilized in Huckleberry Finn: Clothing’s 15 Function as a Cultural Mask Kaley White “This Man... Doth Present Wall”: The Enactment of 25 Objectified Labor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Erin Sharpe “Probably true enough”: Narrative Control Through 35 Possibility in Absalom, Absalom!
Andrew Todd From Dominance to Companionship: Animals in Behn 45 and Defoe Hannah Biggs The “Oriental Lear”: (Mis)understanding Kurosawa’s Ran 55 Douglas Dennan The Problem with the China: Food and Gender in 66 Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park Hope Rogers “And this is her voice”: The Nexus of Language and Power 76 in Jane Eyre Maria Conti The Language of Literature: The Subaltern Subverts the 86 Colonizing Culture Brianna Stimpson Between Fact and Fancy: The Ethical-Aesthetic in 98 Dickens’s Hard Times Jared Seymour Reciprocal Formation of Gender Identity in Chaucer’s 108 Troilus and Criseyde Fallon Alvarez Comparing Shakespeare’s Henry VIII to the Historical 119 Henry Philip Derbesy Blood and Laurels: Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Anderson’s 128 Speak Brittani Howell The Failed Subversion of the Patriarchy in Salman Rushdie’s Shame
Alexis Catanzarite is a recent graduate of High Point University, where she received a B.A. in English Literature and Political Science. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Kansas, where she is a graduate teaching assistant. Alexis plans to continue on to her Ph.D.
Salman Rushdie’s 1983 novel Shame, an allegorical work containing elements of magical realism and a postmodern examination of social conditions, seeks to interrogate and re-imagine gendered constructions by giving voice and action to the disempowered female. To this end, making use of the freedom afforded to the writer of fantasy and magical realism, Rushdie thoroughly envisions different types of power endowed upon female characters, from domestic to political to physical. Ultimately, however, the portrayal of the empowered female character fails as the women in Rushdie’s narrative are encompassed and confined by the patriarchal structures they struggle against. Even more importantly, they are defined by these restrictive structures and a dualistic vision of gender, even when they actively oppose them. Perhaps the problem is that, while patriarchy may be opposed in Rushdie’s novel, it is never transcended. The women in the novel, though potentially creative and unique social agents, are diminished to the point of almost complete insignificance due to the rigid and unforgiving gender roles that Rushdie seems to attack, but ultimately reinforces.
Women do not successfully exist as women in Rushdie’s novel; they are forced to either forsake their femininity in favor of a masculine transformation or die in response to the pressures of living up to the female archetype. The female character as an empowered social agent is almost entirely obscured by, invalidated by, or concentrated into a male-centered view of the world, where the only implied alternative to this scenario is a denial of one’s cultural identity.
The fact that the female identity is obscured in Shame is all the more striking given the fact that the novel offers a range of innovative and seemingly powerful female characters, to such a degree that some critics are in fact convinced that Rushdie has engaged in a successful negotiation of female agency. This opinion of Rushdie’s success could be derived from his
meta-acknowledgement of the role that women occupy in the novel:
The women seem to have taken over; they marched in from the peripheries of the story to demand the inclusion of their own tragedies, histories and comedies, obliging me to couch my narrative in all manner of sinuous complexities, to see my “male” plot refracted, so to speak, through the prisms of its reverse and “female” side. It occurs to me that the women knew precisely what they were up to—that their stories explain, and even subsume, the men’s. Repression is a seamless garment; a society which is authoritarian in its social and sexual codes, which crushes its women beneath the intolerable burdens of honour and propriety, breeds repressions of other kinds as well. (181) That Rushdie so deliberately acknowledges the oppression of women is an indicator that he intends to address that struggle in his narrative, making its “intolerability” something with which he takes issue. To an extent, the aforementioned critics are right; Rushdie does engage in a negotiation of female agency, but ultimately the undertaking was not in favor of the feminine, but rather of the patriarchal society.
The novel opens with a description of the three sisters, Chunni, Munnee, and Bunny—mothers to the “peripheral hero,” Omar.
There is no doubt at all that these women are, physically and psychologically, forceful and resilient characters in the context of Shame. Moreover, they actively resist the patriarchal power structure that encompasses the novel. Raised by an oppressive father in sheltered conditions, the sisters, following their father’s death, form a tight-knit matriarchy with an incredible degree of unity between them. They interact successfully with the outside world through their dumbwaiter, offering a mechanism of protection to them.
They are described as “rather strong-chinned, powerfully built, purposefully striding women of an almost oppressively charismatic force” (Rushdie 12); that their charisma is described as “oppressive” speaks to their defiance of the traditional patriarchy. By the same token, the narrator tells us that these women, as young girls, imagined a type of heterosexual meeting in which they would be the aggressors, albeit using their female attributes. They imagined “bizarre genitalia such as holes in the chest into which their own nipples might snugly fit” (5). Finally, these sisters are willing to and capable of dramatically subverting tradition and socially sanctioned behaviour, as demonstrated in their having a party with alcohol and Western style music, conceiving a baby outside of wedlock, and— perhaps most scandalously of all—undertaking to raise him without shame.
Arguably, these three sisters form a more powerful model of the liberated female than Sufiya Zinobia does, although the latter attracts far more attention from critics. In fact, critical analysis of Chunni, Munnee, and Bunny is surprisingly scarce, despite the fact that these women successfully design and inhabit a completely alternate, female-centered society, utterly rejecting the patriarchal world and all that it has produced. The most plausible reason that three sisters are able to avoid the constraints of the patriarchy is that they have not been educated or truly exposed to the world, making them less subject to social conditioning than most. However, this potentially matriarchal society is fatally compromised by one key factor that is completely outside of the sisters’ realm of control: they, and their matriarchal world, exist only on the peripheral, powerless to penetrate or affect the outside world. Ultimately, this position deprives them of true agency. The very factors that originally seemed to define them—for example, their “forceful” beauty and fertility— can only be sustained temporarily and by wholly unnatural means.
For example, the sisters insist on nursing Omar well beyond the appropriate age of infancy. Once Omar is weaned, the powers that had seemed to define the sisters diminish: their “breasts dried and shrank... they became soft, there were knots in their hair, they lost interest in the kitchen” (30).
Even more telling is the fact that the entire source of the sisters’ power is, and remains, almost entirely dependent on stereotypical feminine roles. Their assumed power is in their “magical” fertileness, beauty, and formation of a restricted, closed society that excludes not only most members of the opposite gender, but also the entirety of the outside world. The narrator’s geographical locating of their dwelling highlights this effect. Omar is born on the border, close to the “Impossible Mountains,” in a liminal zone not closely associated with any specific country. Perhaps the most damning statement about this attempted establishment of a matriarchal subsociety is in the character of the sisters’ shameless offspring, Omar.
He is the “peripheral hero,” and remains, even to the end of the narrative, vulnerable and improbable, desiring separation from the matriarchal society in which he was raised. Moreover, his position is fundamentally precarious, which is expressed by the fact that Omar grows up thinking he is “living at the edge of the world, so close that he might fall off at any moment” (14).
Therefore, this commendable attempt at creating strong female characters only strengthens the view that such an idea is very precarious and fatally compromised within the society depicted in the novel. In fact, it is clear that Rushdie can only endeavour to construct the illusion of strong females through extraordinary measures or circumstances as unusual as the “Impossible Mountains,” but even then, there can be no melding or cooperation with the remainder of society. Indeed, it is a violation of position that inevitably puts one outside of the norm, in a position where there is scant social power. Feminine power is profoundly marginalized, in other words, as well as being bound by the same duality that the patriarchy creates. Omar, as a profoundly liminal character, navigates between the marginalized female world and the larger society, which, perhaps, makes it natural that he would enter into an intimate partnership with the most controversial character of the novel, Sufiya Zenobia. In one obvious way, she is his foil, as he is raised without shame and she embodies it. Moreover, it can also be argued that Omar’s background, as a man who is the product of a wholly feminine sub-society, makes it possible for him to become entangled with a woman who becomes the extreme embodiment of aggressive power.
Of course, Sufiya is a profound contradiction in and of herself.