Renaming the World: Freeman's Revolt of Mother

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper shows how a stylistic approach of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's "The Revolt o 'Mother'" best articulates Mrs. Penn's self-assertion and appropriation of male discourse. Indeed Mrs. Penn's increasing control of language and assertion of her subjectivity become more evident through a close examination of the social deictics speech acts and speech thoughts, lexis and figures of speech within the text.

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Martha J. Cutter's article "Frontiers of Language: Engendering Discourse in "The Revolt of 'Mother'," is an excellent study detailing the gendered nature of language in Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother'." Women, according to her, fail to communicate in the male-dominated world because of gender language differences. It is only when women are able to wrestle language from males through revolutionary renaming that true understanding between the sexes can take place. Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother'," the story of Ms. Penn who moves into the barn her husband builds at the place he promised to erect a house forty years ago, well illustrates current feminist and recent linguistic and literary developments, preferring referential and propositional meaning. The oppressive nature of language, treated in Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place and Francine Frank and Frank Anshen's Language and the Sexes, is the gist of the 'The Revolt of "Mother." As Cutter so eloquently states in her article, "[t]his story [...] might enact a truce, a temporary act of communication that is successful, that invents a system of discourse which slips free from the binary system of sexual difference, of patriarchal or non-patriarchal language, of speaking men or silent women, of barn versus home" (291).

Numerous critics have written on the subversiveness of "The Revolt of 'Mother'." Joseph R McElrath, Jr. and Patricia M. Dwyer examine respectively how Freeman uses anticlimax narrative technique and voice to subvert male discourse. Elaine Orr discusses the relational nature of Mother's negotiation with her husband, Mr. Penn. Elizabeth Meese expounds on the contradictory critical receptions of the work and "the ambiguities of language" in Freeman's writerly text. And both Joseph Church and Cutter focus on discursive practices in "The Revolt of 'Mother'" and Mother's reconfiguration of male patriarchal structures. All the above critic eloquently and competently argue the prominent role of language in Freeman's text. Yet, I believe that a stylistic approach to "The Revolt of 'Mother'" best conveys to students the exclusion of women in the production of meaning and their need to appropriate male discourse. The above articles demonstrate that language is a conceptual grid through which we experience reality and females' relationship to language. But, they fail to explore the power relationships inherent in language use even though it is skillfully conveyed in "The Revolt of 'Mother'" through lexis, social deictics, speech acts, and the editorial comments of the omniscient narrator's figures of speech. Freeman's story is, in itself, an example of language appropriation.

Students frequently contend that meaning in literary texts is arbitrary and fluid because of the opacity and ambiguity of language. Indeed, the majority of critics, cited above, foreground the gendered nature of language and the problematic of textual interpretation. Still a stylistic approach, in my opinion, best provides students a sense of stable textual meaning by empowering them to discover the relational meaning of words, how the organization of language, utterance and social contexts affect meaning, and how language structure affects our understanding ant place in the world. Because the text acquires more significance through the interplay of its various linguistic features, as shown in this paper, students also become more attentive responders to the text.

Language, according to Roger Fowler, is "the chief instrument of socialization, which is the process by which a person is, willy nilly, moulded into conformity with the established systems of beliefs of the society into which s/he happens to be born"(30). …