Women in the Trees: U.S. Women's Short Stories about Battering and Resistance

Article excerpt

Women in the Trees: U.S. Women's Short Stories about Battering and Resistance, 1839-1996.

The publication of Susan Koppelman's first collection, Images of Women in Literature (1972), established her as one of the founding voices in the new wave of conversations about women in literature. That collection gathered some of the first modern generation of feminist literary critics in the United States, and established the early parameters of the field which would become women's studies, and especially feminist literary studies.

Women in the Trees, Koppelman's latest collection, furthers her major contributions to the field of women's studies. The text offers an array of narratives (thematically and chronologically organized) which deal specifically with violence against women and children and with the impact of violence on its victims and on its perpetrators.

In her introductory essay, Koppelman acknowledges that it was difficult to make final selections for inclusion from among the texts she had found. What strikes me -- as a reader, and as a teacher always on the alert for writing that will merge theoretical and experiential concerns -- is how subtly the organization of the stories chosen also works its way through the wellknown cycle of violence and abuse. As the subtitle indicates, the text moves us from battering to resistance.

I can imagine all sorts of pedagogical settings in which this book would be an invaluable resource. Since the lessons about violence by men have emerged from the hard-won stories women have learned to tell, Koppelman's collection is a place from which to draw upon wellcrafted narratives (which they all are) and very powerful stories (some more so than others) that could be effectively joined to a discussion that moves students from events (the personal) to their analysis (the political) to their disclosure (breaking the silence) to activism (working for change). In other words, this text could be useful in courses in women's history (exemplary, for instance, of the temperance discourse of the late nineteenth century); or it could be a literary auxiliary to sociological or psychological perspectives on violence in the family against women and children, and the psychology of batterers and battering. Koppelman's selections make clear that battering is a cross-class, cross-cultural phenomenon -- limited only to the use or abuse of power of the man of the house or his stand-in.

Contributions to this volume include stories by Lydia Maria Child, Kate Chopin, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Fannie Hurst, Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Allen Shockley, Hisaye Yamamoto, Andrea Dworkin, and Sandra Cisneros, among others. Each story is preceded by an epigraph (chosen primarily from contemporary texts about violence against women) which comments pointedly on the story's portrayal of the implications of violence. I found these epigraphs both distracting and disorienting because the voices there are so clearly informed by contemporary analyses of violence, yet the rhetoric of the fiction emerges from a much different America and takes on a different discourse. …