Radiant Daughters: Fictional American Women

Radiant Daughters: Fictional American Women

Radiant Daughters: Fictional American Women

Radiant Daughters: Fictional American Women

Synopsis

In her examination of women characters created by American novelists from the 1940s through the 1980s, Thelma Shinn traces the emergence of new definitions of self and society as reflected in both the fictional characters she considers and in society as a whole. She argues that the social dislocation resulting from American involvement in World War II and the repercussions from that dislocation in American society initiated a cycle of growth in women that is accurately mirrored in the fiction of the period. Selecting more than 125 works of fiction, she examines the images of women and their lives created by both men and women writers. Particular attention is paid to the female self-images that have come to us through the writing of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, Ann Petry, Jean Stafford, Hortense Calisher, Shirley Jackson, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Excerpt

"Literature," Joyce Carol Oates quotes herself as saying through her character Maureen Wendall in them (1969), "gives form to life." But whose form is it? "What is form? Why is it better than the way life happens by itself? I hate all that, all those lies, so many words in all those books," Maureen responds. in her response is a particularly female challenge to the literature she has known. in the nineteenth century Ibsen had projected a similar attitude through Nora in a Doll's House as she claims the right to individuality: "I know quite well that most people would agree with you, Torvald, and that you have a warrant for it in books; but I can't be satisfied any longer with what most people say, and with what's in books. I must think things out for myself and try to understand."

Although I had always shared Oates's belief in literature as a key to understanding ourselves and our lives, I became aware over the years that literature itself had been divided along the same lines as other aspects of our lives in dualistic, sexist Western society. There was literature, which most often was written by men about men. Then there was "women's literature," the romances that women devoured and continue to devour in incredible numbers.

While fiction is the literary genre designed to explore the self in a social context, neither the mainstream fiction nor the romantic novels concerned themselves with the individuality of the female self. Even when I read that literature approved by men, I found in its women characters at best a mirror image, which placed me in my social context but which lacked depth. On the other hand, the romances, as Kay Mussell has shown in Fantasy and Rec onciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women's Romance Fiction . . .

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