Academic journal article Serbian Studies

Relations of Power and the Rhetoric of Gender Politics

Academic journal article Serbian Studies

Relations of Power and the Rhetoric of Gender Politics

Article excerpt

Since Lazarevic's story presents another kind of women's speech, different from the one Nikolic interprets as "psychological unburdening, " in this section, Lazarevic's revelation of women's political impotence will be discussed. Lazarevic even presents Marica's silences differently than how Nikolic understands them. Therefore, this article examines, on the one hand, the character of Marica as a woman who fights for her own direct, rational, and argumented speech and, on the other, the character of Mitar, a man who expresses his patriarchal power through the rhetoric of violence. Within these analyses, this article concludes that Marica's superior self-awareness, by intellectual and moral reasoning, rejects her husband's value system.

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Lazarevic's presentation of Marica's efforts to have her speech included and valued within the patriarchal family structure was an ingenious venture, i.e., to introduce an extraordinary female character into nineteenth-century Serbian literature. While he reveals the political powerlessness of a woman, Laza K. Lazarevic simultaneously shows us Marica's struggle to have her opinions, thoughts, feelings, and needs accepted according to the principles of truth, justice, and goodness. In that manner Lazarevic identifies possible future political gains for women. In this story, victory is achieved through an indirect recognition of a woman's value by the narrator, generated by the son's subconscious feeling of guilt toward his mother. The writer presents that victory in an ironic manner through the story's title. The title, "To Matins with Father for the First Time," one-sidedly emphasizes the role of the father in the family, and while simultaneously negating the role of the mother, establishes the societal norms about gender presentation. Yet, the story itself creates a conflict based on that very gender presentation and its related social norms. The character of the son who, as narrator, always puts his mother in the limelight as the savior and essential figure of a Serbian family, although she is not the official proprietor or decision maker. Such a wife/mother is fundamentally the one who preserves the family while the father is merely the formal proprietor. By omitting Misa's particular relationship with his father in the title of the story, Lazarevic stresses the symbolic significance of the father in a patriarchal society. It is no longer just the character of Mitar--his own father--but a type of an authoritarian father, recognizable in Serbian literature of that time by his tyrannical conduct within his family--that is, the father constructed by patriarchal law. But, now, something is happening "with the father," as the title indicates, for the "first time."

One may notice that the title is strategically opposed to the story as a whole since it eliminates the mother's character, and the daughter's as well. In doing so, Lazarevic indicates his own distance from the social code prevalent in the culture. Serbian society at the end of the nineteenth century still did not recognize wives/mothers and daughters/sisters, and excluded them from stories' titles, but that formal stance is in opposition to the value Lazarevic assigned to them in his story. The emphasis on the trip to matins with the father for the first time in the title, therefore, simultaneously casts light upon the secret significance of the mother. More precisely, that significance is carried by Marica's whole character as a woman who also has the roles of a wife and mother. She contributed to the actualization of that family trip to matins with father for the first time. She is the only one responsible for the salvation of her husband and her family. Yet, in spite of all that, she is not mentioned in the title; no significance is assigned to her.

We shall further discuss Lazarevic's description of patriarchal communication problems. While patriarchy itself justifies violence through the terminology of gender differences and gender roles, Lazarevic's story, as this analysis will show, presents violence as an undesirable mode of communication, equated with humiliation and shame. …

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