Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Turning a Savage eye/I: Writing Survival and Empowerment in Yvonne Vera's the Stone Virgins

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Turning a Savage eye/I: Writing Survival and Empowerment in Yvonne Vera's the Stone Virgins

Article excerpt

Introduction

My focus in this paper is on a novel that both thematically and stylistically dramatizes a pathological patriarchal system that engages in the oppression of women and their right to normal, happy and productive lives. I am analyzing the ways that Yvonne Vera's The Stone Virgins (2002) employs the creative imagination and skill of the female I/eye to interrogate a deformed masculinist ideology that has colluded with religion, politics and the class system in the oppression of women, often excluding them from historiography and from public life. Writing within the context of a political and economic crisis in 1990s Zimbabwe, with the country showing signs of increasing political decay and growing economic despair, Vera fictionalizes not only the general malaise but specifically the suffering of women under masculinist repression at both the domestic (household) and national levels. She does this in much the same manner that Nawal El Saadawi does in God Dies by the Nile (1974) where Saadawi dramatizes how the Egyptian patriarchal system colludes with religion and the use of brutal force in making women its victims. Saadawi's novel, by focusing so heavily on the female body and consciousness, may also be seen as opening a way for an interrogation of patriarchal domination and the victimhood of women. Likewise, in The Stone Virgins, Vera represents a historiography that has marginalized and erased women's histories from the patriarchal grand narratives of their national liberation history; her narrative point towards women's future involvement in the whole process of citizenship and nation-building in a 'reformed' nation as is evidenced in the closing lines of the novel where the focus is on restoration, recreation and deliverance as essential to the future of the "new nation" (Stone Virgins 165). While the novel is about violence within the nation of Zimbabwe, it specifically dramatizes violence against women. Vera's vision of history is retrospective and profoundly critical of a masculinist history that excludes women's participation in her country's liberation struggles. In this manner, it parts company with a more celebratory interpretation of history found in conventional liberationist historiography.

Writing Female Subjectivity

Vera's writing in this novel, in her construction of African female subjectivity, critically reassesses the interconnections between masculinist violence as a vital component of liberationist ideology in Zimbabwe both during the liberation struggle and the post-independence years. It "emphasizes a new form of nation building, wherein writing defies the loss of memory and the death of hope by providing the very text of survival and empowerment" (Mehta 23). I argue moreover, that her writing is specifically directed toward this. For as Horace Campbell writes, "The principal contradiction of the nationalist struggle was the failure to address patriarchy and masculinity as an integral component of the struggles against oppression and injustice" (13). Hence, as one engaged in the "struggle against male violence and oppression" and the restoration of cultural memory in Zimbabwe, Vera has sought "to repair this weakness and limitation of the nationalist struggle" (Campbell 13) by writing fictions that directly address these issues. In The Stone Virgins, she demonstrates that cultural memory is more than an already narrated reality--it evokes and provokes stories told by people (oral transmissions). The corrective narrative of The Stone Virgins resists the masculinist realism of Zimbabwean liberationist narratives that seek to impose a censorship on interrogations of the 'official' account. Vera's writing underscores the importance of counter-narratives (counter-memories) to falsified accounts of history. Consequently, in this novel, she subjects history to irony.

Vera selects issues that, though specific to her country and its cultures, at the same time are not isolated or merely parochial. …

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