Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

In Room Nineteen Why Did Susan Commit Suicide? Reconsidering Gender Relations from a Doris Lessing's Novel

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

In Room Nineteen Why Did Susan Commit Suicide? Reconsidering Gender Relations from a Doris Lessing's Novel

Article excerpt

Abstract

Based on the discourses of Marxist feminism and Psychoanalysis, the paper attempts to reconsider gender relations via a feminist novel "To Room Nineteen", written by Doris Lessing(1919-), a Nobel Prize winner. Analyzed through the theory of self both by Karen Horney and Lacan,it focuses on the heroine, Susan's suicidal process, aiming to study the relation between self and ego-in relation to the "self" and "others". Phenomenologically, the suicide was caused by the psychological conflicts in her inner self owing to her embarrassing social status. Ontologically, it reveals the disparity and contradiction between her ideal, gender identity (the given nature) and patriarchy (the dominant ideology). It also helps to explain the tension between feminism and patriarchy-why feminists have been scrambling for getting rid of diverse patriarchal suppressions but failing to subvert.

Key words: Doris Lessing; To Room Nineteen; Gender Relations; Marxist Feminism; Psychoanalysis

INTRODUCTION

Doris Lessing, a Nobel Prize winner, has been noted for "only the 11 women to have won in the prize's 104 years."1The Noble Prize Press Release describes "the epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny".2She has also been known as an author with "strong sense of feminism"3, owing to her concern with the plight of women and the "cultural inequities of her native land."4 Her maiden works, The Grass is Singing (1950), established her as "one of Britain's most promising young writer."5And her most widely-read work, The Golden Notebook, was proclaimed as "a feminist bible" in 1962.6

Indeed, her cosmology seems more inclined to preferring the ideas that "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is" and "I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute (Revecca West 1913) "7;and (the term "feminism" is) hard to define, something arcane, mysterious and rather forbidding "as a derogatory designation for the partisans of sexual equality."8 That is, she doesn't regard herself as a feminist, and the term "feminism" in her view is no more than a confusing derogatory word as well.

However, the paper doesn't discuss whether or not she is a feminist, but her gyno-centric perspective, reflecting female inner struggle over sexism and patriarchy. In Lessing's works, she always depicts the heroines' internal struggles on the journey to their self-actualization. However, some could fulfill it, others failed. As for the heroine in the novel "To Room Nineteen", Susan failed her self-actualization and finally committed suicide. Phenomenologically, from Marxist feminism, the suicide was caused by the psychological conflicts in her inner self because she was ensnared in and could not emancipate herself from an embarrassing social status. Nevertheless, from psychoanalysis, self by Horney and Lacan to study the relation between self and ego-in relation to the "self" and "others",the suicidal process could reveal the disparity and contradiction between her ideal, gender identity (the given nature) and patriarchy (the dominant ideology). Ontologically, it also helps to explain the tension between feminism and patriarchy-why feminists have been scrambling for getting ride of diverse patriarchal suppressions but failing to subvert.

1. BEING TIGHT ON PURSE: WHY SUSAN BECAME A POOR HOUSEWIFE

1.1 Marxist Feminist Approach to the Fate of the Heroine

"Socialist/Marxist feminism is a powerful strand of the second wave during the late 1960s and 1970s, in Britain particular. It sought to extend Marxism's analysis of class into a women's history of their material and economic oppression."9And the theory also probed into "how the family and women's domestic labor are constructed by and reproduce the sexual division of labour."10The primary task of Marxist feminism's was to "open up the complex relations between gender and the economy. …

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