Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

Vivid diction, metaphors, and figurative analogies pepper her essays. For example, in explicating anarchism, she animates religion as "a black monster," personifies capitalism in the form of private property as a beast that "recognizes only its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means power . . . to subdue, to crush, to exploit, . . . to enslave, to outrage, to degrade," and analogizes the state as "the altar of political freedom . . . like the religious altar . . . maintained for the purpose of human sacrifice" ( Anarchism,53, 54, 57). Another beast, patriotism, is "inexorable and, like all insatiable monsters, demands all or nothing" ( Patriotism,140). At her 1917 trial, she belittles the actions of the marshal who arrested her with a comparison to a Barnum and Bailey circus performer and ridicules the courtroom proceedings as a "three act comedy" ( Address to the Jury,359, 360).

In contrast to her caustic belittling of opponents, her depictions of her ideals are often romantically visionary. For example, looking forward to the day when women achieve emancipation from their internalized conventional morality, she idealizes a reborn, authentic relationship between the sexes:

A true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of conqueror and conquered; it knows of but one thing: to give one's self boundlessly, in order to find one's self richer, deeper, better. That alone can fill the emptiness, and transform the tragedy of woman's emancipation into joy, limitless joy. ( "The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation,"225)

Goldman's style is not eloquent; at its best, it is direct, forceful, and vivid; sometimes it seems unpolished and inept. Hers is a rhetoric, whether in assigning praise or blame, that eschews moderation. Like the woman herself, her style tends to extremes. Her dogmatic intensity is evident in her frequent use of exclamation points. Reports of her delivery indicate she was an unusually energetic, lively orator, whose rapid rate of speaking effectively conveyed her enthusiasm for her cause. Thus, her essays are more remarkable for the spirit behind and within them than for their stylistic grace.


CONCLUSION

Two factors complicate an assessment of Goldman as a rhetor. First, her ideology led her to critique three central institutions in U.S. life and to advocate a transvaluation of dominant cultural values. With this doctrine, widespread popular success in the early twentieth-century United States was probably impossible. She urged too many painful changes within her audience and in society to make her message palatable.

Second, she was a dynamic, assertive, and flamboyant woman in an age that still severely constrained women's roles. Nonetheless, for her target audience, the avant garde, Goldman became a paradigm of the free spirit. Prominent writers and intellectuals usually rallied to her defense, even when they disagreed fundamentally with her ideology or her approaches to individual issues. Although

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