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Contemporary American Women Writers

Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies

Catherine Rainwater
William J. Scheick
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 240
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130htvn
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  • Book Info
    Contemporary American Women Writers
    Book Description:

    Ann Beattie, Annie Dillard, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Marge Piercy, Anne Redmon, Anne Tyler, and Alice Walker all seem to be especially concerned with narrative management. The ten essays in this book raise new and intriguing questions about the ways these leading women writers appropriate and transform generic norms and ultimately revise literary tradition to make it more inclusive of female experience, vision, and expression.

    The contributors to this volume discover diverse narrative strategies. Beattie, Dillard, Paley, and Redmon in divergent ways rely heavily upon narrative gaps, surfaces, and silences, often suggesting depths which are lamentably absent from modern experience or which mysteriously elude language. For Kingston and Walker, verbal assertiveness is the focus of narratives depicting the gradual empowerment of female protagonists who learn to speak themselves into existence.

    Ozick and Tyler disrupt conventional reader expectations of the "anti-novel" and the "family novel," respectively. Finally, Morrison's and Piercy's works reveal how traditional narrative forms such as theBildungsromanand the "soap opera" are adaptable to feminist purposes.

    In examining the writings of these ten important women authors, this book illuminates a significant moment in literary history when women's voices are profoundly reshaping American literary tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5715-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[v])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [vi]-2)
  3. Introduction (pp. 3-7)
    Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick

    In 1970, a signal year in the development of the women’s movement, Kate Millett published her cornerstone study,Sexual Politics.¹ This book codified the patriarchal views of women and of female experience expressed in modern literary classics—all works by male authors. Since 1970, owing at least in part to feminist awareness generated by works such as Millett’s and others which appeared at approximately the same time,² ever-growing numbers of female writers have arisen on the contemporary scene and contributed poetry and fiction which contradict the once nearly monolithic patriarchal vision of women—and women writers—characterizing modern literature. Inspired...

  4. ANN BEATTIE
    • The Art of the Missing (pp. 9-25)
      Carolyn Porter

      Ann Beattie is known for a certain kind of story. It is, notably, aNew Yorkerstory, one marked by understatement, caustic dialogue, and an unsentimental view of social relations. These relations are found, or more often fail to be found, among members of the babyboom generation, now in their twenties and early thirties. If they have children, they are necessarily unsentimental creatures, already wise in the ways of a world in which their parents are alienated, their homes unsettled, their futures unsure. The stereotype can be further refined. There are a dog, for example, indoor plants, and a lot...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by ANN BEATTIE (pp. 26-29)
      Carolyn Porter
  5. GRACE PALEY
    • Chaste Compactness (pp. 31-48)
      Ronald Schleifer

      In a recent interview Grace Paley discussed the relation between her storytelling and the fact that she is a woman. “For a long time,” she said, “I thought women’s lives . . . I didn’t really think I was shit, but I really thought my life as a woman was shit. Who could be interested in this crap? I was very interested in it, but I didn’t have enough social ego to put it down. . . . Women who have thought their lives were boring have found they’re interesting to one another.³ Paley is speaking of the difficult discovery...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by GRACE PALEY (pp. 48-49)
      Ronald Schleifer
  6. ANNIE DILLARD
    • Narrative Fringe (pp. 51-64)
      William J. Scheick

      We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery,” says Annie Dillard at the beginning ofPilgrim at Tinker Creek(1974).¹ This remark is a thesis statement, not only forPilgrim at Tinker Creekbut also for Dillard’sTickets for a Prayer Wheel(1974),Holy the Firm(1977), andTeaching a Stone to Talk(1982). So inscrutable is this mystery of creation, Dillard explains, that the best one can do in life is to “discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why” (TC,12): “There is nothing to...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by ANNIE DILLARD (pp. 64-67)
      William J. Scheick
  7. ANNE REDMON
    • The Fugal Procedure of Music and Silence (pp. 69-83)
      Catherine Rainwater

      Discussing in an interview the genesis ofMusic and Silence(1979), Anne Redmon recalls that she spent many hours listening to the music of J.S. Bach that her protagonist, Maud Eustace, plays on the cello. A reader of Redmon’s elaborately orchestrated text is probably not surprised to learn that this author “love[s] very complicated, layered” musical forms such as “preludes and fugues.”¹ Indeed, though Redmon claims no extensive knowledge of music, she apparently learned much from listening, and applied this knowledge in the construction of her novel.² In its narrative management,Music and Silenceverbally approximates fugue, a musical genre...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by ANNE REDMON (pp. 84-87)
      Catherine Rainwater
  8. CYNTHIA OZICK
    • Invention & Orthodoxy (pp. 89-109)
      Ellen Pifer

      The narrative features of Cynthia Ozick’s fiction, her use of selfreferential devices and fantastic events, clearly place it within the development of postmodernist or antirealist literature. The philosophical and technical self-consciousness of postmodernism—the way it calls attention to the process and problems of its own narration, for example—has made contemporary fiction a predominantly ironic and parodistic literary mode. What sets Ozick’s work apart from that of her postmodernist contemporaries is the orthodox vision conveyed through her sophisticated and playful narrative techniques: a vision of moral and spiritual truth rooted in the Old Testament and its Ten Commandments. Inspired...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by CYNTHIA OZICK (pp. 109-117)
      Susan Currier and Daniel J. Cahill
  9. ANNE TYLER
    • Medusa Points & Contact Points (pp. 119-142)
      Mary F. Robertson

      John Updike, a fan of Anne Tyler’s work, remarked in a review that “Tyler, whose humane and populous novels have attracted (if my antennae are tuned right) less approval in the literary ether than the sparer offerings of Ann Beattie and Joan Didion, is sometimes charged with the basic literary sin of implausibility.”¹ Indeed, Tyler’s novels do not seem a promising hunting ground for critics, who seek advances in the experimental surface of fiction. Her most palpable narrative virtues are by and large traditional ones: memorable charcters, seductive plots, imaginative and hawk-eyed descriptions. Tyler is adept with the simile, acute...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by ANNE TYLER (pp. 142-153)
      Elaine Gardiner and Catherine Rainwater
  10. ALICE WALKER
    • The Dialect & Letters of The Color Purple (pp. 155-165)
      Elizabeth Fifer

      Varying in content, length, function and time of composition, the letters in Alice Walker’sThe Color Purple,¹ provide a personalized format and a flexible vehicle for narration that—despite the prohibition“You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (CP,3)— produce a triumph of storytelling. God is Celie’s first audience, Nettie her second; as observers of these two intimate relationships, we must relate the letters of Celie and Nettie to one another. Celie is the main narrator, Nettie a secondary witness among the myriad relatives whose stories fill many of the letters. By learning Celie’s...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by ALICE WALKER (pp. 165-171)
      Elizabeth Fifer
  11. MAXINE HONG KINGSTON
    • Narrative Technique & Female Identity (pp. 173-189)
      Suzanne Juhasz

      Maxine Hong Kingston’s two-volume autobiography,The Woman WarriorandChina Men,embodies the search for identity in the narrative act. The first text places the daughter in relation to her mother, the second places her in relation to her father,-they demonstrate how finding each parent is a part of finding oneself. For Kingston, finding her mother and father is to name them, to tell their stories. Language is the means with which she arrives at identity, first at home, and then in the world. But because a daughter’s relation to her mother is psychologically and linguistically different from her relation...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by MAXINE HONG KINGSTON (pp. 189-189)
      Suzanne Juhasz
  12. TONI MORRISON
    • Mastery of Narrative (pp. 191-205)
      Linda W. Wagner

      Toni Morrison’s narrative accomplishments in her first four novels have won her accolades, prizes, and readers.The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon,andTar Babyare perhaps most impressive collectively because, unlike many novelists, Morrison attempts different and usually new techniques with each book, rather than following a traditional pattern of learning from the first novel how to be more effective in the second, as Hemingway learned fromThe Sun Also Riseswhat not to do inA Farewell to Arms;or as Faulkner borrowed a number of tactics and characters fromThe Sound and the Furyas he...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by TONI MORRISON (pp. 205-207)
      Curtis Martin
  13. MARGE PIERCY
    • The Double Narrative Structure of Small Changes (pp. 209-223)
      Elaine Tuttle Hansen

      This is the oppressor’s language / yet I need it to talk to you.”¹ Speaking thus of the equivocal relationship between women and language, Adrienne Rich in the earliest days of the women’s movement addressed the central question that female writers and feminist critics still seek to answer. Is the dominant discourse a male construct that women cannot use to represent their experience, or can women control or escape this discourse to speak of and for themselves?²In Small Changes,more explicitly than in any of her other six novels so far published, Marge Piercy confronts this troubling question. The...

    • A Bibliography of Writings by MARGE PIERCY (pp. 224-228)
      Elaine Tuttle Hansen and William J. Scheick
  14. Notes on the Writers (pp. 229-232)
  15. Notes on the Contributors (pp. 233-236)