space and bilingualism in The House on Mango Street – Kuribayashi


Tomoko Kuribayashi made some really interesting comments on the use of space and language in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street – they are really in line with some of the things that interested me about this text. Kuribayashi wrote:

“Cisneros’ narrative illuminates the linguistic, spatial and sexual oppression that racist society imposes on minority – more specifically Chicana – women, but also offers a somewhat hopeful perspective on future possibilities. Architecture is a central means by which society as well as Cisneros express and experience oppression as well as hope for change. In the beginning of Cisneros’ novel, Esperanza yearns for acquisition of cultural ideals of the white society, most specifically the white, middle-class house widely displayed in the mass media.” (p.166)

“Cisneros’ narrator, Esperanza, also wants a house just like the ones she sees on television and all her family members share her dream… Young Esperanza is keenly aware of how houses define and represent the resident’s social status; so simply having a roof over one’s head is not enough.” (p.166) However, as Kuribayashi notes “later her vision changes and she contemplates the possibility of housing the poor in her future house” (p.167)

“Owning and controlling her own space is to own her self. One cannot become oneself without having one’s own place. As Cherríe Moraga asserts, the “anti-materialist approach [that some white, middle-class feminists take] makes little sense in the lives of poor and Third World women”, when material conditions are so much a part of their oppression that coming into possession of material necessities is a must for becoming one’s own person.” (p.167)

“In The House on Mango Street, as sociocultural oppressions and future hopes are architecturally expressed, so are the female characters’ experiences of social and sexual violence inseparably linked to their spatial experiences.” (p.168) Kuribayashi’s discussion of the different ways space is inhabited, or prohibited to, the women of this text is a great read. I think the connection between space and body, as well as the point that Esperanza finally occupies another space entirely through her writing are fitting criticism of the text;

“Esperanza […] also has another vision of space outside, that is, a space that her imagination and her writing – and bilingual ability – will create for her outside and beyond the limits of her Mexican-American community and of the dominant white culture of America.” (p.169)

“Cisneros’ narrative highlights how language – and taking control of it – is a determining factor for Esperanza’s future. Taking control of language means taking control of one’s spatial experiences. The narrative of The House on Mango Street is a linguistic manifestation and product of the process in which Esperanza creates a new self and a new world. The text also testifies how she can do this through giving herself a new name and discovering a new language, without disowning the cultural background from which she comes.” (pp.169-170)

“Through the very text of The House on Mango Street the narrator moves back to her native community. The narrative is a textual documentation of the homeward movement of her body as well as of her spiritual homecoming.
The narrator’s leaving home is necessary, though, for her to find her self. Anzaldúa  says of herself, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me”. Esperanza is taking tremendous risks, and she is fortunate to be able to choose to do so, since so few of her group of people can afford it. As Anzaldúa says, “As a working class people our chief activity is to put food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs”. While most women of her ethnicity have had to choose between “three directions… to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother,” Esperanza is making the newly and sparingly available fourth choice, “entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons,” or claiming a public identity.” (p.174)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Tomoko Kuribayashi “The Chicana girl writes her way in and out: space and bilingualism in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street” pp.165-177 Eds. Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Ann Tharp Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, State University of New York Press, c1998


Anne McCaffrey


In her (sanctioned, but not authorized) biography of Anne McCaffrey, Robin Roberts describes McCaffrey as a writer who “has affected not only innumerable readers, but also the genre.” (p.7) Roberts focuses on McCaffrey’s life, not on analysing her writing, but there are snippets of critical reading and summations of McCaffrey’s oeuvre that interested me. She writes:

original (1)“Literary critics know Anne McCaffrey as a member of a ground-breaking group of women science fiction writers who forever changed the field, humanizing it through their emphasis on women’s issues and plots.” (p.1)

“One of the twentieth century’s best-loved and most widely read writers, Anne has made immense contributions to fiction. In 1968, she was the first woman to win both the Hugo (an award bestowed annually at the World Science Fiction Convention) and the Nebula (awarded annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America), the genre’s most prestigious awards. In 1978, she became the first science fiction writer to have a book on the New York Times best-seller list. In 1999, the American Library Association recognized her work with the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement. Anne has also collected the Ditmar Award (Australia), the Gandalf Award, and the Streza (the European Science Fiction Convention Award). In 2005, she was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an honor bestowed only on twenty-two other writers, of whom just two are women. In 2006, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Her books have been translated into fourteen languages and have sold more than twelve million copies. These distinctions and statistics are important because she was a leader in the feminist revolution in science fiction, and she also focused on female protagonists and women’s issues – child rearing, for example – at a time when strong women were largely absent from the genre. Sarah Lefanu, the author of one of the first books on women and science fiction, Feminism and Science Fiction, praises Anne’s contributions: “It is great to have Anne’s girls and women with their skills and strengths and emotions.” (pp.7-8)

“Anne became an award-winning writer who helped feminize the genre. Anne brought great emotional depth to her writing. While not as overtly political as Russ or Le Guin, Anne nevertheless challenged traditional ideas about women and science and women as heroes. Her novels’ strong emotional appeal can be traced to Anne’s own preoccupations and concerns as a member of a generation who came of age during World War II. Disappointed by the opportunities available to her as a highly educated and intelligent young woman, she gravitated to science fiction for the alternatives it offered to an unsatisfactory real world. But she found limited roles for women in the pulp magazines she read, and she consciously wrote her first novel, Restoree, “as a tongue-in-cheek protest, utilizing as many of the standard ‘thud and blunder’ cliches as possible with one new twist – the heroine was the viewpoint character and she is always Johanna on the spot.”” (p.8)

“Like that of other women science fiction writers, Anne’s work champions strong female characters, and she positions women in worlds where they have greater opportunities than in the real world. As literary critic Jane Donawerth notes, these women, including Anne, moved the figure of woman as alien in science fiction “from margin to center.”” (pp.7-8)

original (1)“Taking women’s stereotypical association with the natural world, Anne and a number of other women science fiction writers inverted this association, making it into something positive, a strength for their female characters. Anne’s dragons, for example, are genetically engineered, telepathic creatures that bond with their humans. The dragons enable humans to live on Pern, providing an alternative to machine transportation and a way for the colonists to fight a life-threatening spore. In making dragons, that had heretofore been featured primarily as evil beasts, into attractive companions, Anne reshaped our cultural image of them. Significantly, she did so in a structure in which queen dragons were the species’ leaders. Bonding with female humans, the dragons enable women on Pern to assume positions of leadership; and, as Jane Donawerth explains, “the dragons offer an alternative model for relationship,” one that is more positive than traditional masculine domination of women.” (p.9)

“A number of women science fiction writers use strong female protagonists whose position as outsiders enables them to connect not only with other beings, but also with other humans.” (p.9)

original“Her first novel, Restoree, was a space gothic romance, a new hybrid that few reviewers recognized. Anne wrote the novel because, she said, “After seven years of voracious reading in the field, I’d had it up to the eyeteeth with vapid women.” Anne’s willingness to write about love, sex, and emotion became her fiction’s identifying characteristic. As she later explained, “Emotional content and personal involvement are expected in stories by me. In fact, I have had stories returned to me by editors because they lacked these elements.” Anne sees these elements as essential to the transformation of the genre during her writing career: “With the injection of emotional involvement, a sexual jolt to the Romance and Glamour, science fiction rose out of pulp and into literature.”” (p.10)

“Dismissed as “diaper copy” in the 1960s, the fiction that Anne and other writers published brought feminine values such as mothering into science fiction. …But Anne’s work moves beyond conventional gender roles (there are very few diapers in her fictions) to deal with the emotional needs of girls and women.” (p.11)

“Anne repeatedly depicts outcast characters who radically change their circumstances by discovering they have a special skill.” (p.11)

Roberts refers to “the isolation and sense of being an outsider that shapes so much of her fiction.” (p.3)

“…one of the hallmarks of her novels is her ability to evoke in the reader the intense longings of adolescence. These longings are often satisfied by love by and for animals. Anne transformed this affection for animals into fictional creatures who have egalitarian relationships with humans: for example, the Dragonriders of Pern benefit from their dragons’ unconditional love and acceptance and telepathic communication.” (p.5)

Also, perhaps incidentally, but interestingly too, McCaffrey was someone who “…[put] you at ease. A friend and collaborator, Elizabeth Moon, recollected her first impression of Anne: “A blazing fire in a big fireplace. Gracious, warm, kindly – and the loveliest smile and laugh. I felt like I found another aunt. Oh, and that upright elegant look, too.”” (Moon, quoted p.4)

Ref: Robin Roberts (2007) Anne McCaffrey: A Life with Dragons. Jackson, MS, USA: University of Mississippi.

50th Anniversary of Pern – a chance for the ordinary man


Some people will have known this, but not me: It’s the 50th anniversary of Pern. Well, at least, “the fortieth anniversary of Pern [was] in 2003” (p.118), so my maths makes it 50 now.

DragonwriterAnyway, as well as this revelation, Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett have the following thoughts to offer: “…Anne’s stories give the ordinary person a chance to become great. Most fiction focuses only on heroes with extraordinary talents. Among the legion of science fiction readers are scientists, computer programmers, test pilots and astronauts, environmentalists and biologists, yet the great majority are ordinary people – usually more intelligent than the average, but not the geniuses or heroes that are the usual protagonists of novels and movies. On Pern, however, there is a chance for the ordinary man or woman to step forward and be great – anyone can impress a dragon. To do so is also to acquire a lifelong companion who hears only your thoughts and is utterly devoted to you. In this simple relationship, Anne shows an understanding of two longings experienced by many readers: the desire to belong to someone or something) who will give unconditional acceptance and the desire to be given power and responsibility (the care and riding of a dragon) that is at the same time manageable. Anne’s words express thrillingly what it feels like to form that relationship with a dragon, unshakable and unbreakable unto death.
Not only has the ordinary man or woman gained a devoted and powerful friend, but he or she then becomes a member of a support group that cares for dragons and risks their lives with them. We see unconditional acceptance by the community, as well, and they want to be a part of it. Science fiction fans in particular, by virtue of their intelligence and awareness of the isolation that often provokes, long for that inclusion. In Anne’s books, they see a special group to which they can belong. That is an attractive quality that draws those readers back again and again.
Few authors offer a viable social model for the common human being. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders books appeal to a particularly devoted readership partly because of the way these books portray people living on Pern. Though their lives might be lived under harsh, even primitive conditions, the characters are able to survive, thrive, and create. The cultures are so rich in detail that it is possible to reconstruct a semblance of life in Hold, Hall, or Weyr – in ruling and administration, craft guilds, or dragon husbandry, respectively. Life on Pern is hard; characters are always fearing what may fall next from the skies. Yet, those characters live and love, sing, distill wine and spirits, and tell stories, gathering together in groups for mutual support and pleasure, enjoying the homey touches missing from more technology-oriented future sagas.
Like J.R.R Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings saga, Anne scattered songs and poems throughout her books. Music and storytelling run a close second in fans’ hearts to the dragons themselves. From the beginning, the Harper Hall has been the favorite guild, and its longtime guild leader, Masterharper Robinton, a favorite character (especially Jody’s). All of these elements add texture, depth, and color that we drink in along with the adventures and romances. You might exist in the worlds created in some series; you could live on Pern.
Especially when they were first written, Anne’s literature also might have been the first that young women – and men, too – had found in which strong, interesting female protagonists have adventures of their own and are in charge of their own fate. That was a welcome change from most SF of the time, when female characters often seemed to be helpless and stupid, or were depicted as less-effective men with breasts. Not only that, but the cultures from which Anne’s characters spring are cooperative and interactive, values usually associated with women. Anne’s heroes and heroines do not seek solo glory. They know themselves to be part of a greater whole in which every person has his or her role. As Charlotte Moore, longtime track head of the Worlds of Anne McCaffrey at Dragon*Con…, said, “the consistent them in all of [Anne’s] work is the importance of connecting to someone else – human or otherwise – as a means to find one’s self.”” (pp.104-105)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett ‘The McCaffrey Effect’ pp.103-119 Ed. Todd McCaffrey, with Leah Wilson (2013) Dragonwriter: A tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Pern. Smart Pop, Dallas, Texas

Immigrant stories


I’ve been interested in how immigrant narratives impact on other stories for a while… hence my interest in Emilia Brescani’s comment about the impact of immigrant stories on her own life (in her memoir):

“During our first days in the country, we were bombarded with information about the proper way to behave, and how to avoid hassles: never walk alone after dark; always carry your address in your bag, and always keep important documents safe in the hostel. At night, I tossed and turned in my narrow bed, snuggled under my llama-wool poncho, making plans and pushing melancholic thoughts away. At times, I was besieged by fear, unable to clarify in my mind the real reasons for my trip. Anxiety crept into my heart in the eerie emptiness of the night. It was then that I pictured familiar scenes – the large dining table, and my brothers arguing over soccer clubs as Mama poured ladles of steaming minestrone soup into our bowls. Sometimes I thought of the university cafeteria, where one day, a friend had shown me an ad calling for women to work in Australia. Now, I was here,and my priority was to work, sweat and make it. All work was good work, Mama had told me. And I was prepared for anything. The immigrant stories I had heard as a child were filled with romance, dramas, mishaps, and triumphs. Just like in the soap operas Mama and I listened to. Stories about women beating all the odds to achieve their dreams, help their families, their community and themselves. Mama had been one one of those women. She had not bowed down to tragedy. I would do the same, I thought during my sleepless nights. And, hopefully, one day I would find somebody like Papa, a person with whom to stay forever.” (pp.270-271)

Ref: (emphasis in blue bold, mine) Emilia Brescani (2000) The Raw Scent of Vanilla: A Memoir. Macmillan: Sydney

The other side of the story


I do like Rodoreda’s writing and this analysis struck me as interesting:

In Writing Beyond the Ending Rachel Blau DuPlessis points out that displacing attention to the other side of the story is one of the strategies frequently used by twentieth-century women poets when they rewrite classical or Judeo-Christian myths. This narrative displacement ‘offers the possibility of speech to the female in the case, giving voice to the muted’ (108). Such a change in perspective radically alters the nature of the story and its underlying assumptions. Eurydice’s or Penelope’s values, after all, are not those of Orpheus or Ulysses. Although DuPlessis’s analysis focuses on the revisionary mythopoesis of poets whose language is English, the concept of the other side of the story is relevant to the writing of Catalan novelist Mercè Rodoreda and her 1962 novel, La Plaza del Diamante, in particular. The protagonist is a woman whose life, like that of Goethe’s Makarie, would appear to be without external events, ‘a life whose story cannot be told as there is no story’ (Eichner 620). Rodoreda, however, is well aware that female experience is not minor and that women writers can, in the words of Virginia Woolf, choose ‘to make serious what appears insignificant to a man, and trivial what is to him important’.
The protagonist of Diamante is a simple, unlettered, working-class woman who recounts her courtship, marriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage, the birth of her two children, her widowhood, and her remarriage. Natalia’s narrative spans a period of some twenty-five years, running from shortly before the advent of the Second Republic into the post-Civil War period. Chapters 1-17 portray her daily life and its ‘small headaches.’ In chapters 18-32, political events assume increasing importance and the headaches become big ones. In chapters 33-49, Natalia gradually rebuilds her life in postwar Barcelona. A series of binary oppositions structure the narrative: story/lack of story, speech/silence, presence/[-p.61]absence, power/powerlessness, open/closed spaces, male/female. The movement is from oppression and dispossession to repossession and partial liberation in the final section of the novel.
Much of the impact of Diamante derives from the use of an innocent as the center of consciousness. There is an air of bewilderment about Natalia. She tends to take people at face value, and their actions and words are often incomprehensible to her. Rodoreda creates the impression of oral communication, and as we listen to Natalia speak we are struck by the judgments she does not render, the protests she does not voice, the feelings she either does not articulate or does not examine. Wolfgang Iser has called attention to the importance of the empty spaces of a text, describing gaps as the pivots on which the text-reader relationship revolves and blanks of Natalia’s narrative that stimulate our interaction with the text. They lead us to establish the connections she does not make and to listen to the implications of what she does not say. When we examine the pattern of incidents, important symbols, and stylistic devices, the submerged text comes into focus. The other side of the story stands out in bold relief.” (pp.60-61)

“In Diamante the political turmoil of the 1930s is presented indirectly and in the contest of Natalia’s life. She makes no comment on the significance of events, because public affairs are remote from her privatized existence as a woman. The Second Republic is for her simply the time when her small problems turn into big ones.” (p.64)

Ref: (italics in original) Kathleen M. Glenn (1986) La Plaza del Diamante: The Other Side of the Story. pp.60-68 Letras femeninas – Voces femeninas en la literatura de la guerra civil española; una valoración crítica al medio siglo de historia 1936-1986. Vol XII, num 1-2

Routledge / Taylor and Francis – free articles: Shakespeare, Women’s Lit, Life Writing…


Taylor and Francis just sent out an email notifying us of some of the free article collections they have put together (on literary studies in a general sense, Shakespeare, Women’s lit, Life writing etc.) – pretty cool. They connect us to documents which organize these articles for consideration:

Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker


Lisa Hopkins looks at the representation of motherhood in Bram Stoker’s writing, declaring that:

Much critical attention has been paid to the representation of female characters in the novels of Bram Stoker. Often, his patent uneasiness about women has been attributed to his fear of the New Woman movement, to which Dracula, in particular, openly refers. […] I want to argue that Stoker’s response to the figure of the New Woman, and indeed his figuring of his female characters in general, is radically inflected and informed by the shaping circumstances of his early life in Ireland and his Irish identity – particularly when it comes to his representations of women as mothers or motherly, which are deeply rooted in the representations of maternity in the cultural imagery of his Irish background.” (p.5)

Dracula, instead of progressing, like so many other Victorian novels, towards a closing marriage, ends instead on an image of motherhood. The final paragraph of the novel is ostensibly offered as a celebration of domesticity, continuity, and affective ties.” (p.6)

Motherhood, then, is encoded at the close of the novel not as any idyllic image of Madonna and child – indeed the child sits not on its mother’s knee, but on Van Helsing’s, and Mina herself is silent throughout the closing ‘Note’ – but as a merely temporary refuge from precisely the kinds of sexual knowledge that initially unleashed the horrors of vampirism amongst the Crew of Light. In fact, despite its structural status as narrative telos, this closing representation of motherhood is fissured by the same kinds of ambiguity that have made many of the novel’s images of maternity only slightly less obviously monstrous than the figure of the Count himself. The figuration of motherhood as implicitly monstrous is pervasive.” (p.7)

Mother-figures in Stoker are closely and consistently associated with monstrosity.” (p.8)

Hopkins analyses both The Snake’s Pass and Dracula in some depth, concluding that “Stoker’s writing […] on one level insists on a separation of the sexual and the maternal while, at another, radically confounding them, seeing maternity as in fact impossible to confine within its appointed bounds but dangerously, monstrously, manifesting itself elsewhere. This is a patterning which seems, ultimately, only partly explicable in terms of a response to the unease generated by the New Woman. Underpinning it, surely, is a widereaching and deep-seated psychological unease with woman as mother, which may well be attributable to Stoker’s own feelings of ambivalence about the devouring mother and the maternal wife. Moreover, in his response to these two Irish women, we may well see Stoker as encoding a broader aspect of Irish culture as a whole, with its emphasis on the power of the mother who is also, in the legend of the pregnant women in the cave, available for marriage, or who, in the case of the Virgin Mary, transcends sexuality altogether to offer only maternity.” (p.8)

Ref: Lisa Hopkins (1997): Vampires and Snakes: Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker, Irish Studies Review, 5:19, 5-8