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Entrapment in Isolation

Author: LiZuo
Tutor: LiuZaiLiang
School: Shandong Normal University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: socialist feminism isolation them patriarchy
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Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2009
Downloads: 149
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Abstract


Traditional critical discourse on Joyce Carol Oates usually falls into limited normality for her ruthless anatomy of social violence, scaring description of bloodshed scenes and constant experimentation with different styles and genres, while neglects or overlooks, to some extent, her assimilation of other literary thoughts, among which is the storming feminism. With the second wave of Feminist Movement in full swing in the 1960s-70s, a woman writer like Oates, who always shows great concerns about social and historic reality and bears in mind great social responsibility would not and could not keep away from such a movement shaking contemporary society theoretically as well as practically.A National Book Award winner in 1970, them is recognized as a peak of Oates’literary creation in the early stage. Presented in dual contexts of capitalism and patriarchy, the novel depicts the miserable life of American people and especially women who, materially and mentally oppressed by the opposite sex and emotionally alienated from the same sex, experience entrapment in isolation and alienation. The present thesis, a reinterpretation of them from a socialist feminist perspective, consists of six parts: four chapters, an introduction and a conclusion.Introduction is to trace the critical history of Joyce Carol Oates and them from various perspectives so that we can get a broad background for the salience of Oates’feminist perspective.Chapter one is meant to expound on the main theories of socialist feminism and relationship between Oates and feminist criticism. This chapter is to lay a solid theoretical foundation for the detail analysis.Chapter two is devoted to explore women’s isolation and alienation within the family. The disturbing portrayal of troubled families, the Wendalls in particular, addresses the complex issue of power as is experienced in the kinsships. Female characters in them, in spite of their difference in ages, social background, educational background and life experience, are invariably under domination and oppression of the male members in the family through economic superiority and the dark power of violence. To aggravate the condition, women’s attempts to seek connection and intimacy with the same sex end in failure, even when it is between the most intimate relationship between mother and daughter. Entrenched in relationships between female members is misunderstanding, indifference, resentment and even hatred, which further crushes women’s pursuit for connection and drives them into deeper solitary. Oppressed by the opposite sex and alienated from the same sex, women experience bitter isolation in the family.Chapter three mainly deals with isolation and alienation women are entraped in the society. Power relation in the household reproduces itself in the society where men maintain their domination and oppression of women. Capitalism trivializes female labor through gender division of labor and unequal wage system. Alienation from labor and means of production reduce women to a class of passive consumer. Consequently, women are reduced to the status of sex commodity, trading their body and sex—the only thing at their disposal—for economic support and patriarchal protection. Analysis of causes of Loretta and Maureen’s prostitution and nature of Maureen’s plot marriage indicates this pathetic status of women. Besides, ideological determinants, exerting massive power through all kinds of institutions and mass culture, also contribute to the gendered experience of oppression. Alienation from labor, pathetic status of sex commodity, massive power of prevailing patriarchal ideology destroy the possibility of women seeking autonomy and connection, driving them into deeper isolation.Chapter four is to explore women’s alienation from themselves, that is, their failure in construction of self-identity and achievements of individuality. Isolated in the family and the society, women turn to the inner self for sense of integrity and resort to different means to achieve autonomy and construct their own identity. However, their attempts are doomed to failure in the capitalist patriarchal context and women are further driven into the bitterest isolation from themselves, though it is understood and dealt with in different ways by different characters. In Loretta’s case, this self-alienation represents itself as psychic suicide, which indicates the loss of self and identification with the oppressor’s value. Being more conscious in her identity construction than Loretta, Maureen goes through a series of painful attempts and defeats, the bitter experience of which forces her to attach to the authority. Deprived of any individuality and identity, the rich girl Nadine tries to fight against her emptiness by means of escape, sexual engagement, marriage and at last even death but fails, entrapped in her gendered restrictions.With socialist feminism as theoretical foundation, this dissertation brings to light the symptoms of women’s entrapment in isolation and on this basis further explores its causes as the coercion of capitalism and patriarchy.

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