Reader Response Essay Abstracts

Abstracts of Literary Criticisms in Course Texts:

James, Henry, and Peter G. Beidler. The Turn of the Screw. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 287-301.

The new historical criticism of Turn of the Screw, “He began to read to our hushed little circle”: Are We Blessed or Cursed by Our Life with The Turn of the Screw? by Wayne C. Booth, focuses on the fact that–despite what some critics claim–the novel is actually widely popular, because readers have responded to the text by finding a variety of values in it. While many agree that there is value in Turn of the Screw, there is major confusion about why it is considered a valuable work of literature and whether or not there is any universal meaning in it. Booth calls readers to question what value there is–if any–to read and write criticism about a work that may not elicit the “correct” response from a reader. He continues by analyzing the text with an ethical criticism, calling readers to examine “what good or harm a given story or kind of story might yield” (290). Factors that may affect readers’ responses (ie: how thrilling and horrifying the “turns of the screw” are found to be) include their interpretation of a piece in terms of ethics and censorship, whether or not they believe in ghosts, and whether or not they are “straight,” “ironic,” or “mazed” (292) readers. Finally, Booth argues that because there are multiple ways of responding to the text the true inherent value of the novel is its ability to spark continual discussion and debate.

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Chopin, Kate, and Nancy A. Walker. The Awakening. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 352-373.

The new historical criticism of The Awakening, The Construction of Ambiguity in The Awakening: A Linguistic Analysis by Paula A. Treichler, focuses on how the syntax of language is used to create the reader’s interpretation of the text from Edna’s point of view. For instance, there is a complex ”syntactic interplay between active and passive voice” (353). In addition, there are multiple possible uses of the word “awaken” as well as the transition from third-person pronouns that signify property toward first-person singular pronouns that give Edna her identity. The lack of clarity of meaning within the language used in the novel reflects the ambiguity of Edna’s awakening, specifically in regards to both Edna and the reader’s inability to reach a solution for her internal conflict. As the novel progresses, the “simplicity of Chopin’s style gives way to a rather complicated and intense reading experience” that “offers a verbal resolution… which is nearly perfect and… transcends the profound contradictions and ambiguities of the story” (353). The linguistic style is shown to have been a deliberate choice by Chopin, which gradually depicts to the reader Edna as actively gaining consciousness rather than simply being passively subjected to the forces that surround her. The increasing use of complex language creates a dramatic reading experience of the narrative. For example, this is shown by the repetition of words associated with sleeping and awakening, which on their own are simply words but by the end of the novel become a powerful metaphor to the reader. Ultimately, this interplay of active and passive language is used in Edna’s suicide to demonstrate how a woman’s control over her body can be simultaneously active and passive, whereas her “active passivity, a decision to no longer decide” (372) leads to her personal victory and inevitable death. Edna’s suicide becomes the “perfect human emblem and perfect literal, and literary, resolution” (373).

 

New Historical Criticism Abstracts

Abstracts of Literary Criticisms in Course Texts:

Chopin, Kate, and Nancy A. Walker. The Awakening. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 274-290.

Edna Pontellier’s introduction as personal property belonging to her husband, Leonce, has a severe impact on her self-identity, thus leading to the novel’s primary conflict: Edna’s quest to find herself. The rings Edna wears hold a double-meaning: 1) that Leonce has a perceived possession over her objectified body, and 2) that Edna has ownership of herself by putting the rings onto her own hand. Another example of Edna’s rejection to be owned by a man and assertion of self-ownership in the novel is when she exercised the right to refuse marital sex, just as a feminist movement of the 1840s had practiced that gave women the rights over their sexual acts and the decision to enter motherhood. This discussion of sex led to a debate about whether or not the use of contraception to allow free sex was acceptable, while some refused to “separate motherhood from female sexuality” (277). Women’s value comes from the male-female exchange of their sexuality, which is undeniably connected to potential pregnancy; therefore, by refusing contraception women made motherhood a part of their central identity. This societal ideology concerning the ownership of a woman for her body alone is reflected in Leonce’s relationship to his wife Edna as she battles him for self-ownership throughout the novel. Edna’s sunburned hands in the opening scene appear as damaged to Leonce, who would prefer her to be luxurious (as represented by the rings she puts on) and unproductive. Adele adheres to the Napoleonic Code of Louisiana in which a woman’s husband maintains property rights, while Edna follows the Married Women’s Property Acts in which married women had some ownership rights. In addition, Edna shows her self-ownership by her ascription to “voluntary motherhood” (281), in which she vows to never give herself up for her children. Edna then chooses to no longer sleep with her husband, thus reserving her right to have sex with whom she chooses, including Robert. Edna finalizes her desire for self-ownership by committing suicide, thus ridding her of the threats of motherhood and the control of men over her body, just as Elizabeth Cady Stanton preached “self-sovereignty” (289).

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Abstracts of Additional Sources:

Chopin, Kate, and Nancy A. Walker. The Awakening. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

Aside from the text of the novel, this source provides contextual documents that contain contemporary reviews of the novel and give insight into its reception.

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Clark, Pamela. “KateChopin.org.” KateChopinorg. The Kate Chopin International Society, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2016 <http://www.katechopin.org/biography/>.

This source provides background information on Kate Chopin’s life. Many of these experiences are shared within the plot and setting of the novel.

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Clingman, Stephen. “Music of New Orleans.” The Massachusetts Review, vol. 44, no. 1/2, 2003, pp. 92–96. www.jstor.org/stable/25091927.

This source provides a descriptive personal experience of music in New Orleans, which provides insight into the culture of the city as well as Edna Pontellier’s passion for music.

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“Creoles.” Kate Chopin. Loyola University New Orleans, 2009. Web. 07 Nov. 2016. <http://www.loyno.edu/~kchopin/new/culture/creoles2.html>.

This source provided detailed information about the Creole culture and regards for women.

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Culley, Margaret. “The Awakening: Contemporary Responses.” The Awakening: Contemporary Responses. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2016 <http://www.people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam854/summer/awcritf.html>.

This website provided primary source articles containing contemporary reviews of the novel. These reviews provided insight into the reception of the novel and the cultural values of the time.

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Rampton, Martha. “Four Waves of Feminism.” Pacific University Oregon, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. <http://www.pacificu.edu/about-us/news-events/four-waves-feminism>.

This source provides information about the history of first-wave feminism.

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“Religious Transformation and the Second Great Awakening.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 2016. Web. 08 Nov. 2016. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/22c.asp>.

This source provides information about the Second Great Awakening, which may have served as a model for the novel and given the author its title.

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Starr, S. Frederick. “New Orleans.” The Wilson Quarterly (1976-), vol. 9, no. 2, 1985, pp. 156–169. www.jstor.org/stable/40468548.

This source outlines the major characteristics of New Orleans, most of which play key roles in the novel and create its setting.

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Taylor, Joe Gray. “New Orleans and Reconstruction.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 3, 1968, pp. 189–208. www.jstor.org/stable/4231016.

This source provides information about the prominence of racial divide in New Orleans as caused by its history with Reconstruction.

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WINSHIP, A. E. “NEW ORLEANS.” The Journal of Education, vol. 71, no. 9 (1769), 1910, pp. 229–231. www.jstor.org/stable/42808646.

This source was a primary source journal of education from New Orleans published in 1910 which shows the mild progression of women’s rights after the publishing of the novel.

 

Feminist and Gender Essay Abstracts

Abstracts of Additional Sources:

Donovan, Josephine. “Cultural Feminism.” Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of

American Feminism. New York: F. Ungar Pub., 1985. 31-63. Print.

The Cultural Feminism Chapter of Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions of American Feminism explores a variety of ways in which ideology causes derogatory social perceptions of women. These socio-cultural insights will provide evidence for the argument that society’s view of women plays a role in Alice’s development as she experiences several interpersonal encounters throughout the novel with characters who express or are bound by sexist beliefs.

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Eagleton, Terry. Introduction: What is Literature? Literary Theory: An Introduction, anniversary

ed, U of Minnesota P, 2008, pp. 1-14.

In “Introduction: What is Literature?”, Eagleton argues that literature cannot be objectively defined because such assessments are based upon individual value-judgments that are dependent on ideology, or the circumstances relating to contemporary social power. Eagleton’s definition of ideology can be used to showcase how anti-feminism is directed at women via the social constructs that surround them and can harm the development of their identity, including: social relationships, education, and government.

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Rosenthal, Ingrid. “The Bitch Dichotomy.” Albanyhighcaorg. Albany High School, n.d. Web. 19

Oct. 2016. <http://albanyhighca.org/identity/the-bitch-dichotomy/>.

This article provides information about a little-known phenomenon called “the bitch dichotomy,” in which powerful women are portrayed as being bossy and overbearing. It demonstrates that when a man is threatened by a powerful woman, then she must be a “bitch”. This concept shows how a young woman may be influenced by society to accept her lower status in order to avoid being perceived in a negative or even aggressive light.

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Abstracts of Literary Criticisms in Course Texts:

James, Henry, and Peter G. Beidler. The Turn of the Screw. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 348-359.

The gender criticism of Turn of the Screw analyzes how a homosexual relationship existed between the narrator and one of his listeners, thereby giving the text of the governess’s ghost story homosexual overtones as well as an examination of women’s roles. By taking on the ghosts to achieve authority and protect the children, the governess is simultaneously challenging her own alleged homosexual orientation. It is considered that the governess’s struggle to win Flora away from Miss Jessel is misleading, whereas although Jessel’s ghostly form implies that she is perhaps a lesbian, the sexually confused governess is no better model for the young girl during this crucial time of development in her sexuality and gender. It is also proposed that: A) the governess fails her mission as a result of her inability to overpower Quint and replace him as a masculine figure in Miles’s life, and B) that Miles’s death is caused by the overwhelming decision to choose between sexual identities. Just as Miles found it difficult to “come out,” the governess’s refusal to conform to societal gender roles has caused a major conflict in the story.

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Chopin, Kate, and Nancy A. Walker. The Awakening. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin’s, 2000, pp. 202-222.

The feminist criticism of The Awakening opens with appreciation for Chopin’s stylistic description of the importance of a woman’s solitude, but notes that it is important to be conscious of the fact that the perception of literature’s textual meaning changes fluidly over time. The author demonstrates this by explaining that historically the novel was once rejected by society but is now accepted as one of the greatest works of feminist literature. Just as Edna Pontellier walks the line between her sexual identity, perhaps the novel parallels Kate Chopin’s real-life struggle for literary freedom. It continues by describing the research Chopin uncovered on the culture of the previous three generations concerning homosexual female relationships (typically interpreted not as sexual relationships, but as womanly solidarity that was purer than carnal heterosexual relationships) and motherhood for the novel that is reflected in her writing. The author then argues that while feminist texts could have been interpreted as a “subversive critique of patriarchal power” (206) at the time of publishing, the writers did not in fact think of themselves as artists but rather as teachers. Later on, female writers became more intent on emphasizing women as erotic creatures and explored the innovative world of sexual fantasy and empowerment. Background information is given about Chopin’s life, specifically that she was actually not an activist in the New Women movement; instead, she simply wanted to capture “a woman’s ‘internal life’” in her work and reject standard conventions of women’s writing. In the text of The Awakening, Edna explores relationships with other women through her physical attraction to Madame Ratignolle and Madame Reisz, the sources of her first awakenings who double as surrogates for the lack of both female presence and sexual love in her life. Edna’s fantasy of the perfect lover as embodied by Arobin and Robert–despite rejecting the constrictions of married life–shows her powerlessness against the fear of solitude. However, Edna also relishes in her solitude as she awakens from the numbness that has been dulled by her entrapment in social constructs such as marriage and family. Her need for autonomy eventually exceeds her need for sexual desires, making the true awakening her longing for individual identity apart from the social constructs that enslave her. Because the female body is associated with liquid (ie: bodily fluids such as milk, blood, tears, amniotic fluid, etc.), drowning in water serves as Edna’s natural form of death that allow her to finally escape.

Abstract of Zacharias’s “A Psychoanalytic Perspective”

 

Zacharias, Greg W. “A Psychoanalytic Perspective.” Turn of the Screw. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin”s, 2010. 320-32. Print. Subjects: object petit a; psychoanalytic perspective; Lacan; language; Freud; unconscious; “big Other”; governess; desire; fantasy; confession; Turn of the Screw; wholeness; anxiety; Foucault; truth; apparitions; heroic; sexual anxiety.

 

Zacharias argues that the governess sees the apparitions at Bly in order to cope with subconscious anxieties about her new duties at Bly and repressed sexual desire for the Harley Street uncle, her objet petit a. The telling of her story serves as a confession of her fantasy, told in a manner that may also operate to explain Miles’s death while simultaneously expressing her “truth” to the “big Other,” or authority figure–most likely the Harley Street uncle himself. By creating the apparitions, the governess is able to delve deeper into her role of protector to the children, which in turn serves to impress her employer by making her out to be the heroine and thusly give herself psychic wholeness” (324).