A gendered analysis of three short stories

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A gendered analysis of three short stories

  1. 1. This essay elaborates a comparison between three short storiesin terms of culturalconstructs as well as gender manifestation. The analysis is conducted through close reading ofthe three short stories namely „The New Dress‟Virginia Woolf, „thekiss‟ byKate Chopin and„The Melody‟ by AhdafSueif .We are going to begin by proceeding gradually to a gendermanifestation each story in isolation and then we move to the comparison between the threeshort stories. Being one of the earliest and most influential feminist writers of the 20th century,Virginia Woolf has offered us with a literary heritage exploring in different forms. VirginiaWoolf (1882 –1941) was an English author which was at the forefront of the modernistmovement, which flourished in the first decades of the 20th century, encompassing every fieldof artistic expression.The period of Virginia Woolfs early life was one of profound social andcultural change. She was born into a Victorian world, and came to maturity as an author in themodern world. In Woolf‟s fiction, clothing would therefore serve as a doorway to her characters‟ innerrealities; it would depict rather than hide, arousing deep-rooted feelings oftentriggered bypublic scrutiny. Furthermore, clothing unites and at the same time divides women. Last butnot least, Woolf would use clothing to skilfully create poignant metaphors, attacking genderinequality and warfare. Woolf was, from her childhood onwards, fascinated by clothes and fashion, this lead toa profound influence on her life and work .Thus she claims once: “But I must remember to write about my clothes next time I have an impulse to write. My love of clothes interests me profoundly: only it is not love; & what it is I must discover”. Virginia Woolf , May 1925. Intellectually powerful but at the same time concerned with her appearance, Woolffound herself torn between conflicting traditionally gender-assigned spheres. As a twentiethcentury feminist, she had inherited a variety of negative assumptions and guilt pertaining tofemininity and the feminine, including the belief of many progressives that fashion wasnothing else than women‟s bondage made visible. Woolf‟s deepest exploration of the issue of clothing was quite apparent in her shortstory which is entitled „The New Dress‟. The latter addresses the tormented interiority ofMabel Waring, a middle-aged homemaker of limited means who attends Clarissa‟s party
  2. 2. wearing a yellow dress. Looking around at the fashionably dressed guests, she realizes herfaux pas (social blunder) and thus become the slave of the feeling of inferiority. By means ofher term „frock consciousness, Woolf explores her own feelings of inferiority and shameassociated with being inappropriately dressed in public, the conflict of dichotomies such asmind and body, consumption and creation, femininity and masculinity. Woolf‟s insubstantial budget presented an obstacle. Immediately upon receivingClarissa‟s invitation, she thinks about her hopeless situation and she feels as an outsider, aforeign body. She felt ashamed and alienated, that‟s why she decides at the end to be a nunand to wear a uniform to get rid of thought to clothes. Wearing a uniform and being called aSister Somebody suggests the lifestyle of a nun, the ultimate example of a secluded womanrid of emblems suggesting sexuality or concern for appearances. As Laing rightly points out,Mabel‟s return to the private sphere can be seen as an act of retreat, reinforcing the equationof femininity with passivity, consumption and the inability to write. What we could withdraw from this short story is that what women could say, do or wearin public was not regulated by so many extreme conventional prohibitions. In this story,clothing is a form of contribution to make visible and clear gender (artificial) constructs. Also, Kate Chopin (1850 –1904) was an Americanauthor of short stories and novels.She is now considered by some to have been a forerunner of feminist authors of the 20thcentury. She lived in a time when her surroundings included the abolitionist movements andthe emergence of feminism. It was a common belief of the 19th century Victorian society that unrestrained sex was adanger to the social order. In particular the sexual desires of women were increasinglyregarded as inappropriate and unnatural. Procreation ought be the only reason for women toengage in sexual intercourse. Consequently, sexual desires and passion hardly exists for most19th century American literary heroines. In contrast to this general tendency, Chopinrepeatedly deals with the tabooing subject of women′s sexual urge and sensual experiences.Several of her short stories challenge cultural assumptions about the role of sex in a woman′slife. In her writings, Kate Chopin depicts women′s sexual desires and refutes Victoriangeneral postulation on female sexuality. Sensual or erotic feelings were seen as governed byan internal logic.
  3. 3. One of her short stories is ˵The Kiss˵ (1895) portrays how bad and dishonest acharacter could be. Kate Chopin‟s idea of this story is that people should not be judged merelyby their appearance. The story is a mademoiselle named Nathalie who is in love with twomen; Harvey and Brantain at the same time. However, she chooses Brantain instead ofHarvey because he is very rich. After Nathalie and Brantain‟s wedding ceremony, Harveycomes and says that Brantain has sent him there to kiss her. She hopefully trying to give himthe kiss, but suddenly Harvey tells that he has stopped kissing women. AhdafSoueif (born in 1950) is an Anglo-Egyptian novelist and political and culturalcommentator. She is an Egyptian national spent many years of her childhood in England, andthen returned for her PhD in linguistics at the University of Lancaster. Her marriage to anEgyptian ended, and she later married the English poet Ian Hamilton –from whom sheeventually separated. Her marriage experience is one of Soueifs central themes in thiscollection of short stories.Soueif writes primarily in English.Her novel The Map of Love(1999) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and subsequently translated into 16languages.As well,she is the author of Aisha, In the Eye of the Sun, and the bestselling novelThe Map of Love, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. She also has translatedfrom the Arabic the award-winning memoir I Saw Ramallahby the Palestinian novelistMouridBarghouti. The best short story that I have ever read is „Melody‟ by AhdafSoueif. In this shortstory, Soueif portrays the conservatism of Moslim women and their position in their societies.The story is written in first person singular (The narrator is Waynes mother). They areforbidden from many things where as men are not. The tale relates the story ofthe narratorsneighbours: Ingie and her daughter Melody. Ingie‟s main interest is to keep herself beautifulfor her husband who is older than her and married before and cooking for him. The way thisMoslem woman treat her husband is so bizarre. Soueif is quite different from this lady;sheprefers reading a book rather than spending all the time with the housework. This tale relates how Muslim women scarify their lives for their husbands(Laughing,clothes, makeup, dancing and cooking).Even melody tries to imitate her motherwhen she plays with Wayne. Feminism and gender manifestation is not only apparent in Western literature but alsoan exploration of non-native feminine literary writings of English and all this depends on thewriters reasoning, culture, style and religion.When we try to compare these three short stories,
  4. 4. we can find many interesting endings. Among them, we can mention that „The New Dress‟has to do with a feeling of inferiority and shame associated with being inappropriately dressedin public. That is to say the theme of clothing. The writer of this tale is Virginia Woolf whohas a peculiar style that make different from the two remaining and the period that she lived inwas the Victorian age. Whereas Kate chopin whose writings are more daring, has madeapparent women′s sexual desires .In her short story, she has the courage to name it ˵theKiss˵However, when we talk of Melody ,we mention post-colonial literature.Soueifs themeis more serious and realistic because she portrays the harsh life that Muslim woman live inand the birdcage where she is imprisoned not because of Islam but because of the patriarchalsociety they live in. All in All, the three short stories tackled a side of feminism that will contribute in thebuilding of literary emancipation be it western or non-native writing.

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