quarta-feira, 29 de julho de 2015

Animal Symbolism in the Writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

by Monika Holder

The aim of my doctoral dissertation is to research the presence of animals and animal imagery as well as motivations behind the literary usage of animals in the works of influential American feminist writers of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Specifically for the purposes of my application for this symposium, I propose to focus on the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Western political theory is prevalent with examples of how women and animals are cast together and the centuries-long deliberation as to whether women have souls mirrored similar discussions regarding the moral status of animals. In patriarchal society, women, along with animals, are linked as “others” and viewed as subordinate to men. As a result of prevalent political and philosophical dualism, the patriarchal society has been structured along the set of binary oppositions such as man/woman, civilized/wild, human/animal. In such scheme of things, women have been juxtaposed with men and, along with animals, accorded a subservient, secondary position in culture and civilization.
A counter view to this deeply entrenched patriarchal habit developed through a growing number of 19th century female authors who promoted a change in society and culture. They challenged traditional patriarchal roles and spoke of women’s rights to their own freedom, breaking the links to any domineering male figure in their lives. They used animal symbolism either to illustrate female oppression and exploitation, or out of empathy for those natural creatures that had also become victimized by patriarchal humanism.
As a critical component of my research, I would like to examine the use of animal imagery by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman’s commentary on her period’s animal based fashion is harsh and outspoken; much like her views on the sexual roles of men and women in society, and the stereotypes and injustices that she depicted in The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) and Herland (1915). Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper as a severe criticism of the overbearing patriarchal society of her day, in a semiautobiographical account of a woman treated for depression. Through the cruel treatment suffered by the narrator as part of her “rest cure”, she takes on very animalistic behaviors in her own way of fighting the oppression of her husband, and keeping her sanity. 
In Herland, Gilman’s well-known feminist utopia, the writer uses animal analogies to explain the human condition as well as to portray biological and behavioral differences between the sexes.  There are opinions that Herland, with a focus on a female dominated culture strongly linked with nature, is a very early precursor to the ecofeminist movement that began in earnest in the 1970s. Her perspective shared on motherhood and the environment in writing Herland is consistent with today’s ecofeminist ideology; also reinforced by her own personal beliefs that her move from an industrialized New England to a more natural environment in California was crucial for fostering her own health and creativity. 
The research methodology of my dissertation will be based on literary and cultural texts as well as their critical responses with particular emphasis on materials related to animal studies and feminist writings. 

Key words: Feminism, Ecofeminism, Animals, Environment, Gilman. 

Monika Holder is a Ph.D. student at Warsaw University (Institute of English Studies, American Literature Department). She holds a Master degree in English Studies as well as a Master Degree in International Relations (Warsaw University). She returned to university after working for 7 years in advertising and public relations.  Her research focuses on feminist writings of the late 19th/early 20th century and animal studies.

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