Critical Commentary

Thoughts on Joy Harjo’s ‘Dangerous Woman’: Resistance, Power and Survival

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo

‘I Am a Dangerous Woman’[1] was published in 1979 in Harjo’s second collection of poetry What Moon Drove Me To This? and like much of Harjo’s poetry, in this collection and beyond, it explores cultural and feminist concerns. Continue reading

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Critical Commentary

Survivance and Storytelling: Erdrich’s Tracks and Welch’s Winter in the Blood

When the victims talk back, they stop being victims.

Gerald Vizenor

Gerald Vizenor

For centuries, in cartoons, stories, songs and paintings, Native Americans have been culturally invented and represented from the outside. These invented narratives of decimation and victimry are described by Gerald Vizenor as ‘simulations of dominance’.[1] By moving away from the sentimentality that had characterised earlier periods of Native American fiction, contemporary American Indian writers have transcended their role as victim in their quest for cultural survivance.[2] Vizenor describes these writers as ‘postindian warriors’, a term coined by Vizenor and used to describe Native American people who pursue creative acts of resistance and are concerned with creating authentic counter-narratives of survivance.[3] Continue reading

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Critical Commentary

Gender Trouble in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’

“. . . but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower, safety.” [1]

‘Bliss’ opens with the heroine – Bertha – being moved by an overwhelming, and misunderstood, feeling of anticipation, which is particularly characterised by her inability to give expression to it. Throughout much of the story she is unable to give full expression to her inner passions, whether out of fear or inability, ‘her discourse is tempered by social conditioning.’[2] When she is overcome by this intense feeling of bliss she asks whether there is ‘no way to express it without being ‘drunk and disorderly’’ and perceives civilisation as ‘idiotic’ because of its control over her own individual expression. When she desires to ‘get in touch’ with her husband, she becomes paralysed on the phone, ‘What had she to say? She’d nothing to say… She couldn’t absurdly cry: ‘Hasn’t it been a divine day!’ Again, in the nursery, the contrast between her internalised feelings and her verbalised response is striking, ‘You’re nice – you’re very nice! … I’m fond of you. I like you,’ she says to her baby daughter. Continue reading

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Critical Commentary

Representation, Expression and Censorship: Same-sex Desire in ‘Orlando’ and ‘The Well of Loneliness’

By 1928 – the year The Well of Loneliness[1] and Orlando[2] were published –there was an increasing social awareness of female same-sex desire in Britain.[3] Whilst The Well engages in religious and contemporaneous sexological discourse in order to legitimise and justify ‘sexual inversion’; Orlando adopts metaphorical language and narrative strategies to deconstruct and expose conventional heterosexuality, exploiting the possibility for same-sex desire.[4]

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Critical Commentary

In Limbo: Double Consciousness in Ellison’s Invisible Man and Wright’s ‘The Man Who Lived Underground’

‘You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist – can’t you see that? The white folk tell everybody what to think…’[1]

W E B Du Bois (1918)

W E B Du Bois (1918)

The term double consciousness was first explored by W E B Du Bois in ‘The Souls of Black Folk’[2], published in 1903. Du Bois understands this doubling of consciousness as a direct product of ‘the power of white stereotypes in black life and thought’[3] and the practical racism that excluded every black American from the mainstream of society.[4] For Du Bois, the concept of double consciousness is characterised by two particular and distinct signifiers; the first is ‘second sight’ – the inherent duality of African American identity and vision. The second, and more problematic signifier, is that of existing ‘behind the veil’ and this may be defined as the limitations of seeing and being seen unclearly. Continue reading

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Critical Commentary

Degrading the Feminine: E. E. Cummings v. T. S Eliot

E. E. Cummings: 1894 - 1962

E. E. Cummings: 1894 – 1962

This essay discusses and compares the representation of femininity in a selection of poetry by E. E. Cummings [1] and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land [2]. By highlighting the degraded and misogynistic representation of the feminine in Cummings poetry I aim to show that The Waste Land unifies the gender-experience in order to represent a degraded but androgynous human condition.

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Critical Commentary

The Language of Slavery and Freedom: Frederick Douglass vs ‘The Emancipation Memorial’

Emancipation Memorial, 1876.  Artist: Thomas Ball

Emancipation Memorial, 1876.
Artist: Thomas Ball

This commentary will discuss the cultural and historical relationship between the literary text Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave, Written by Himself[1] and the ‘Emancipation Memorial’[2] erected in 1876 in Washington, D.C; also known as the ‘Freedman’s Memorial’. The first version of the text, published in 1845, was written during the antebellum period in contrast to the monument that was erected towards the end of the Reconstruction, when the position of black Americans was supposed to have altered with the Emancipation Declaration in 1863. However, it can be argued that many of Douglas’s main preoccupations with the racial prejudices during the antebellum era can be seen embodied in the sculpture that was intended to commemorate ‘The Emancipator’, and the emancipation. Continue reading

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