SUBVERSION OF PATRIARCHAL BINARY OPPOSITION IN ALICE WALKER’S THE COLOR PURPLE AND KATE CHOPIN’S THE AWAKENING

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ABSTRACT

In spite of civilization, subjugation of women under male hegemony has been an unending challenge. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening examine a patriarchal society that relegate women to the second fiddle and how such patriarchal society can be subverted in the light of Poststructural feminist ideology.  Judith Butler’s poststructural approach to the analysis of the characters in this study reveals that gender is not just a social construct but a “doing”, a repetitive act which can be taken up by any one irrespective of sex. Sofia in The Color Purple for instance, is seen as a man in her marriage to Harpo because of her actions. Edna in The Awakening is considered weird because she abandons the traditional notion of ‘mother-women’ in pursuit of individualism.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page                                                                                                                    i

Approval Page                                                                                                            ii

Dedication                                                                                                                   iii

Acknowledgment                                                                                                        iv

Table of Contents                                                                                                       v

Abstract                                                                                                                      vi

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction                                                                               1

  • Background of Study 1
  • Statement of Problem 5
  • Purpose of Study 5
  • Significance of Study 5
  • Scope and Limitation of Study 5

CHAPTER TWO: Literature Review                                                                    6

 

CHAPTER THREE: Theoretical Framework and Research Methodology       27

3.1 Theoretical Framework                                                                                         27

3.2 Methodology                                                                                                        31

 

CHAPTER FOURTEXUALANALYSIS                                                            32

4.1 Subversion of Patriarchal Binary Opposition in The Awakening                         37

4.2 Subversion of Patriarchal Binary Opposition in The Color Purple                     41

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION                                        46

 

WORKS CITED                                                                                                       49

CHAPTER ONE

 INTRODUCTION

1.1       BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Most societies, whether developed or on the verge of development are distinguished by some magnitude of male dominance. Invariably, patriarchy is embedded in the fabric of most cultures. Throughout history, men have had greater power in both the public and private spheres. To maintain this power, men have created boundaries and limitations for women thereby making it more difficult for women to clasp power. The results of male domination have been to create a subordinated class-women who, despite their individual circumstances, abilities, and opportunities are inescapably victimized by male supremacy. Over time, women have been economically exploited, relegated to domestic slavery, forced into motherhood, sexually objectified, physically abused, used in denigrating entertainment, deprived of a voice and authentic culture, and disenfranchised and excluded from public life. Women, by comparison, have systematically been subjected to physical insecurity, targeted for sexual denigration and violence, depersonalized and denigrated, deprived of respect, credibility, and resources and silenced, denied of public presence, voice and representation of their interests. (Mackinnon 160)

Judith Butler in Gender Trouble submits that patriarchy arises as a result of the binary opposition between masculine and feminine gender:

The binary relation between culture (male) and nature (female) promotes a relationship of hierarchy in which culture freely “imposes” meaning on nature, and, hence, renders it into an “other” to be appropriated to its own limitless uses, safeguarding the ideality of the signifier and the structure of signification on the model of domination. (48)

However, Montique Wittig proposes that the binary opposition between woman and man can be overcome through lesbianism. For Wittig, a lesbian has no sex; she is beyond the categories of sex because she is neither a man nor a woman. In criticism to Wittig’s proposition, Butler argues that Wittig’s

radical disjunctive between straight and gay replicates the kind of disjunctive binarism that she (Wittig) herself characterizes as the divisive philosophical gesture of the straight mind … even that disavowal constitutes engagement and, ultimately, a radical dependence on the very terms that lesbianism purports to transcend. (155-158)

Butler therefore proposes a Performativity ideology whereby a man can easily signify a male body as a female one and a woman a female body as a male one. She describes gender to be “performatively produced and compelled by the regulatory practices of gender coherence … a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed” (33).

Researches over the years have been on women’s subordination in patriarchal society; however, it is crucial to explore how this patriarchal society can be dismantled using Poststructural feminist theory. Poststructural feminist theory tends to challenge other theories such as structuralism, psychoanalysis that promote patriarchy. For the Poststructural feminist, Symbolic/Semiotic split is a hierarchy in which the symbolic always in the end, after any disruption, reaffirms its dominance. The Poststructural feminist literary therefore, serves as a tool to dismantle patriarchal binaries.

Definition of Terms

To situate our study appropriately, we look at some key concepts on which the hub of the study revolves.

 

Patriarchy

             Patriarchy is derived from the Latin word ‘Patriarchia’ which means ‘rule of the fathers’. Patriarchy, like any ideology, is a belief or value widely held in societies to be morally correct for one group to hold dominance over another (Omfolabo 162). In Theorizing Patriarchy Sylvia Walby interprets patriarchy as, “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women” (20). Gila Stopler views patriarchy “as manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women in the society” (365). According to Teresa U. Njoku, “patriarchy is a social system controlled mainly by men. Patriarchy results in sexism which attributes importance and superiority to the male and inferiority to the female” (277).

Godiya Makama contends that patriarchy is “a system of male authority which oppresses women through its social, political and economic institutions” (177). Viana Muller submits that patriarchy is “a social system in which the status of women is defined as wards of their husbands, fathers, and brothers” (4).

Patriarchal society can be defined as “any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles” (Tyson 83). These traditional gender roles include cooking, rearing children and being sensitive to the needs of family members.

Omofolabo, Makama, Tyson, Muller, Walby, and Stopler seem to view patriarchy in terms of social and domestic affairs. Mary Daly views patriarchy in a different light in that she analyses it as the “prevailing religion of the entire planet” (83).

Bell Hooks gives a more comprehensive definition of patriarchy as “a political social system dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence” (18).

With these definitions, we can therefore define patriarchy as a system that legitimizes the domination of women by men in social, political, economic, religious and domestic spheres.

Sylvia Wably, Valentine Moghadam, and Michael Kevane assert that patriarchy could either be private or public. In Wably’s view,

Private patriarchy is based upon household production, with a patriarch controlling women individually and directly in the relatively private sphere of the home. Public patriarchy is based on structures other than household, although this may still be a significant patriarchal site. Rather, institutions conventionally regarded as a part of the public domain are central in the maintenance of patriarch. (178)

Hence, Teresa Njoku notes that “the summary effect of patriarchal lordship is silencing the woman, muffling or muting her voice or brow beating her to remain voiceless” (l95).

Binary opposition

Binary opposition is a key concept in structuralism that states that all elements of human culture can only be understood in relation to one another and how they function within a larger system or the overall environment. In binary opposition, two relative terms cannot coexist. Binary opposition creates boundaries between groups of people and leads to prejudice and discrimination. In binary opposites, one side of the binary pair is always seen by a particular society or culture as more valued over the other.

According to Ferdinand de Saussure, the binary opposition is the “means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined against what it is not” (53).

Chris Baldick defines binary opposition as “the principle contrast between two mutually exclusive terms: on/off, up/down, left/right etc” (27).

We can as well define binary opposition as two complementary and at the same time contradictory items where by one is privileged over the other.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

The marginalization of women in patriarchal societies has often been depicted in works of fiction. Over the years, writers and critics have focused more on self-realization, self-discovery, women’s place in society, sexuality, passion and human nature. The problem which this research intends to investigate is how patriarchal binary opposition is subverted in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

1.3       Purpose of the Study

The aim of this study is to analyze the influence of binary opposition in both texts and how such binary opposition is subverted.

1.4       Significance of the Study

This study will serve as an example of how subversion of binary opposition happens in literature. This may help the readers gain better comprehension of it. It will also create an awareness on how gender fluidity functions in literature.

1.5       Scope and Limitation of the Study

Fundamentally, the study is focused on Alice Walker and Kate Chopin in The Color Purple and The Awakening respectively. The rationale behind limitation to these two texts is to examine how patriarchal binary opposition is subverted in them.

SUBVERSION OF PATRIARCHAL BINARY OPPOSITION IN ALICE WALKER’S THE COLOR PURPLE AND KATE CHOPIN’S THE AWAKENING

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