The Mad Woman In The Attic Analysis

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In their book, The Mad Woman in the Attic, (1979), Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar examine the relationship between female writers and literary tradition. Although their work is multi-facetted, their central argument in regard to women and tradition posits that female writers experience what Gilbert and Gubar coin the “anxiety of authorship,” a feeling of distress that stems from the lack of female authors in the literary tradition for contemporary female writers to relate to for inspiration in their writing (49). This anxiety for the female writer is rooted in a literary tradition dominated by men, a patriarchal system that conforms female characters in literature to masculine desires, such as the poets muse. Enclosing women in such stereotypes…show more content…
Coetzee’s novel, Foe (1986). The novel is a retelling of Robinson Cruso through the perspective of Susan Barton, a female castaway who ends up on Cruso’s island, and then after being rescued seeks out Daniel Foe, an author who Barton hopes will tell her story. In the second part of the novel, Barton takes up residence in Foe’s home, and she begins to write him letters regarding her desires as to how her story should be told, to which she receives no reply. Friday, Cruso’s former tongue-less servant is with Barton during all this, and in the course of her letters, Barton struggles with the telling of Friday’s story, as he is speechless and therefore unable to represent his past. Placing Gilbert and Gubar’s notions of women and tradition in dialogue with Foe show us that the fight against patriarchy is done by breaking out of the male dominated tradition, and reshaping the old narrative in a new…show more content…
Instead of Barton joining in the male-centered literary tradition, she is engaging in her own a form of creation, a creation that Gilbert and Gubar call a “subculture which has its own distinctive literary traditions, even though it defines itself in relation to the “main,” male dominated, literary culture (50). Her authentic story is told through her letters to Foe, and her speculation of how to tell the story disrupts the traditional, patriarchal castaway myth. Barton recalls her experience on the island, noting, “It was an island of sloth, despite the terracing. I ask myself what past historians of the castaway state have done-whether in despair they have not begun to make up lies” (Coetzee 88). Here we see Barton wondering if all the tales of Cruso were simply a myth to create the illusion of the famous castaway tale, a myth grounded in the male dominated literary tradition. Through Susan’s perspective, the narrative is re-constructed, and Foe sees that reconstruction as a threat, which is why he attempts to disrupt and conform Barton’s narrative to his own desires: the myth of the castaway narrative up holds the patriarchal power structure of literary tradition. However, by Barton disrupting the traditional narrative, she is, indeed, taking an old text, a myth, and taking it in a new critical direction. She admits, “We faced no perils, no ravenous beasts, not even serpents

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