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Gender issue has never been an easy subject to deal with. For years, the sphere of political, social and economical life of people all over the world was dominated by men, while women’ were restricted to the household domain; more to the point, women were not allowed to explore the plethora of social opportunities that the world had to offer to their male counterparts.
Things started changing, however, at the beginning of the XX century, when the feminist ideas offered in the XIX century were finally starting to spread across Europe and America.
Despite the seeming difference in story, characters, settings, and many other details, such stories as the Awakening by Chopin, Doll House by Ibsen, and many other works featuring the stories of women of the XX century had the same feminist element in common.
No matter whether these stories praised female liberty or desperately acknowledged the fact of women being deprived of their liberties, they all made it clear that the time for female liberation had come.
In her article “The Search for a Feminine Voice in the Works of Kate Chopin,” Martha Cutter searches for the open doors for feminist movement that Kate Chopin left in her literature heritage.
Cutter analyzes a number of female characters in Chopin’s works, starting from the numerous female characters in Awakening, including Edna, the twins, Adele, etc., and up to Lalie from Love on the Bon-Dieu.
Weirdly enough, Cutter’s research shows that Chopin, in fact, does not overrate the chances that feminist proponents have in their fight for women’s liberation: “there is no feminine voice ‘out there’ that can be used to disrupt the voice of patriarchy that is ‘in here’” (Cutter 109). Therefore, Cutter makes it clear that, despite her attempts to promote feminism, Chopin realized that the chances for success were close to nil.
Ibsen did not compliment on the attempts of the feminist movement in his Doll House either, which the next article, however, is trying to prove wrong. Analyzing Ibsen’s dollhouse and the leading character, Nora, Joan Templeton makes it clear that, despite the story conveying a rather desperate message to the audience, it, in fact, is empowering in that it finally gets the priorities straight.
Ibsen, in fact, states the necessity to fight not merely for the liberty, but for the liberty of women in an “Everywoman’s struggle against Everyman” (Templeton 36).
Another intriguing analysis of the early XX-century introduction of feminism into world literature, the article by Stanley Weitraub suggests the reader to drive parallels between the famous Doll’s House and a nonetheless famous work by Bernard Shaw, The Irrational Knot.
Weitraub dives deep into the analysis of the two plays, comparing and contrasting them in great detail, yet also touches upon the controversial issue of feminist efforts in the novel. It is quite peculiar, though, that Weitraub is more interested in the linguistic symbolism of the play, focusing on the use of the phrase “doll’s house” and considering whether the collocation was already worn out when Ibsen used it in his play.
Anyway, Weitraub comes to the same sad conclusion that the rest of the authors mentioned previously had come; according to the author of the article, Nora, as well as the female protagonist in Shaw’s play of the same idea, making it evident that, despite the fact that “Ibsen’s Nora Helmer, insisting upon her emancipation, broke loose from a “Doll’s House” already anticipated in the Victorian novel” (Weintraub 67), there was still a huge way to go for feminists in order to provide women with the liberties that they deserved.
Emily Toth also raises the question concerning the success of the early XX feminist writers and their endeavors in fighting for women’s liberation.
Toth’s research, however, stretches somewhat further than merely an analysis of several works touching upon the issue of female empowerment at the beginning of the XX century; instead, Toth considers the issue on a larger scale, analyzing the literary works of the given time slot in a more general and, therefore, comprehensive way.
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The analysis, however, still revolves around a specific novel and a specific character – Scheriner’s Lyndall from The Story of African Farm, to be more exact – and her comparison to other characters of the same type that emerged in the novels of the XX century writers.
Anyway, Toth comes to the same peculiar conclusion that the previous authors of the article listed above did; namely, Schreiner realizes that the female protagonists in the novels written in the early XX century were striving for liberation, yet had little to no chances not only to win, but also survive heir victory.
These novels, therefore, were “not a homage, but a deprivation” (Toth 657) of the chances that women had for liberation at the time.
The last, but definitely not the least, Garner’s Sharon Olds clearly conveys the same air of depression and dismay. It should be mentioned, though, that, quite honestly, in the given analysis, this work must be isolated from the rest of the works mentioned above, since it discusses a slightly different issue.
True, the article touches upon the issue of changes in the literature of the XX century, yet the literature that it discusses belongs to a quite different genre; to be more accurate, Garner Dwight analyzes the specifics of poetry development in his article. Providing a general overview of the literary scene of the XX century, the article features an interview with Sharon Olds, one of the most famous American female poets of the time.
Therefore, the article does not need to touch upon feminism – it is, in fact, the voice and the manifestation of feminist as it is: “There are some things that have to do with art that we can’t control” (Garner n.p.). Garner offers a fascinating opportunity to explore the vision of a feminist and understand where she drives her inspiration from.
Despite the fact that in the XX century, the feminist ideas were only starting to grown into a powerful movement that would later on sweep the entire world, one could find enough evidence in literature that at the very least points at the problems related to the chauvinist tendencies, and at the most, explores feminist ideas.
It should be mentioned, though, that the given attempts look rather humble compared to the chauvinist traditions in literature and society that had persisted for years; however, with the appearance of such literature works as Doll House, The Awakening, and many others, important gender issues, such as re-evaluation of a woman’s role in society, started being raised, which was going to lead to drastic changes in gender roles in society.
Cutter, Martha J. “The Search for a Feminine Voice in the Works of Kate Chopin.” Unruly Tongue: Identity and Voice in American Women’s Writing, 1850-1930. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1999. 87-109. Web. JSTOR.
Garner, Dwight. “Sharon Olds.” Salon.com, 1996. In Poetry for Students. Ed. David A. Galens. Vol. 17. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. GALE|H1420046598.
Templeton, Joan. “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen.” PMLA 104.1 (1989), 28–40.
Toth, Emily. “The Independent Woman and ‘Free’ Love.” The Massachusetts Review 16.4 (1975), 647–664.
Weintraub, Stanley. “Ibsen’s “Doll’s House” Metaphor Foreshadowed in Victorian Fiction.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 13.1 (1958), 67–69.