|dc.description.abstract||The thesis explores the poetry (and some prose) of Plath, Sexton,
Atwood and Rich in terms of the changing constructions of self-image
predicated upon the female role between approx. 1950-1980.1 am
particularly concerned with the question of how the discourses of
femininity and feminism contribute to the scope of the images of the
self which are presented.
The period was chosen because it involved significant upheaval and
change in terms of women's role and gender identity. The four poets'
work spans this period of change and appears to some extent generally
characteristic of its social, political and cultural contexts in America,
Britain and Canada. (Other poets' work, for example Rukeyser, Lorde,
Levertov, is included too. ) The poets were not chosen to illustrate a
pre-feminist vs. feminist opposition since a major concern is to explore
what I see to be the symbiotic relation between femininity and feminism
(as also between orthodoxy and heresy). However the thesis is organised
chronologically because periodisation is important for a consideration
of the poetry's social setting.
In wanting to connect the poetry with cultural and political
circumstances as much as possible I have taken Edward Said's assertion
of a text's position of 'being in the world', its potential as a cultural
product to help reshape reality, and its value as a 'powerful weapon of
both materialism and consciousness'. This is the starting point for the
study which is circular and cumulative in shape, fundamentally thematic,
though each chapter is a chronological exploration of the work of one
specific poet, beginning with Plath and completing with Rich. A
conclusion attempts to pull the strands of each together and consider
the implications raised.
The thesis has four general concerns which run through its particular
focus on each poet. The first involves the relations between cultural
practice and ideology; the second involves the ideology of gender
(through exploration of femininity and feminism); the third involves
authorial ideology (through the construction of self-image in relation to
femininity and feminism) while the fourth involves these concerns in
terms of the overall arena of women's struggle for meaning and selfdetermination
in cultural practice.
More specific elements of the study include collating and comparing
self-images and attempting to make connections or chart changes where
images such as witch, queen, handmaid, shamaness, goddess, earth mother,
whore, madwoman, etc., re-occur. Usage of myth (particularly Persephone).
the Gothic, 'and articulation of lesbian desire are also explored. The
emergence of a female 'hero' self-image, in opposition to 'victim', seems
to be a corollary of the impact
of feminism in Rich's poetry
particularly, but this tendency can be traced back through Plath. I
explore the celebration of nature and the power of essentialism in the
construction of heroic female images, particularly in the figure of the
mother flowing with milk at the centre of 'ecriture feminine'.
The concluding chapter suggests that femininity did not constitute
such a repressive constraint on self-image and writing practice for
women as perhaps might be supposed; and that feminism, while opening up
many empowering changes for women, has raised further disturbing and
unresolved questions about identity, and even helped, in some of its
aspects, to create a new 'orthodoxy' in which various aspects of
experience cannot easily be articulated. My example is Rich's later work
where it seems to admit itself limited by its own initially liberating
strategies and looks further on towards new 'heresies.'||en_US