Ackerman's Wife of Light: New Images for Women
The unconscious mind of man, according to the psychologist Carl Jung, consists of layers. Jung recognizes two basic layers in the unconscious mind: the personal unconscious, a superficial layer whose contents are derived from present lifetime experience, and the collective unconscious, a deeper inborn layer whose contents are inherited and essentially universal within the species. Jung believes that the personal unconscious contains feeling-toned complexes that constitute the personal and private side of psychic life and that the collective unconscious contains archetypes, "universal images that have existed since the remotest times" (3-5). He divides archetypes, which may be either positive or negative, into two classes: archetypes of transformation--situations, places, implements, and events--and archetypes of character. Jung devotes most of his writings on archetypal characters to the shadow, the anima and animus, the wise old man, the magna mater (great earth mother), the child, and the self. Frei lists the braggart, the buffoon, the hero, the devil, the rebel, the wanderer, the siren, the enchantress, the maid, and the witch (48). Of course, other archetypal characters exist. Jung finds archetypes in dreams, tribal lore, myths, and fairy tales. Archetypes also occur in literature.
Today, archetypes serve as models for female writers who are in doubt about gender roles in a changing society. For example, poet Diane Ackerman uses Faust, who Goldstein calls, "the archetypal professor of forbidden knowledge," as a model in Lady Faustus (1983); furthermore, he points out that Ackerman "staked out the Faustian territory" in her first volume of poetry, The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (1975) (446). Meyers finds another archetype in Ackerman's Reverse Thunder (1988), a dramatic poem about the events that led the seventeenth-century Spanish American nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz to renounce her literary career. Meyers writes that Sor Juana has been called the "quintessential Baroque poet, a bridge to the Enlightenment, and America's first feminist." Meyers believes that Sor Juana, who sought knowledge and independence in a time when women were kept ignorant and dependent, evokes the image of Phaeton, the courageous but hapless charioteer of the chariot of flame (453-54). Building on Goldstein's work, an examination of Wife of Light (1978) shows Ackerman using the mother and the animus archetypes in addition to the Faust archetype to create new images for women.
Like any other archetype, the mother archetype presents an infinite variety of aspects, with the personal mother being one of the most important (Jung 81). In "Mother," the opening poem of Wife of Light, Ackerman updates the personal mother archetype. The book's title suggests that Ackerman's mother may be compared to Demeter, Mother Nature; however, this mother is not the mother of Persephone, the wife of...