Female Literature Deserves the Same Regognition as Traditional Male Literature
Literary critic, Jane Tompkins targets the "male-dominated scholarly tradition that controls both the canon of American literature - and the critical perspective that interprets the canon for society" (502), in her exploration of the canonical exclusion of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, written in 1899, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." Tompkins further notes that "the tradition of Perry Miller, F.O. Matthiessen, Harry Levin, Richard Chase, R.W.B. Lewis, Yvor Winters, and Henry Nash Smith has prevented even committed feminists from recognizing and asserting the value of a powerful and specifically female novelistic tradition" (502-3). Tompkins' criticism of the scholarly tradition not only asserts the existence of a male-dominated literary paradigm and exclusivity but, with this literary 'gate keeping', also questions how tradition becomes imprinted upon us so as to color our judgment.
Tradition becomes the constant, the thing we write, read, rebel against and, interestingly, the thing we supplant with a new tradition once we are excluded from the established boys' club. But how does a so staunchly established tradition, which determines the inclusion and exclusion of literary works, come to be?
Tompkins posits the existence of a male-centered agenda that masks its biases as "universal standards of aesthetic judgment" (503). These "universal standards" of aesthetics are subsequently biased against domains which have traditionally been declared feminine. Tompkins indeed contends that "twentieth-century critics have taught generations of students to equate popularity with debasement, emotionality with ineffectiveness, religiosity with fakery, domesticity with triviality, and all of these, implicitly, with womanly inferiority" (503). Annette Kolodny also remarks that "we are calling attention to interpretive strategies that are learned, historically determined, and thereby necessarily gender-inflected" (452). Not only does Kolodny aver the way in which a male-biased tradition is necessarily inculcated, but she also elucidates the necessary imitation and repetition that facilitates the masking and apparent transformation of literary influence to literary tradition.
For an idea or an influence to become something as imposing and looming as tradition, however, the targeted public must be willing to accept the premises that move the idea forward. Uptake and acceptance are requisite, and the public must be willing first to recognize the superiority, dominance, and power of a group and then be willing to accept the ideologies of the dominant community as truth. In so doing, the less dominant group tacitly accepts its own marginalization and accepts these so-called truths--along with all edifying premises--as "tradition," the way things are. Harold Bloom asks the question, "what happens if one tries to write, or to...