Professor Barry Mauer
5 December 2017
The Negative Effects of Male Dominance and Influence Over Women in Literature
Throughout literary history, male authors have acted as a dominant force over female authors, setting standards for women that allow them to be dominated even further. This subconscious desire to dominate has had adverse effects for women in literature, such as inaccurate representation, literary confinement and anxiety of influence. These effects were closely studied by literary theorists Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their book The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Their criticism argued that, as a result of projecting their own fears and weaknesses onto women, male authors depict female characters as either rebellious, unkempt monsters and madwomen, or pure, lovely and angelic. This notion can be interpreted in numerous fairytales like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty. These archetypes of angel vs. monster also infected the work of women authors, who possessed frustration and rage due to the patriarchal society in which they existed. Not only did male authors project their fears and weaknesses onto women in the form of monsters and madwomen, they also venerated and developed sexual attractions to the idea of pure, innocent female characters, thus relating back to their desire to dominate.
Evidence of Gilbert and Gubar’s theory can be found in a multitude of stories throughout history, one being James Joyce’s Araby. Joyce’s short story focuses on what appears to be a romance between an adolescent narrator and his friend, Mangan’s, sister. When the story is analyzed further, however, what seems like an innocent romance is actually an unnatural obsession on the narrator’s part. He begins to idealize Mangan’s sister as if she is a holy symbol: “Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand (Joyce 27). In these moments of worship, Joyce projects the typical trope of the pure, innocent female character unto Mangan’s sister. She is often described using imagery that parallels that of the Virgin Mary: “I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up the hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease (Joyce 28).” The spike symbolically through her hand, the halo of light illuminating her from behind and her white garments all point to a correlation between the Mother and Mangan’s sister. These images further support Gilbert and Gubar’s theory of the “angel” archetype that has plagued women in literature.
Despite the numerous religious references and scenes of worship, Araby does possess sexual undertones. For instance, while...