Writing the heroes learned from the foremothers : oral tradition and mythology in Maria Campbell's Half-breed, Maxine Hong Kingston's The woman warrior & Eavan Boland's Object lessons
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The following study compares and contrasts the ways three women writers craft narrative selves in their autobiographical texts. Each of the women, the Metis author Maria Campbell, the Chinese-American writer Maxine Hong Kingston, and the Irish lyric poet Eavan Boland, calls on oral techniques to write her autobiography. The study examines how each of the women draws on the oral traditions of her mother-culture, subsequently using characters from culturally distinct mythologies to express her own growth as writer. The methodologies that inform this study are a combination of postcolonial theories about identity and language, and closely related feminist theories about power relations between women and colonialism and women and patriarchal power. Structuralist and feminist theories about mythologies, as well as analysis of the psychodynamics of orality have also influenced the analysis undertaken in this thesis. The research conducted provides evidence that each woman writes a narrative self structured on the framework of the heroic, but infused with culturespecific heroic characters and characteristics from the mother-culture's oral traditions. Maria Campbell's Half-Breed shows distinctly oral influences both in its narrative structure and in its characters. For example, by comparing Maria's character to Wesakaychak's character from Nehiyawak Trickster cycles and other Native North American Trickster cycles, the study shows how Campbell's character resembles the character from oral tales. The Trickster, and consequently, Maria, destabilizes boundaries and unsettles domains of knowledge, therefore, questioning colonial and patriarchal discourses and imagery. In Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston likewise battles limiting stereotypes held by both her Chinese-American community and the mainstream community she inhabits. The character Maxine imagines herself as both woman warrior and a warrior poet, characters she hears about from her mother, and in the process of chronicling her own training as a woman warrior, she also chronicles her training as a word warrior. Eavan Boland, in Object Lessons unsettles the conventions surrounding the hero-bard whose shadow falls over Irish lyric poetry. While she is marginalized in different ways than either Campbell or Kingston, she shares their desire to show women as active agents in their own lives. These writers show that foremothers exist in other storytelling traditions, even if the textual record does not reflect the influence that female storytellers have had on it. As the women (re)construct themselves in their autobiographies, they work within and against conventional Western heroics, building characters who enrich and redefine what it means to be heroic.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorCooley, Ronald W.
CommitteeDowne, Pamela J.
women - self narratives
Irish lyric poets
Métis women authors
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