Embodied Shame

Uncovering Female Shame in Contemporary Women's Writings

By J. Brooks Bouson

Subjects: Psychological Approaches To Literature, Women's Studies, Literature, Psychology Of Women
Paperback : 9781438427287, 236 pages, July 2010
Hardcover : 9781438427270, 236 pages, August 2009

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Table of contents

1. Introduction
Part I: Coming of Age, Coming to Shame: The Parental and Cultural Transmission of Sexual, Racial, and Class Shame
2. The Humiliations of the Female Flesh in Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women
3. Family Violence, Incest, and White-Trash Shame in Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina
4. Racial Self-Loathing and the Color Complex in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Marita Golden’s Don’t Play in the Sun
5. Sexual Shame, Family Honor, and the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory
6. Coming of Age in a Culture of Shame in Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities
Part II: Speaking a Kind of Body Language: Shamed Bodies and Spoiled Identities in the Contemporary Culture of Appearances
7. Feeling Fat, Fearing Fat in Jenefer Shute’s Life-Size and Judith Moore’s Fat Girl: A True Story
8. The Culture of Appearances and the Socially Invisible and Unattractive Woman in Anita Brookner’s Look at Me, Doris Lessing’s The Summer before the Dark, and Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
9. Gerontophobia and the Cultural Shaming of the Elderly Woman in May Sarton’s As We Are Now and Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel
10. Writing the Disfi gured and Disabled Body-Self in Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face and Nancy Mairs’s Plaintext, Carnal Acts, and Waist-High in the World
11. In Conclusion
Works Cited

Examines how twentieth-century women writers depict female bodily shame and trauma.


How does physical, emotional, and sexual abuse shape women's perceptions of their bodies and identities? How are women's psyches affected by the sexual, racial, and cultural denigration that occurs when women's bodies are represented as defective, spoiled, damaged, or dirtied? Embodied Shame skillfully explores these questions in the context of recent writings by North American women, contributing to work in shame theory and to feminist analyses of the intersections of theories of the body, affect, emotions, narrative, and trauma. By examining popular contemporary fictional and nonfictional texts, including Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women, Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, and Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, J. Brooks Bouson illuminates how deeply entrenched bodily shame continues to operate in contemporary culture, even as we celebrate the supposed freeing of the female body from the social and cultural constraints that have long bound it.

J. Brooks Bouson is Professor of English at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of Jamaica Kincaid: Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother and Quiet As It's Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison, both also published by SUNY Press.


"Bouson attracts immediate attention with her compelling title. After a tight introduction, the author offers chapters on works worthy of intense critical analysis … Throughout, Bouson provides clear considerations of where and how these works will extend the discourse of shame theory, which is a relatively new area of scholarly work. " — CHOICE