A Theory of Failed Community
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Feminist Dialogics examines the structure of four novels (Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, James's The Golden Bowl, Wharton's The House of Mirth and Chopin's The Awakening) through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin's critical framework. The author draws on Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia to show how the interaction of many voices forms the social community of the novel and how the functioning of these voices makes clear statements about the position and fate of women in these specific societies. The novels present dialogic situations in which the women misinterpret their social texts and, therefore, fail to understand their own social power. The four works considered in this study represent the struggle for women's construction of self within a dialogic structure of many competing voices.
Bauer introduces and enters into dialogue with other theorists who are concerned with the social implications of reading and interpretation, including Rene Girard, Wolfgang Iser, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar, as well as other American feminists. The recurring theme in the novels of this study is the exclusion and rivalry of discourse: the competition among characters for authoritative and interpretive power. Each voice in the novel is a thematization of an ideological perspective and, as such, competes for domination. The conspiracy of voices to exclude the female reflects the social reality as well. This work is an important contribution to literary criticism and feminist theory.
Dale M. Bauer is Assistant Professor of English at Miami University.
"The Postscript is excellent—a creative application of Bakhtin's best and richest ideas. " — Caryl Emerson, Cornell University