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41 Student Essay Example: Feminist Criticism
The following student essay example of femnist criticism is taken from Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition . This is the publication created by students in English 211. This essay discusses Ray Bradbury’s short story ”There Will Come Soft Rains.”
Burning Stereotypes in Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”
By Karley McCarthy
Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” takes place in the fallout of a nuclear war. The author chooses to tell the story though a technologically advanced house and its animatronic inhabitants instead of a traditional protagonist. The house goes about its day-to-day as if no war had struck. It functions as though its deceased family is still residing in its walls, taking care of the maintenance, happiness, and safety of itself and the long dead family. On the surface, Bradbury’s story seems like a clear-cut warning about technology and humanity’s permissiveness. Given that the short story was written in the 1940s, it’s easy to analyze the themes present and how they related to women of the time. Bradbury’s apt precautionary tale can be used as a metaphor for women’s expectations and role in society after World War II and how some women may have dealt with the fallout of their husbands coming back home with psychological trauma.
To experience “There Will Come Soft Rains” from a feminist perspective, readers must be aware of the societal norms that would have shaped Bradbury’s writing. “Soft Rains” takes place in the year 2026. Yet the house and norms found throughout were, “modeled after concept homes that showed society’s expectations of technological advancement” (Mambrol). This can be seen in the stereotypical nuclear family that once inhabited the house as well as their cliché white home and the hobbies present. According to writer Elaine Tyler May’s book Homeward Bound, America’s view of women’s role in society undertook a massive pendulum swing during the World War II era as the country transitioned through pre-war to post-war life. For example, in a matter of decades support for women joining the workforce shifted from 80% in opposition to only 13% (May 59). Despite this shift, the men coming back from the war still expected women to position themselves as the happy housewife they had left behind, not the newfound career woman architype. Prominent figures of the 40s, such as actress Joan Crawford, portrayed a caricature of womanhood that is subservient to patriarchal gender roles, attempting to abandon the modern idea of a self-sufficient working-class woman (May 62-63). Keeping this in mind, how can this image of the 1940s woman be seen in Bradbury’s work?
Throughout Bradbury’s life he worked towards dismantling clichés in his own writing. A biography titled simply “Ray Bradbury” mentions that even in his earlier work, he was always attempting to “escape the constrictions of stereotypes” found in early science fiction (Seed 13). An example of him breaking constrictions could be his use of a nonhuman protagonist. Instead, Bradbury relies on the personification of the house and its robotic counterparts. Bradbury describes the house as having “electric eyes” and emotions such as a, “preoccupation with self-protection which bordered on a mechanical paranoia,” something that would make the house quiver at the sounds of the outside world (2-3). While these descriptions are interesting, Bradbury’s use of personification here is a thought-provoking choice when one breaks down what exactly the house is meant to personify.
One analysis of this story notes that the house’s personification, “replaces the most human aspects of life,” for its inhabitants (Mambrol). Throughout the story, the house acts as a caretaker, records a schedule, cooks, cleans, and even attempts to extinguish an all-consuming fire. While firefighting is not a traditionally feminine career or expectation from the 1940s (more on that later), most of the house’s daily tasks are replacing jobs that were traditionally held by a household’s matriarch. Expanding further on this dichotomy of male/woman tasks, a chore mentioned in the story that is ‘traditionally’ accepted as a masculine household duty—mowing the law—is still assigned as a male task. This is feels intentional to the house’s design as Bradbury is, “a social critic, and his work is pertinent to real problems on earth” (Dominianni 49). Bradbury’s story is not meant to commentate on just an apocalypse, but society at large. Bradbury describes the west face of the house as, “black, save for five places” (Bradbury 1-2). These “five places” are the silhouettes of the family who had been incinerated by a nuclear bomb. The family’s two children are included playing with a ball, but the mother and father’s descriptions are most important. The mother is seen in a passive role, picking flowers, while the father mows the lawn. The subtext here is that the man is not replaceable in his mundane and tedious task. Only the woman is replaced. While this is a small flash into the owners’ lives, what “human aspect” or autonomy of the father’s life has been replaced by the house’s actions if the house is mainly personifying only the traditional 1940s female-held positions? The message here is that a man’s position in society is irreplaceable while a woman’s is one of mere support.
While this dynamic of husband vs subordinate is harmful, wives supporting their partners is nothing new. Homeward Bound explains that life after World War II for many women meant a return to their previous position as a housewife while many men came home irreparably damaged by years of warfare. PTSD, known then as shellshock, affected countless men returning from the war. Women were often expected to mend the psychological damage as part of their domestic responsibilities, even if they were unprepared for the realities of the severe trauma their husbands had faced (May 64-65). The psychological effects of the war came crashing into women’s lives the same way that the tree fell into the autonomous house in “Soft Rains”. As mentioned earlier, firefighting is not a task someone from the 40s would expect of women, but the house’s combustion and its scramble to save itself can be seen as a metaphor for women attempting to reverse the cold reality that the war had left them with. The picturesque family they had dreamed of would forever be scarred by the casualties that took place overseas. While Bradbury may not have meant for women to be invoked specifically from this precautionary tale, it’s obvious that him wanting his science fiction to act as, “a cumulative early warning system against unforeseen consequences,” would have impacted women of the time as much as men (Seed 22). The unforeseen consequences here is the trauma the war inflicted on families.
While men were fighting on the front lines, women back home and in noncombat positions would still feel the war’s ripples. In “Soft Rains” the nuclear tragedy had left, “a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles” (Bradbury 1). Despite the destruction, the house continues its routine as though nothing had happened. This can be seen as a metaphor for how women responded to the trauma their husbands brought back from the war. Women were urged to, “preserve for him the essence of the girl he fell in love with, the girl he longs to come back to. . .The least we can do as women is to try to live up to some of those expectations” (May 64). Following this, many could have put their desires and personal growth to the side to act as a secondary character in their husband’s lives.
The final line can be read as the culmination of similarities between post-war women and Bradbury’s house. The violence and destruction that fell upon the house in its final moments leaves little standing. What’s remarkable is how the house still attempts to continue despite its destruction. The final lines of the short story exemplify this: “Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam: ‘Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…’” (Bradbury 5). The house is acting just like the women from the 40s, clinging to their past in an attempt to preserve something that had already been lost, society’s innocence. One analysis points out that, “The house is depicted in this way because it represents both humanity and humanity’s failure to save itself” (Mambrol). While it might be wrong to say that women were unable to save themselves in this situation, this quote does touch on an idea present in the feminist metaphor for “Soft Rains”. The preservation of “the essence of the girl he fell in love with, the girl he longs to come back to” was a failure (May 64). The same way that the house cannot preserve itself from destruction, women cannot preserve an image of themselves that had already dissolved. As mentioned earlier, women had already entered the workforce, a huge step towards removing sexist stereotypes around women’s worth. After garnering work-based independence, it seems impossible that the idea of women solely as men’s support would not immolate.
While Bradbury’s “Soft Rains” can be viewed as an apt precautionary tale with real modern world issues at hand, in many ways it is a period piece. As a writer in the 1940s, it’s hard to imagine that Bradbury’s story would not have been influenced by the framework of a nuclear family and the stereotypical expectations of this time. Bradbury’s use of personification opens dialogue about gender roles in the 1940s and how war had complicated patriarchal expectations. Despite his attempt to bypass science fiction stereotypes, his story is full of metaphor for gender stereotypes. Using a feminist lens to analyze the story allows it to be read as a metaphor for war and its effects on married women. The standard analysis appears to say that, “machine no longer served humanity in “There Will Come Soft Rains”; there humanity is subservient to machinery” (Dominianni 49). From a feminist perspective, instead of machine, the house represents patriarchy and gender norms. While men suffered greatly during World War II, women often put their wants and futures on hold to support their husbands. This is a selfless act that shows the resilience of women despite their society’s wish to downplay their potential and turn them into mere support.
Bradbury, Ray. “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains.” Broome-Tioga BOCES, 1950, pp. 1-5. btboces.org/Downloads/7_There%20Will%20Come%20Soft%20Rains%20by%20Ray%20Bradbury.pdf.
Dominianni, Robert. “Ray Bradbury’s 2026: A Year with Current Value.” The English Journal , vol. 73, no. 7, 1984, pp. 49–51. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/817806
Mambrol, Nasrullah. “Analysis of Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains.” Literary Theory and Criticism , 17 Jan. 2022.
May, Elaine Tyler. “War and Peace: Fanning the Home Fires.” Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. 20th ed., Basic Books, 2008, pp. 58-88.
Seed, David. “Out of the Science Fiction Ghetto.” Ray Bradbury (Modern Masters of Science Fiction). University of Illinois, 2015, pp. 1-45.
Critical Worlds Copyright © 2024 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Feminist approaches to literature.
This essay offers a very basic introduction to feminist literary theory, and a compendium of Great Writers Inspire resources that can be approached from a feminist perspective. It provides suggestions for how material on the Great Writers Inspire site can be used as a starting point for exploration of or classroom discussion about feminist approaches to literature. Questions for reflection or discussion are highlighted in the text. Links in the text point to resources in the Great Writers Inspire site. The resources can also be found via the ' Feminist Approaches to Literature' start page . Further material can be found via our library and via the various authors and theme pages.
The Traditions of Feminist Criticism
According to Yale Professor Paul Fry in his lecture The Classical Feminist Tradition from 25:07, there have been several prominent schools of thought in modern feminist literary criticism:
- First Wave Feminism: Men's Treatment of Women In this early stage of feminist criticism, critics consider male novelists' demeaning treatment or marginalisation of female characters. First wave feminist criticism includes books like Marry Ellman's Thinking About Women (1968) Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969), and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch (1970). An example of first wave feminist literary analysis would be a critique of William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew for Petruchio's abuse of Katherina.
- The 'Feminine' Phase - in the feminine phase, female writers tried to adhere to male values, writing as men, and usually did not enter into debate regarding women's place in society. Female writers often employed male pseudonyms during this period.
- The 'Feminist' Phase - in the feminist phase, the central theme of works by female writers was the criticism of the role of women in society and the oppression of women.
- The 'Female' Phase - during the 'female' phase, women writers were no longer trying to prove the legitimacy of a woman's perspective. Rather, it was assumed that the works of a women writer were authentic and valid. The female phase lacked the anger and combative consciousness of the feminist phase.
Do you agree with Showalter's 'phases'? How does your favourite female writer fit into these phases?
Read Jane Eyre with the madwoman thesis in mind. Are there connections between Jane's subversive thoughts and Bertha's appearances in the text? How does it change your view of the novel to consider Bertha as an alter ego for Jane, unencumbered by societal norms? Look closely at Rochester's explanation of the early symptoms of Bertha's madness. How do they differ from his licentious behaviour?
How does Jane Austen fit into French Feminism? She uses very concise language, yet speaks from a woman's perspective with confidence. Can she be placed in Showalter's phases of women's writing?
Dr. Simon Swift of the University of Leeds gives a podcast titled 'How Words, Form, and Structure Create Meaning: Women and Writing' that uses the works of Virginia Woolf and Silvia Plath to analyse the form and structural aspects of texts to ask whether or not women writers have a voice inherently different from that of men (podcast part 1 and part 2 ).
In Professor Deborah Cameron's podcast English and Gender , Cameron discusses the differences and similarities in use of the English language between men and women.
In another of Professor Paul Fry's podcasts, Queer Theory and Gender Performativity , Fry discusses sexuality, the nature of performing gender (14:53), and gendered reading (46:20).
How do more modern A-level set texts, like those of Margaret Atwood, Zora Neale Hurston, or Maya Angelou, fit into any of these traditions of criticism?
Depictions of Women by Men
Students could begin approaching Great Writers Inspire by considering the range of women depicted in early English literature: from Chaucer's bawdy 'Wife of Bath' in The Canterbury Tales to Spenser's interminably pure Una in The Faerie Queene .
How might the reign of Queen Elizabeth I have dictated the way Elizabethan writers were permitted to present women? How did each male poet handle the challenge of depicting women?
By 1610 Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker's The Roaring Girl presented at The Fortune a play based on the life of Mary Firth. The heroine was a man playing a woman dressed as a man. In Dr. Emma Smith's podcast on The Roaring Girl , Smith breaks down both the gender issues of the play and of the real life accusations against Mary Frith.
In Dr. Emma Smith's podcast on John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi , a frequent A-level set text, Smith discusses Webster's treatment of female autonomy. Placing Middleton or Webster's female characters against those of Shakespeare could be brought to bear on A-level Paper 4 on Drama or Paper 5 on Shakespeare and other pre-20th Century Texts.
Smith's podcast on The Comedy of Errors from 11:21 alludes to the valuation of Elizabethan comedy as a commentary on gender and sexuality, and how The Comedy of Errors at first seems to defy this tradition.
What are the differences between depictions of women written by male and female novelists?
Students can compare the works of Charlotte and Emily Brontë or Jane Austen with, for example, Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles or D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover or Women in Love .
How do Lawrence's sexually charged novels compare with what Emma Smith said about Webster's treatment of women's sexuality in The Duchess of Malfi ?
Dr. Abigail Williams' podcast on Jonathan Swift's The Lady's Dressing-Room discusses the ways in which Swift uses and complicates contemporary stereotypes about the vanity of women.
Rise of the Woman Writer
With the movement from Renaissance to Restoration theatre, the depiction of women on stage changed dramatically, in no small part because women could portray women for the first time. Dr. Abigail Williams' adapted lecture, Behn and the Restoration Theatre , discusses Behn's use and abuse of the woman on stage.
What were the feminist advantages and disadvantages to women's introduction to the stage?
The essay Who is Aphra Behn? addresses the transformation of Behn into a feminist icon by later writers, especially Bloomsbury Group member Virginia Woolf in her novella/essay A Room of One's Own .
How might Woolf's description and analysis of Behn indicate her own feminist agenda?
Behn created an obstacle for later women writers in that her scandalous life did little to undermine the perception that women writing for money were little better than whores.
In what position did that place chaste female novelists like Frances Burney or Jane Austen ?
To what extent was the perception of women and the literary vogue for female heroines impacted by Samuel Richardson's Pamela ? Students could examine a passage from Pamela and evaluate Richardson's success and failures, and look for his influence in novels with which they are more familiar, like those of Austen or the Brontë sisters.
In Dr. Catherine's Brown's podcast on Eliot's Reception History , Dr. Brown discusses feminist criticism of Eliot's novels. In the podcast Genre and Justice , she discusses Eliot's use of women as scapegoats to illustrate the injustice of the distribution of happiness in Victorian England.
Professor Sir Richard Evans' Gresham College lecture The Victorians: Gender and Sexuality can provide crucial background for any study of women in Victorian literature.
Women Writers and Class
Can women's financial and social plights be separated? How do Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë bring to bear financial concerns regarding literature depicting women in the 18th and 19th century?
How did class barriers affect the work of 18th century kitchen maid and poet Mary Leapor ?
Listen to the podcast by Yale's Professor Paul Fry titled "The Classical Feminist Tradition" . At 9:20, Fry questions whether or not any novel can be evaluated without consideration of financial and class concerns, and to what extent Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own suggests a female novelist can only create successful work if she is of independent means.
What are the different problems faced by a wealthy character like Austen's Emma , as opposed to a poor character like Brontë's Jane Eyre ?
Also see sections on the following writers:
- Jane Austen
- Charlotte Brontë
- George Eliot
- Thomas Hardy
- D.H. Lawrence
- Mary Leapor
- Thomas Middleton
- Katherine Mansfield
- Olive Schreiner
- William Shakespeare
- John Webster
- Virginina Woolf
If reusing this resource please attribute as follows: Feminist Approaches to Literature at http://writersinspire.org/content/feminist-approaches-literature by Kate O'Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK).
Literary Theory and Criticism
Home › Feminism: An Essay
Feminism: An Essay
By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on April 27, 2016 • ( 6 )
Feminism as a movement gained potential in the twentieth century, marking the culmination of two centuries’ struggle for cultural roles and socio-political rights — a struggle which first found its expression in Mary Wollstonecraft ‘s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). The movement gained increasing prominence across three phases/waves — the first wave (political), the second wave (cultural) and the third wave (academic). Incidentally Toril Moi also classifies the feminist movement into three phases — the female (biological), the feminist (political) and the feminine (cultural).
The first wave of feminism, in the 19th and 20th centuries, began in the US and the UK as a struggle for equality and property rights for women, by suffrage groups and activist organisations. These feminists fought against chattel marriages and for polit ical and economic equality. An important text of the first wave is Virginia Woolf ‘s A Room of One’s Own (1929), which asserted the importance of woman’s independence, and through the character Judith (Shakespeare’s fictional sister), explicated how the patriarchal society prevented women from realising their creative potential. Woolf also inaugurated the debate of language being gendered — an issue which was later dealt by Dale Spender who wrote Man Made Language (1981), Helene Cixous , who introduced ecriture feminine (in The Laugh of the Medusa ) and Julia Kristeva , who distinguished between the symbolic and the semiotic language.
The second wave of feminism in the 1960s and ’70s, was characterized by a critique of patriarchy in constructing the cultural identity of woman. Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949) famously stated, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” – a statement that highlights the fact that women have always been defined as the “Other”, the lacking, the negative, on whom Freud attributed “ penis-envy .” A prominent motto of this phase, “The Personal is the political” was the result of the awareness .of the false distinction between women’s domestic and men’s public spheres. Transcending their domestic and personal spaces, women began to venture into the hitherto male dominated terrains of career and public life. Marking its entry into the academic realm, the presence of feminism was reflected in journals, publishing houses and academic disciplines.
Mary Ellmann ‘s Thinking about Women (1968), Kate Millett ‘s Sexual Politics (1969), Betty Friedan ‘s The Feminine Mystique (1963) and so on mark the major works of the phase. Millett’s work specifically depicts how western social institutions work as covert ways of manipulating power, and how this permeates into literature, philosophy etc. She undertakes a thorough critical understanding of the portrayal of women in the works of male authors like DH Lawrence, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and Jean Genet.
In the third wave (post 1980), Feminism has been actively involved in academics with its interdisciplinary associations with Marxism , Psychoanalysis and Poststructuralism , dealing with issues such as language, writing, sexuality, representation etc. It also has associations with alternate sexualities, postcolonialism ( Linda Hutcheon and Spivak ) and Ecological Studies ( Vandana Shiva )
Elaine Showalter , in her “ Towards a Feminist Poetics ” introduces the concept of gynocriticism , a criticism of gynotexts, by women who are not passive consumers but active producers of meaning. The gynocritics construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, and focus on female subjectivity, language and literary career. Patricia Spacks ‘ The Female Imagination , Showalter’s A Literature of their Own , Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar ‘s The Mad Woman in the Attic are major gynocritical texts.
The present day feminism in its diverse and various forms, such as liberal feminism, cultural/ radical feminism, black feminism/womanism, materialist/neo-marxist feminism, continues its struggle for a better world for women. Beyond literature and literary theory, Feminism also found radical expression in arts, painting ( Kiki Smith , Barbara Kruger ), architecture( Sophia Hayden the architect of Woman’s Building ) and sculpture (Kate Mllett’s Naked Lady).
Tags: A Literature of their Own , A Room of One's Own , Barbara Kruger , Betty Friedan , Dale Spender , ecriture feminine , Elaine Showalter , Feminism , Gynocriticism , Helene Cixous , http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Kate+Millett&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0 , Judith Shakespeare , Julia Kristeva , Kate Millett , Kiki Smith , Literary Criticism , Literary Theory , Man Made Language , Mary Ellmann , Mary Wollstonecraft , Patricia Spacks , Sandra Gilbert , Simone de Beauvoir , Sophia Hayden , Susan Gubar , The Female Imagination , The Feminine Mystique , The Laugh of the Medusa , The Mad Woman in the Attic , The Second Sex , Toril Moi , Towards a Feminist Poetics , Vandana Shiva , Vindication of the Rights of Woman
- Mary Wollstonecraft’s Contribution to Feminism – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
- Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
- The Influence of Poststructuralism on Feminism – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
- Sigmund Freud and the Trauma Theory – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
- Gender and Transgender Criticism – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
- Second Wave Feminism – Literary Theory and Criticism Notes
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Feminist Literary Criticism Essay Examples and Topics
Feminist literary criticism of rip van winkle.
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"A Doll’s House" - a Play by Henrik Ibsen
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Feminist Discourse: Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem Personalities
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Methods of Feminist Literary Criticism
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A Feminist and Psychoanalytical Analysis of ‘king Lear’
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Feminist Literary Analysis of Euripides’s Medea
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23 Texts to Introduce Feminist Criticism in High School ELA
- Reading Instruction
When I introduce literary criticism to my students, feminist criticism is one of the first lenses we use.
In part, we encounter feminist criticism early on because students know the word “feminist” or “feminism” without always know what those terms mean. Unfortunately, some of my students often have negative attitudes toward “feminist” and “feminism.” Introducing feminist criticism helps students unpack those terms and better understand what it means to be a feminist.
Additionally, at the high school level, feminist criticism is fairly straightforward. When applying feminist criticism, we are basically looking at how a text treats its womxn characters. In other words, we’re asking the same three questions over and over:
- First, how does the text treat womxn characters?
- Similarly, what does the treatment of womxn characters reveal about the text, its author, or its historical context?
- Finally, does the treatment of womxn characters support or undermine the author’s purpose for writing? Why or why not?
Keep reading to check out 23 texts that help students answer these questions!
Using Mythology to Introduce Feminist Criticism
Anytime I introduce a new critical lens , I like to start with a familiar text. Since literary criticism requires students to evaluate a text from a new angle, it’s helpful to begin with a low-stress text.
By the time students come to me, they have usually read The Odyssey , so that’s oftentimes a good place for us to begin applying literary criticism.
Firstly, I often begin with “Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood. For one, students usually remember Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens. (Even if they don’t, we can quickly re-read the scene here .) As we’re reading or recalling this scene, we can discuss how many of the womxn characters in The Odyssey are vilified, including Circe and Calypso . Then, to take our feminist criticism further, we can read “Siren Song” and evaluate how Atwood’s version of events is different from Homer’s original. To extend this lesson, teachers can do the same thing with the song “Calypso” by Suzanne Vega.
Penelope As a Focal Point for Feminist Criticism
Similarly, there are a variety of poems that reimagine Penelope’s role in The Odyssey . While students may not always remember Penelope, we can quickly remember her by reading Penelope , Penelope’s Suitors , and Penelope’s Test . Once students are more familiar with Penelope’s story, we can use feminist criticism to evaluate the source. Then, we can dive into some more modern reinterpretations of Penelope’s story.
- First, “Penelope” by Dorothy Parker is a short glimpse into Penelope’s days. This is a great place to begin applying literary criticism, especially since the poem’s first person provides key contrast to the original text. Read it here .
- Similarly, “Penelope to Ulysses” by Meredith Schwartz also uses the first person. The epistolary nature of this poem adds another layer of complexity. (Plus, teachers can build on this poem by having students write their own letters to Ulysses.) Read it here .
- Finally, “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay is my favorite of these three poems because it modernizes Penelope’s struggle. Rather than focusing on Penelope, this poem focuses on how her story continues to be re-lived by other womxn today. This poem provides a good opportunity to connect the text to modern times. Read it here .
Grab all three of my resources for teaching these poems in The Odyssey Synthesis Bundle !
Helen as a Focal Point for Feminist Criticism
Like Penelope, Helen is a well-known figure in mythology. Unlike Penelope, fewer of my students are familiar with Helen, so using her as a focal point for feminist criticism is a way to begin leveling up.
- Firstly, “Helen of Troy” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox has a clear sonnet structure that students understand. For this reason, students can spend more time focused on a feminist reading of the poem. Read it here .
- Additionally, “Helen” by Nikita Gill is a student favorite! My students are often familiar with Gill’s work from social media, and her book Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters is always checked out from the classroom library. The question at the end of this poem makes it a great candidate for feminist criticism!
- Finally, “Helen” by H.D. is the most challenging of these texts because it is the most ambiguous . Once students have a grip on the poem, they can turn readily to feminist criticism, but they have to nail the poem’s meaning first. Read it here .
Teaching resources and lesson plans for all three of these poems are included in my 11-12 Synthesizing Allusion Across Media Bundle , which helps students synthesize across media by focusing on one central allusion.
Poetry to Teach Feminist Criticism
Beyond mythology, poetry is a good way to introduce feminist criticism. The brevity of poetry makes it an ideal medium for applying new skills and concepts. Here are some of my favorite poems for using feminist criticism:
Firstly, “The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica” by Judith Ortiz Cofer is a good poem to begin with. While this is a longer poem, the language is fairly straightforward, so students can spend less time paraphrasing and more time applying feminist criticism. Read it here .
Secondly, “What I Carried” by Maggie Smith is another great poem for introducing feminist criticism. In this shorter poem, students have to grapple with feminist criticism in the context of motherhood. Another great Smith poem is “You Could Never Take a Car to Greenland.” Read them both in Good Bones , one of my favorite poetry collections.
Similarly, the one word in “One-Word Poem” by David R. Slavitt pairs nicely with either of Maggie Smith’s poems. This offers readers another perspective on motherhood, which is complicated by Slavitt writing the poem without every being a mother. Read it here .
As students become more comfortable with feminist criticism, they’re ready for more challenging poems. To my mind, that means poetry that’s complicated by sarcasm, understatement, and irony. Two great poems for this next level are “I Sit and Sew” by Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson and “I, being born a woman and distressed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The first time we read these poems, my students almost always giggle a little. In other words, these are engaging poems for students.
Grab four of these poems in the Feminist Criticism Bundle !
Short Stories for Teaching Feminist Criticism
As students continue to develop their skills with feminist criticism, we move on to longer works. Short stories are great tools for literary criticism because they often lend themselves to more than one critical lens. Check out some of my favorite short stories for feminist criticism:
- Firstly, “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett is an English classroom staple. When my students are newer to literary criticism, I often choose this text because the plot is fairly simple, but the text lends itself to several critical lenses, including Marxist and feminist criticism. Read it here .
- Similarly, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a popular text for American literature. Since this text is a little longer and more complex than “A White Heron,” it’s a great level up for students. When teachers couple this short story with the essay “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wall-paper’?” , students have the chance to practice biographical and feminist criticism. Read the short story here .
- In contrast to the sympathetic protagonists in Jewett and Perkins Gilman’s work, the protagonist of “Editha” by William Dean Howells is not sympathetic. As such, this short story provides a greater challenge to students as they read and annotate. Additionally, this is the first short story recommendation that doesn’t come from a womxn author, which will complicate students’ classroom conversation. Read it here .
Increased Complexity for Criticism
- Additionally, the protagonist in “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is sympathetic while the speaker is not. While this story is short, its structure is more complex. Like “What I Carried,” this story also introduces the relationship between mother and daughter. Overall, this text requires a nuanced approach to feminist criticism. Read it here .
- Next, “Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe is named after the woman character, but she’s not the speaker nor is she given much agency. As with Howells’ story, the feminist criticism here is complicated by Poe’s writing. Furthermore, the horrifying nature of this text makes it a hard read in some ways. Check it out here .
- Finally, my favorite short story on this list is “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Freeman. This is such a great read for several types of literary criticism, including Marxist, deconstructionist , and feminist criticism. Overall, the end of this short story makes it a must-read. Check it out here .
To help you bring all of these short stories into your classroom, I’ve put together a 9-12 Short Stories bundle that will save you time and money!
Longer Works for Teaching Feminist Criticism
As students become more adept at literary criticism, they can begin evaluating longer and more complex works.
Oftentimes when teachers think of longer works, we think of novels. While I do have some novel recommendations, dramas are also an amazing tool for literary criticism. Because drama is performed, it really lends itself to the kind of dialogue in which literary criticism thrives. Check out these three dramas for incorporating feminist criticism:
- Firstly, many English teachers first think of Lady Macbeth when considering womxn in drama. Indeed, Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a great opportunity for feminist criticism.
- Similarly, Julius Caesar is another Shakespearean drama ripe for literary criticism! The fact that there are so few womxn characters in this text provides students with a great sense of focus.
- If Shakespeare is not the dramatist for you, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a good play for applying literary criticism. The treatment of Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams makes for strong discussion.
Beyond classroom dramas, novels are always a good place to apply literary criticism. In this case, my two recommendations are diametrically different.
- Firstly, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald features womxn characters who are not empowered. When the womxn characters in the text do have agency, it’s always coupled with wealth and privilege. Reading this novel alongside Fitzgerald’s short story “Winter Dreams” also provides a rich conversation about how Fitzgerald treats womxn characters.
- On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen features womxn characters with varied levels of privilege and agency. The diverse motivations of the womxn characters also factors into classroom conversations about feminist criticism.
Since literary criticism is one of my passions, I’ve written quite a bit about it. Check out these related posts and resources:
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Feminist Literary Criticism
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Feminist literary criticism (also known as feminist criticism) is the literary analysis that arises from the viewpoint of feminism , feminist theory , and/or feminist politics.
A feminist literary critic resists traditional assumptions while reading a text. In addition to challenging assumptions which were thought to be universal, feminist literary criticism actively supports including women's knowledge in literature and valuing women's experiences. The basic methods of feminist literary criticism include:
- Identifying with female characters: By examining the way female characters are defined, critics challenge the male-centered outlook of authors. Feminist literary criticism suggests that women in literature have been historically presented as objects seen from a male perspective.
- Reevaluating literature and the world in which literature is read: By revisiting the classic literature, the critic can question whether society has predominantly valued male authors and their literary works because it has valued males more than females.
Embodying or Undercutting Stereotypes
Feminist literary criticism recognizes that literature both reflects and shapes stereotypes and other cultural assumptions. Thus, feminist literary criticism examines how works of literature embody patriarchal attitudes or undercut them, sometimes both happening within the same work.
Feminist theory and various forms of feminist critique began long before the formal naming of the school of literary criticism. In so-called first-wave feminism, the "Woman's Bible," written in the late 19th century by Elizabeth Cady Stanton , is an example of a work of criticism firmly in this school, looking beyond the more obvious male-centered outlook and interpretation.
During the period of second-wave feminism, academic circles increasingly challenged the male literary canon. Feminist literary criticism has since intertwined with postmodernism and increasingly complex questions of gender and societal roles.
Tools of the Feminist Literary Critic
Feminist literary criticism may bring in tools from other critical disciplines, such as historical analysis, psychology, linguistics, sociological analysis, and economic analysis. Feminist criticism may also look at intersectionality , looking at how factors including race, sexuality, physical ability, and class are also involved.
Feminist literary criticism may use any of the following methods:
- Deconstructing the way that women characters are described in novels, stories, plays, biographies, and histories, especially if the author is male
- Deconstructing how one's own gender influences how one reads and interprets a text, and which characters and how the reader identifies depending on the reader's gender
- Deconstructing how women autobiographers and biographers of women treat their subjects, and how biographers treat women who are secondary to the main subject
- Describing relationships between the literary text and ideas about power and sexuality and gender
- Critique of patriarchal or woman-marginalizing language, such as a "universal" use of the masculine pronouns "he" and "him"
- Noticing and unpacking differences in how men and women write: a style, for instance, where women use more reflexive language and men use more direct language (example: "she let herself in" versus "he opened the door")
- Reclaiming women writers who are little known or have been marginalized or undervalued, sometimes referred to as expanding or criticizing the canon—the usual list of "important" authors and works (Examples include raising up the contributions of early playwright Aphra Behn and showing how she was treated differently than male writers from her own time forward, and the retrieval of Zora Neale Hurston 's writing by Alice Walker .)
- Reclaiming the "female voice" as a valuable contribution to literature, even if formerly marginalized or ignored
- Analyzing multiple works in a genre as an overview of a feminist approach to that genre: for example, science fiction or detective fiction
- Analyzing multiple works by a single author (often female)
- Examining how relationships between men and women and those assuming male and female roles are depicted in the text, including power relations
- Examining the text to find ways in which patriarchy is resisted or could have been resisted
Feminist literary criticism is distinguished from gynocriticism because feminist literary criticism may also analyze and deconstruct literary works of men.
Gynocriticism, or gynocritics, refers to the literary study of women as writers. It is a critical practice exploring and recording female creativity. Gynocriticism attempts to understand women’s writing as a fundamental part of female reality. Some critics now use “gynocriticism” to refer to the practice and “gynocritics” to refer to the practitioners.
American literary critic Elaine Showalter coined the term "gynocritics" in her 1979 essay “Towards a Feminist Poetics.” Unlike feminist literary criticism, which might analyze works by male authors from a feminist perspective, gynocriticism wanted to establish a literary tradition of women without incorporating male authors. Showalter felt that feminist criticism still worked within male assumptions, while gynocriticism would begin a new phase of women’s self-discovery.
Resources and Further Reading
- Alcott, Louisa May. The Feminist Alcott: Stories of a Woman's Power . Edited by Madeleine B. Stern, Northeastern University, 1996.
- Barr, Marleen S. Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond . University of North Carolina, 1993.
- Bolin, Alice. Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession . William Morrow, 2018.
- Burke, Sally. American Feminist Playwrights: A Critical History . Twayne, 1996.
- Carlin, Deborah. Cather, Canon, and the Politics of Reading . University of Massachusetts, 1992.
- Castillo, Debra A. Talking Back: Toward a Latin American Feminist Literary Criticism . Cornell University, 1992.
- Chocano, Carina. You Play the Girl . Mariner, 2017.
- Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar, editors. Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism: A Norton Reader . Norton, 2007.
- Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar, editors. Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets . Indiana University, 1993.
- Lauret, Maria. Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in America . Routledge, 1994.
- Lavigne, Carlen. Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study . McFarland, 2013.
- Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches . Penguin, 2020.
- Perreault, Jeanne. Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography . University of Minnesota, 1995.
- Plain, Gill, and Susan Sellers, editors. A History of Feminist Literary Criticism . Cambridge University, 2012.
- Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson, editors. De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women's Autobiography . University of Minnesota, 1992.
This article was edited and with significant additions by Jone Johnson Lewis
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Feminist literary criticism - Free Essay Samples And Topic Ideas
Feminist literary criticism is an approach to literature that seeks to explore and challenge the representation of gender and gendered relations in literary works. Essays on feminist literary criticism might delve into analyses of gender representation in specific texts, the history and evolution of feminist literary theory, or the impact of feminist criticism on literary studies and wider cultural discourses. They might also explore intersectional approaches within feminist literary criticism that consider race, class, sexuality, and other axes of identity. A substantial compilation of free essay instances related to Feminist Literary Criticism you can find in Papersowl database. You can use our samples for inspiration to write your own essay, research paper, or just to explore a new topic for yourself.
Feminist Criticism on Chopin’s the Story of an Hour
Kate Chopin was a daring woman, who took her writing to a new level. Breaking many conventional social behaviors, she wrote openly about women’s emotions towards their relationships with men, children and sexuality. Kate has written several different pieces expressing her opinion. However, in one of her narratives, The Story of An Hour, she projects her feminist beliefs on marriage and the emotions it entails through the main character, Mrs. Mallard. In the beginning of the story, Mrs. Mallard […]
How Alice Walker Created Womanism
The Color Purple is a novel that traces the suffering of black women from gender, racial domination in patriarchy society. This novel demonstrates the universally prevalent multiple injustices towards women: sexual violence and violation, sexism, political, economic and social domination. Male keeps women oppressed denying equal power. So, females have been prevented from enjoying their basic rights and are totally excluded from the social, political and economic life. The present study attempts to investigate how the color purple of Alice […]
Memory and Past – the Giver
"Lois Lowry’s novel entitled The Giver, takes place against the background of very different times in which it alters from past, present, and future. Nonetheless, it speaks to the concern: the vital need of people to be aware of their interdependence, not only with each other but with the world and its environment where everything is the same – there is no music, no color, no pain. In the eye of a Marxist, The Giver explains the essential and true […]
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Feminism in the Scarlet Letter and Goblin Market: Exploring Female Sexuality
Contextual Background of Desire in 19th-Century Literature Both The Scarlett Letter (1850), a gothic romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Goblin Market (1862), a narrative poem by Christina Rossetti, explore the ideas of female desire and sexuality, which would have been a very controversial topic in the mid-19th century due to the religious nature of society at the time. Similarly, both texts feature the dangers of unbridled sexuality and desire through the temptation and consequence the female protagonists face in the […]
How to Write an Essay About Feminist Literary Criticism
Understanding feminist literary criticism.
Before writing an essay about feminist literary criticism, it’s essential to understand what this critical approach entails. Feminist literary criticism analyzes literature and literary criticism based on the feminist theory, focusing on how literature reflects or distorts the experiences, status, and roles of women. This approach also explores how literary works contribute to or challenge gender inequalities. Begin your essay by defining feminist literary criticism and its historical development. Discuss the variety of forms it has taken over time, from exploring women’s writing as a separate literary tradition to examining gender politics and representation in literature. Understanding the key theorists in the field, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Elaine Showalter, can provide a solid foundation for your analysis.
Developing a Thesis Statement
A strong essay on feminist literary criticism should be centered around a clear, concise thesis statement. This statement should present a specific viewpoint or argument about feminist literary criticism. For instance, you might examine the role of feminist literary criticism in reshaping the literary canon, analyze how it has changed the interpretation of a particular text, or argue for its relevance in contemporary literary studies. Your thesis will guide the direction of your essay and provide a structured approach to your analysis.
Gathering Textual Evidence
To support your thesis, gather evidence from a range of sources, including feminist literary texts, critical essays, and theoretical works. This might include specific examples of feminist critiques of literary works, discussions of the portrayal of female characters in literature, or analyses of gender dynamics in different literary genres. Use this evidence to support your thesis and build a persuasive argument. Be sure to consider different feminist perspectives and methodologies in your analysis.
Analyzing Key Themes in Feminist Literary Criticism
Dedicate a section of your essay to analyzing key themes and concepts in feminist literary criticism. Discuss issues such as the representation of women in literature, the intersection of gender with other identities like race and class, and the role of language in perpetuating gender stereotypes. Explore how feminist critics have challenged traditional literary criticism and offered new insights and interpretations of texts.
Concluding the Essay
Conclude your essay by summarizing the main points of your discussion and restating your thesis in light of the evidence provided. Your conclusion should tie together your analysis and emphasize the significance of feminist literary criticism in understanding literature and its social implications. You might also want to suggest areas for future research or discuss the potential impact of feminist literary criticism on literary studies and broader cultural discourses.
Reviewing and Refining Your Essay
After completing your essay, review and refine it for clarity and coherence. Ensure that your arguments are well-structured and supported by evidence. Check for grammatical accuracy and ensure that your essay flows logically from one point to the next. Consider seeking feedback from peers, educators, or experts in feminist literary criticism to further improve your essay. A well-written essay on feminist literary criticism will not only demonstrate your understanding of the approach but also your ability to engage critically with literary theory and analysis.
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Feminist Criticism in “The Story of an Hour” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” Essay
Introduction, the story of an hour by kate chopin, the yellow wallpaper by charlotte perkins gilman.
Feminist criticism is the way through which literature has been used to reinforce or undermine the role played by women in the society. This includes the role of women in social, political and economical activities of the society. In most societies of the world, women and the role that they play in the society has always been undermined. Their contribution and impacts on the societies have always been neglected and as such, women have not been viewed as important figures of the society.
As a result, their rights, opinions, choice and ideologies have always not been taken seriously. Due to this, women have started to use literature as a means of expressing their grievances, desires and needs. Through it, they have been able to state clearly their role and importance in the society. The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman are examples of stories that have been used to show feminist criticism. These stories are discussed in this paper.
The Story of an Hour was written by Kate Chopin in 1894. The protagonist in this story is a woman called Mrs. Louise Mallard who has a heart problem. On learning the news about her husband`s death, her sister Josephine and her husband`s friend Richard are having a hard time in coming up with a way which they will break down the sad news to Mrs. Mallard. This is because she has a heart problem hence if the message is not passed in the best way possible, severe consequences might follow.
Both her sister and her husband`s friend are worried since they do not know the best means to pass this message to her because of her health condition. This is because it is not easy for anyone to hear and accept the news of the death of someone they loved, especially a spouse one has spent many years living together. That is why her sister, while breaking the news down to her, used broken sentences and veiled hints that revealed the theme of the message but not its real content.
We are told that, “It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (Berkove 153). Richard also had to be sure that the message about the death of his friend was true before telling it to the wife. That is why after receiving the news of his death, he had to assure himself by another telegram. Josephine and Richard at this point see Mrs. Ballard as weak both physically and emotionally thus taking this news is going to be very difficult for her.
On receiving the news, Mrs. Ballard broke down into tears immediately and went to her room to have some time alone. While in the room, she discovered that she was not sad but instead she felt as if she was free from her misery and will now be able to live the rest of her life for herself and herself alone.
In the story we are told that, “She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her… She said it over and over under her breath: free, free, free!” (Berkove 154). Instead of being sad, she felt relieved and free unlike what Josephine and her sister thought. This is because she is the only one who knew the suffering she was undergoing in that marriage and that she did not always love her husband.
In this story, the protagonist, who is not named, her husband, her sister-in-law and child have moved to a summer house where she is expected to recover from a health condition that she is suffering from. Her physician had diagnosed her with post-partum depression that made her nervous all the time.
They moved into this house so that she could get solitude, peace and calmness as a remedy to her sickness. She was also not supposed to work or do anything that would affect her emotions. Although she was not for the idea, her complains were never taken seriously by either her husband or her brother, both of whom were physicians and believed that she was okay.
In this story, it is evident that the protagonist did not get a chance to air out her feeling or emotions. Due to this fact, she found it difficult to even communicate with her husband and tell her the problems that she was going through. She found it better to keep the pain and suffering that she was going through to herself since no one else could understand; not even her own husband who is supposed to support her in any issue. Due to this fact, her mental distress kept on getting worse and as time went by, she could not keep it together anymore.
The two stories that have been discussed above show the pain and suffering that women go through in the marriages that they are in. die to this fact, their joy, happiness and attitudes tend to change. At some time, their spouses turn to become as their enemies and when they are gone, they feel relieved. This was shown in the story of an hour when the protagonist learned about the alleged death of her husband. Thus, women have used literature to express their feelings and emotions that have been neglected by the society that is dominated by men
Berkove, Lawrence L. “Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour.” American Literary Realism 32.2 (2000): 152-158.
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Feminist Literary Criticism Essay Examples
Feminist literary criticism of kate chopin’s the story of an hour.
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How Does the Author Use Nora to Explore a Social Issue in "A Doll's House"
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Analysis of Feminist Quotes from "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Alice Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.” Power can take place multiple ways such as protesting, writing and exercising the First Amendment. In the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which takes place...
Gender Prejudice in "Frankenstein": Feminism Literary Analysis
Written in 1817, Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein' is a feminist text, which strays from its stereotype at the time. Although her approach may be unintentional, Mary Shelley greatly depicts the role of gender prejudice in 'Frankenstein' it is clear that the three male narrators oppress the...
Literary Criticism of the Heart of Darkness Through a Feminist and a Marxist Approach
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Feminist Criticism of Trifles by Susan Glaspell
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The Concept of Womanism in Faerie Queene
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Gaiman’s 'Snow White' Story from a Feminist Perspective
The role of women in literature, particularly fairy tales, has historically been one of meek submission and of damsels in distress waiting for a man to save them. We see this in the most popular fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. The...
The Feminist Undertone in Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood
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About Feminist Literary Criticism
Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theory, or more broadly, by the politics of feminism. It uses the principles and ideology of feminism to critique the language of literature.
Modern feminist literary criticism finds most of its roots in the 1960s second-wave feminist movements.
Feminist criticism is concerned with "the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women"