Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Michael Robbins

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Laura Nicosia

Subject(s)

Plath, Sylvia--Criticism and interpretation, Sexton, Anne,--1928-1974--Criticism and interpretation, Feminism in literature, Feminist theory, Mind and body in literature

Abstract

This thesis seeks to place the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton within a larger discussion of contemporary feminist thought regarding corporeality and Hélène Cixous’ idea of l’ecriture feminine from her 1976 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Beginning with the basic premise of the mind/body dichotomy that was the basis for western philosophy, this thesis argues that contemporary feminist discourse shies away from viewing women’s bodies as a source of empowerment, hoping to avoid exposure to bioessentialist critiques, and instead focusing on women’s access to areas of intellectual power. This thesis posits that rather than uphold the power dynamics imbued within the mind/body dichotomy, feminist theory has much to gain from refiguring this restrictive binary in a way where women’s bodies are viewed as a locus of power and strength, rather than a site of weakness.

To achieve these aims, this thesis discusses poetry of Sylvia Plath (“Edge” and “The Applicant”) and Anne Sexton (“Menstruation at Forty” and “In Celebration of My Uterus”) as examples of l’ecriture feminine. Plath’s poetics utilize images of women’s bodies as sites of violence and brutality to demonstrate the dangers for women inherent within patriarchal systems. In Sexton’s poetics, she utilizes both form and content to move towards a feminine writing that mirrors the biological processes of the body, as argued in “Laugh of the Medusa.” While Plath’s poetics figure women’s brutalized bodies as what is left in the wake of patriarchal power structures, Sexton’s poetics go a step further, and move towards l’ecriture feminine as a Cixous understood it: a reconfiguring of language that mirrors women’s bodies, as a way out of the insidious hegemonic power structures that ensnare, brutalize, and eventually destroy women as collateral damage.

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