Male-Female Hierarchy in Aritha v. Herk: No fixed address

Seminar Paper, 2000

21 Pages, Grade: 1.3 (A)

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An Introduction

This paper will examine to which extent the title of the book No fixed address is connected to the text. Is there really No fixed address of our heroine? Or do we have to find another definition of what a fixed address means? The following will also be an investigation of the terminology of hierarchy, focusing most of all on male

- female hierarchy, and its place in the book. Is the title in any sense connected to

male - female hierarchy? Furthermore, it will explore whether No fixed address can be understood as a lack of identity. The following presupposes the reader to know the content of the book. It will not include deeper investigation of feminism or psychoanalytic theories. The paper is an experimental attempt of an interpretation with a lot of space for questions open to the reader.

Women writers in Canada writing about women?

Before starting off with the topic itself, it is important to have a closer look at the author and the hero the author creates in the text. The reader, whether male or female, will read and interpret the novel the way he or she is able to according to his or her point of view and cultural background. While the author is most likely including the perception of his/ her own life within writing, it is important to look at women’s writing in Canada. The author of the book No fixed address is a woman, Aritha Van Herk. The hero is a heroine.

There have been many outrageous women writers in Canada writing about women, and I ask myself, why? The next paragraph will be about women writers in Canada, which also helps to get a better understanding of the novel itself.

These are just some assumptions of mine about the North and its correlation with women writers in Canada. In Canada the North is often referred to as being female. But what if women enter the scene, do they refer to the North as male or female, or perhaps neutral? Although the North is being described as being female,

it is described as having been a place primarily inhabited by men. The North was and still is a very harsh and cruel place, with forbidding distances, difficult landscape, hard winters and a place that tests your endurance. Men usually were occupied with heavy labor on the frontier, moiling for gold, chopping down tress, clearing the land, etc. Since men were so involved in heavy labor, things such as the arts and writing became sissy stuff. Few Canadian male authors came to dominate that scene, leaving women with more room to write and take the center. At the same time, women were also involved in labor. A strong woman, physically and psychologically, was highly valued leaving women with a higher status in society. Canadians never developed the concept of women as merely brainless

decoration. Canadian oral folklore is still full of tales of our grandmother’s generation, when women ran farms... (Atwood, Margaret, pg.90). That is why when talking about Canadian literature you will find a lot of outrageous women writers who cannot just be footnoted.

There were two waves of women’s writing: the first wave including women of the nineteenth century and the second wave of women of the twentieth century. There is a great difference between women of the first and second wave. The women of the first generation went out into the frontier not of their own free will, but rather following their husbands. These frontier women worked very hard alongside their men, helping to shape and determine their families’ and their own futures. Therefore their literature includes practical writings, for example guides. The second wave of women were on the other hand mostly there of their own free will. These women did not lead the life of their predicators, rather they stayed mostly in the home. Of their own free will they could go out into the wilderness to be by themselves or even to get away from a man; searching for freedom. Concerning literature, women of the second wave entered the Northern landscape either as authors creating female or male protagonists. These heroes (male or female) are discovering the wilderness, the freedom and independence on their own will. Still being bound by culture they experience the world searching and

discovering, and it seems as if they had No fixed address. If an address is not fixed that means there is no place of stability, security and rest. It leads to a constant endeavor to find a replacement that will provide this stability. Instability and no fixed place also implies that an individual is unstable about itself. The individual’s role and its place in culture is no longer clearly defined, which is a lack of identity. Although the outer world is pressing us into roles we still have to find our own. It seems a continual hunt for identity.

In the literature of the twentieth century this struggle for identity becomes evident in the heroes. Aritha van Herk belongs to this second generation of women writers in Canada. Her heroine is a traveling sales-woman, who sells underwear. In her old black Mercedes she’s traveling without a destination or goal in order to find her identity. To summarize, women in Canada have a major influence on Canadian literary writing: writing and expressing personal issues searching for and forming individual and national identity.

Defining hierarchy

After having examined that women write about women and how this refers to identity I would now like to analyze the term hierarchy. First, I start out by defining hierarchy itself. (Taken from: Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache) The word hierarchy originates from the old Greek word hierarchia referring to the ruling body of the church; with the first part of the word hierós meaning holy and the second part árchein meaning to rule. The word was later absorbed by Latin and changed its meaning to the fixed order of rank or the division of angels. It was first limited to the church, but today it characterizes the general behavior role between people. In other words, its present meaning refers to a classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing, and so a group of people is classified.

There are different kinds of hierarchy shown in the book No fixed address, but the main focus lays on male - female hierarchy. Hierarchy in general is bound into binaries.

The ideal traditional cultural concept of hierarchy and binaries is shown in a form like this :

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The horizontal line indicates binaries, i.e. : the opposition of something like male and female; black or white. It is an ideal that these binaries are treated equal (shown in a horizontal line), but human beings tend to prefer one over the other. By doing so we form hierarchy, saying for example that a male is higher ranked than a female. Hierarchy is therefore expressed with a vertical line. To be precise, binaries include hierarchies. To illustrate, we have a binary, an opposition of male versus female, however we prefer one of the two and will rank it, like male is better than female. By choosing one over the other, e.g. male, we still have the binary in our head, this being the female opposite.

21 of 21 pages


Male-Female Hierarchy in Aritha v. Herk: No fixed address
Canadian Women`s Writing
1.3 (A)
Catalog Number
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387 KB
Male-Female, Hierarchy, Aritha, Herk, Canadian, Women`s, Writing
Quote paper
Claudia Marschlich (Author), 2000, Male-Female Hierarchy in Aritha v. Herk: No fixed address, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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