Language stands as a pertinent mode of communication conveying cognitive, historic as well as emotive realities. It is a tool by which those individuals, who have been feasibly pushed to the peripheries, the subjugated and disenfranchised quarters of the society, manage to express their notions on issues of concern and relevance to them. It is essentially through an understanding of the power of the written word and its ability to grant a narrative space to the subaltern, enabling it to speak that focally vocal and active feminist, Helen Cixous manages to empower women, imbuing in them a spirit to voice up and break away from barriers encumbering their intellectual growth.
In her well-known essay, Laugh of Medusa, Cixous calls upon for women to take their pens and write their “self” and manifest an “Ecriture Feminine ” mode of writing. Basically meaning feminine writing, “Ecriture Feminine”, qualifies as a metaphorical act of liberation enabling women to claim their bodies which have been “confiscated” from them by the male patriarch, who has left no stone unturned to make them feel like an “uncanny stranger on display” or a “dead figure”(880) all by resorting to the power of the written word, redeeming their individual feministic narrative spaces, penned necessarily by “white ink”.
Enunciating similar contentions, eminent Black American poet and writer Maya Angelou believing in the libratory postures allotted to women through the potency of the written word, voices the same notions through her poetry. That is the very reason why her poetry becomes a site for reflection and expression, highlighting the aspects of female mindscape earlier, deemed worthy of suppression and negation by the corrosively coercive male hegemony.
In her poem titled, “Our Grandmothers” , Angelou at length explicates on the perseverance, courage and resilience of the Black African women, who were rendering a two pronged struggle not only against their white “masters” (line 13) but also against their black male counterparts, thereby resisting violence not only at a macrocosmic level but also at a microcosmic level. Angelou’s very depiction of the distressing yet poignant realities of Black Afro American experience for women, qualify this piece as an “Ecriture Feminine”, necessarily voicing the feministic concerns of inequality.
Detailing on the predicament of a black slave woman, struggling to protect her children from her white master who aims to “sell them”(13) the poem not only aptly echoes the confidence and determination richly fused in black women, the tough decisions they are coerced to take, but also the fact that despite such harrowing realities, these women still have the potential to rise from what is necessarily aimed at bogging them down. The very title of the poem, Our Grandmothers also manifests how this type of violence against black women is a historic phenomena, passing down generations after generations, and still continuing to mold the lives of black women .
Silence of women, be it conscious or coercive, is highly disapproved by Angelou. In an interview that she gave to the NBC Television she remarked, “muteness is a drug”, meaning to say that it not only induces one into an apathetic mode of sleep, but also benumbs their sensibilities making it impossible for them to be receptive to the harrowing wrongs they feasibly are being subjected to. In this context women need to write and express themselves by affirming their intellectual postures in order to achieve liberation from the constraining social narratives, essentially constructed by males.
For this, Helen Cixous in her article, Laugh of Medusa uses the terminology “voler”(883), a French word meaning to fly. Cixous believes that an ability to carve a reality of their own through an affirmation of their narrative spaces, women will be able to voler, or fly out of their constricted zones. It also needs to be realized that another meaning for the word “voler” is steal. From a readers perspective, it can be interpreted that Cixous by using this word essentially means to say that its only by snatching and stealing their due right from male figures of hegemony that women will be able to carve an individual identity of their own, an identity not contingent on men for definition or even existence.
The persona in Angelou’s poem, “Our Grandmothers” too voler’s out of her subjugated position, breaking apart from what restricts her movement, autonomy and independence. Along with her children she flees her masters dwelling in hope for a secure shelter for survival of her children since she knew that “no angels stretched protecting wings above her children’s head”(line 55) and that she was the sole figure of affection, who could protect her offspring’s from the vile advances of her master who endeavored to kill these “babies” (line 10).
Also in her poem, “A Conceit” , she uses the phrase “rage of poetry” which shows how poetry was for her a means to not only convey her notions but also to express her anger against a status quo clinging onto the dormant modes of individual representation,where sorry fully females were characterized by a gross absence. Being a cathartic activity, writing for Angelou was a platform to claim an identity of her own in a phallocentric world, where opinions pronounced by females were feasibly ridiculed and rejected.
Cixous in her essay Laugh of Medusa also employs the term “dark continent”( 890) connecting the being and state of women to the African continent, and thereby vocalizing the idea that since long women have been subjugated as the Africans were by the colonizers, the masters. A similar color play is indicated in Maya Angelou’s poem “Our Grandmothers” where the persona has been defined in terms of her physicality and complexion as Maya Angelou says in the sixth stanza of the poem that, “her universe is summarized into one black body” (line 39) beyond which her existence is indefinable to the male patriarchs.
Similarly in her poem, “On Aging”, Angelou castigates and rebukes men for considering women as a frail entity, unable to assert their individuality and independence. She remarks, “Hold stop, Don’t pity me! Hold! Stop your Sympathy!” She believes that instead of expressing pity and sympathy towards women, such men should introspect their own positions and realize the fact that it is they who are in an exigent need of such pity , since they are consumed with an inexact estimation of the potency of women .
A black female dwelling in such a suffocated environment, where she is not only being subjected to patriarchal modes of violence but also her very offspring’s lives are at a continuous threat is undoubtedly made to feel insecure by the males, who fear her revolt thereby trying to repress and suppress her responses. Helen Cixous contends that male patriarchs breed in their women a certain “anti narcissism” or hatred of oneself, to bring them down in their own image. In the seventh stanza of Angelou’s poem “Our Grandmothers ”, the male figures try to hurl names at the female persona, to coerce her to form a bad opinion of herself, to hate herself and consequently give up on her struggle to provide safety for her children. She is labeled as a “whore”, “hot tail”, “baboon”, “nigger bitch” amongst other derogatory terms aimed at targeting her self esteem, yet she remains persevere and “is not moved”( line 65).
Audre Lorde aptly links the aptness of literature with expression when he says that it is a “vital necessity of our existence” since it enables us to “predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival” (qtd. in Randolph) .Both Cixous and Angelou realize the potency of the written word and its pertinence in enabling women to not only carve a narrative space for themselves, presenting their side of social experiences but also to manifest and assert their individuality, independence and identity, something that is not contingent on the male members of their family or even society.
- Arbeit zitieren
- Marria Qibtia Sikandar Nagra (Autor), 2016, Feminist Contours shaping Mia Angelous Poetry, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/346497