Feminist Analysis of Janet Frame´s 'Owls do cry' and 'Living in the Maniototo' - A critical discussion

Seminar Paper, 2000

14 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of contents

1. Introduction
1.1 On feminist analysis

2. Feminist analysis of Janet Frame´s Owls do cry and Living in the Maniototo
2.1 Biological aspects: The use of female images
2.2 Linguistic analysis: Leaving the protective womb
2.3 Psychoanalytic analysis
2.4.1 Cultural background
2.4.2 Scrutinising J.Frame´s cultural background

3. Feminist literary criticism in the future

1. Introduction

1.1 On feminist analysis

Focusing on gender as a fundamental category of analysis makes it necessary to have a look on either side, on women as authors and women as readers. It cannot be denied that female authors have another relationship to their language, they have different vocabulary and use it in different kinds of sentences than their male colleagues. For years, this has been the reason, why women´s writing has always been regarded as naiv or intuitive, hence it were masculine norms which were used as traditional generic classifications.

It was not until the feminist movement, that women´s writings were not undervalued any longer. The women fighting for their suffragette had become aware of the dangerous stereotypes, which male authors described in their books, and the resulting misrepresentation of female life and work.

Consequently, it became necessary to develop an alternative scheme of literary criticism, in which social ideologies and practices are addressed as well as is the way, those ideologies and practices form women’s writing.

Unfortunately, the first feminist critics adopted merely the maxims of male literary criticism and looked at texts with a female perspective; they re-examined male texts which showed the way women were often represented according to social, cultural and ideological norms, eager to find female images, stereotypes and misconceptions. The fact that complex texts permit a variety of alternative readings and interpretations was simply neglected. The early feminist critics were thus on the same one-way-road as had been their male counterparts for many years, and confronted with the issue of reconciling the pluralist approaches.

However, the second-wave feminism of the 1960s won feminist criticism more recognition and women writers like Virginia Woolf, Kate Millett or Margaret Atwood made literary criticism an integral part of the feminist struggle, offering a multiplicity of feminist approaches. Hence, it is not only the text which is investigated in, but also the female authors who have become the subject of further investigation. The focus now is put on the study of women as writers, their personal history, their individual styles, themes, genres and structures. In order to grant a more thorough differentiation, modern feminist criticism is built on four main pillars: the study of biological, linguistic, psychoanalytic and cultural differences as opposed to male writing.

In order to give a modern feminist analyses of the two novels to be examined, Living in the Maniototo and Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame, it is therefore indispensable to have a look at these four fields of research.

2.1 Biological aspects: The use of female images

Janet Frame makes frequent use of the female body as a source of imagery, the biological component plays an important role especially in her novel Owls Do Cry.

It is already in the title that the reader has an oppressive feeling, caused by the image of the haunting owl. The immediate consequence which is implied with haunting predators is the search for protection and shelter, which is subsequently found in the cowslip´s bell - evidently a metaphor for the subliminal wish to return to the mother´s womb, to flee from the outer word.

Frame adopts and extends the image of shelter from the outer world in the opening description of the rubbish dump, “the children sat snuggled in the hollow of refuse”,[1] symbolising again a protective womb which the children will have to leave when they grow up, providing a moral conflict for each of them. In order to depict how the protagonists find their individual solution to the moral conflict of either entering in the owl´s real world or denying reality and remaining in the cowslip´s bell, Frame uses repeatedly shell, crevices, pits, gaps, underneath mouths, or descriptions like obscene and magnified mouths and hollows.

The opening section, Daphne´s song, also contains first female imagery, as for example the pocket of my land and the carrot seed planted by her. However, neither the seed, nor the family, will grow to realise their potential, which is already implied in their surname: the Withers. Evidently, the environmental factors are uncongenial. The carrot seeds are used as a metaphor for the children´s life. As long as they are small, they are safe and protected, but as soon as they start to grow up and enter the outer world with its conventions, are they in threat. The children´s fate is linked to that of the seed, Francie “sank too deep”[2] Chicks “dried up”1 and Toby “is there and is not there, journeying half-way which is all torment”[3] only Daphne manages to “live unburned in the centre”2 until the authorities lobotomise her.

In Living in the Maniototo, Frame uses once again a female image, the Manifold. The many folds and end-less capacities also suggest female sexual and reproductive anatomy, the Manifold as a source of creative power, renewing itself from time to time. However, it may also have a slightly spiritual touch, as it is often written with a capital, like Christians do with God.

As the examples in hand show, Janet Frame applies female imagery frequently and rather frankly, her images are useful and important to grasp the conflict the protagonists are caught in. However, the author uses the female images merely as a stylistic device, and does not make it to her theme of writing.

2.2 Linguistic analysis: Leaving the protective womb

From the linguistic point of view, our language was developed by men. Although Jonathan Swift had found out in 1712 that women used more vowels and liquids than men when asked to create new words, the thought of inviting women to join an English academy was too daring. Thus, women had neither been allowed to form, nor to influence their own mother tongue. However, the fact that women were forced into silence could have proven to be one of the greatest assets for female writing. In order to jump the hurdle of low education, the banning from libraries and the inappropriateness for women to write, women have learned various ways of expressing their thoughts indirectly. They are now the masters of the art of imagery, circumlocution and euphemisms.


[1] Frame, Janet Owls Do Cry, London 1996, p. 11

[2] Frame, Janet, Owls Do Cry, London 1996, page 9

[3] Frame, Janet, Owls Do Cry, London 1996 page 83

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Feminist Analysis of Janet Frame´s 'Owls do cry' and 'Living in the Maniototo' - A critical discussion
LMU Munich  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
PS- Postcolonial Fiction in Context
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
474 KB
Incl. Handout
Feminist, Analysis, Janet, Frame´s, Owls, Living, Maniototo, Postcolonial, Fiction, Context
Quote paper
Stephanie Helmer (Author), 2000, Feminist Analysis of Janet Frame´s 'Owls do cry' and 'Living in the Maniototo' - A critical discussion, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/41164


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Feminist Analysis of Janet Frame´s 'Owls do cry' and 'Living in the Maniototo' - A critical discussion

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free