The Performance and Interrogation of 'Generic Lives' and Gendered Selves in the Confessional Poetry of John Berryman and Anne Sexton

Bachelor Thesis, 2017
51 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Main Part
2.1 Gender Theory
2.2 Confessional Poetry
2.3 The Poet and the Woman-Poet
2.3 On America's Society, Gender Roles and Poetry in the 1950s and 60s
2.5 Biographies
2.5.1 John Berryman
2.5.2 Anne Sexton

3 Analytical Main Part
3.1 Gendered Selves in the poetry of John Berryman
3.2 Gendered Selves in the poetry of Anne Sexton
3.3 Summary

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

1. Introduction

The issue of gender and gender roles within the American society has hardly ever been as current as today. Since Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States millions of people went out on the street to protest against the discrimi­nating, homophobic and xenophobic views of the new head of state. Among them marched Gloria Steinem and other feminists from the very start of the Feminist Move­ment in the 1960s. But even if there was no such provoking figurehead as Donald Trump, the topic of gender would still be a relevant one. This is because gender is not a binary categorization of whether being female or male anymore but can be defined in many different variations. Or at least this is what today's society is striving towards. Therefore, it is of great interest to investigate the definition of gender and its deeply rooted social lineages.

Not more than 60 years ago North America was strongly biased with unrealistic gender roles. Women were stereotyped as housewives whose greatest struggles were keeping their husbands and children satisfied, the household and their good looking. However, thousands of women missed to meet those expectations and considered themselves as individual failures. Nevertheless, not only women suffered from the social etiquette that was imposed on them. The excessive promotion of virility equally troubled many men.

Then, in the 1960s, there was a significant change. Influenced by the radical formations of various citizen movements gender concepts were challenged - not only in a political context but also within the arts. For the first time after centuries, poetry, again, dealt with political issues. This was the time of the Beats and the Confessional Poets. The lat­ter group is often associated with poets such as John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.

The works of Berryman and Sexton will be examined in this thesis in more depth. Both of them used their poems to express their personal views on the conventions of the period. What was intended to serve as a form of self-therapy turned into a poetic em­powerment for many Americans who experienced similar circumstances, but were too afraid to talk about it publicly.

In this respect, Anne Sexton has often been considered as a precursor of following feminist movements. The lyric of the male poets of the time, however, has mostly been ignored in this context. Therefore, I decided to analyze whether those aspects re­ally apply to the poetry of male and female writers of the decade.

This is why I chose to examine the poetry of John Berryman and Anne Sexton. Both were working as poets during the 1950s and 60s and both experienced socially im­posed gender treatments.

What makes this contraposition even more apt is the fact that both lived the 'generic life' as Robert Lowell termed it. The expression refers to the seemingly predetermined lifestyle of these poets including parental difficulties in their childhood, excessive alco­hol and drug abuse, mental disorders, publicly displayed affairs, as well as suicidal ten­dencies. Due to these features Robert Lowell's call after Berryman's death "Yet really we had the same life, /the generic one/ our generation offered,"1 does not exclusively apply for Berryman but other confessional poets as well, including Sexton.

While Sexton's poetry continuously tackles the problem of gender conventions, Berry­man's remarks on the topic are rather subtle. Therefore, this thesis aims to examine the interrogation and performance of generic lives and gendered selves in the poetry of John Berryman and Anne Sexton. In doing so I will give answers to the following questions: In how far did social norms influence the lyrical I's way of thinking and act­ing? Or were those societal restrictions excluded from the isolated situation of the poem? Are gender conventions more present in poems featuring a female persona?

To answer those questions, I am going to give a brief introduction of gender theory, in­cluding Simone de Beauvoir's theory of the Second Sex, Judith Butler's concept of gen­der performativity. Second, I will summarize different approaches on the genre of Con­fessional Poetry as Berryman and Sexton were often counted among the Confession­als. This poetic concept will be complemented by two other notions, the (man-)poet and the woman-poet. In the following, important historical, political and social events of the 1950s and 60s in America will be discussed with special attention on gender conventions and the parallels between politics and poetics. Moreover, the lives of both poets will be considered. In the analytical part of my thesis, then, I focus on the poetry of both poets with special remarks on the gender specific aspects of identity, guilt/ accusation, love, empathy, empowerment/oppression and isolation.

Afterwards I am going to evaluate to what extent Berryman's and Sexton's lyric is bi­ased with gender specific attributes. At last I am going to draw a final conclusion evalu­ating the results of my research and making a connection to the questions above.

2. Theoretical Main Part

2.1 Gender Theory

I decided to focus on two well-known principles within the field of gender studies, in­cluding Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Judith Butler's gender performativ- ity.

First of all, what does "gender" mean? According to the Oxford Dictionaries "gender" is defined as, "The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)."2 Hence, the terms gender and sex must be differentiated. While sex refers to the biological state of being male or fe­male gender rather focuses on the cultural and social circumstances.

In her 1949 published work The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir, therefore, concen­trates on the relationship between gender and the biological female body. Examining the question "What is a Woman?" de Beauvoir establishes the concept of "the other." In her opinion, there is a necessary bond between the sexes.3

[T]he division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history ... she [woman] is the Other in the totality of which two components are necessary to one another.4

For de Beauvoir this is a consequence of the woman's unrealized subjectivity caused by male oppression.

The female has been constructed by the male through biological data, history and myth in order to maintain her as Other and to minimise the threat to the patriarchal centre.5

What de Beauvoir emphasizes in her theory is that the status of women is not due to her biological features and therefore not a fixed state of being, but of "constant be­coming".

Further, she claims that the female body is not essential to define a woman as a woman, but is rather a "situation". "[B]iological considerations are extremely impor­tant [...]. But I deny that they establish for a fixed and inevitable destiny."6 Therefore, de Beauvoir suggests that the female body has the potential for both oppression and liberation. As long as the female body is in a situation imprisoned by the man it is thus not able to liberate from the label of the "other". "[T]he male construction of feminin­ity" even leads to different types of psychosis. To be free from this male domination woman must change her situation and define femininity by herself. Simone de Beau­voir's final vision is that in the course of time men and women can be equal through their differences.7

Nearly 50 years after the publication of The Second Sex Judith Butler's view on gender was internationally renowned. In her works Gender Trouble, Bodies That Matter and Undoing Gender Butler discusses in how far gender is socially constructed as well as the relation between sex, gender and desire. Butler's maxims are built on a rather radi­cal perception of de Beauvoir's "One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one" doctrine.8

Anknüpfend daran, dass bei de Beauvoir der Körper nicht vordiskursiv angedacht ist, ist auch für Butler klar, dass 'das Geschlecht keine vordiskursive anatomische Gegebenheit sein [kann]' (Si­mone de Beauvoir. Das Unbehagen der Geschlechter. Suhrkamp, 1991. 26). In dieser Feststellung ist die Stoßrichtung der Butlerschen Geschlechtertheorie enthalten, die vor allem darauf abzielt, das Geschlecht - in seinen vielen und komplex miteinander verflochtenen Dimensionen - zu ent- naturalisieren."9

Based on de Beauvoir's approaches Butler creates the principle of 'gender performativ- ity'. However, performativity must not be mistaken with performance. The individual does not consciously play a role but rather unconsciously imitates what society sub­stantiate to be the nature of gender identity. Thus, the purportedly nature given sex is indeed a result of social history and power structures. "In this sense, gender is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to pre-exist the deed,"10 ac­cording to Butler. This means that the identity underlies the performance instead of the other way around; "the deed is everything,"11 as Butler quotes Nietzsche in this context. The problem with these social norms lies in its continuous imitation. An imita­tion that its imitators are not even aware of.

Tatsächlich besteht die Norm nur in dem Ausmaß als Norm fort, in dem sie in der sozialen Praxis durchgespielt und durch die täglichen sozialen Rituale des körperlichen Lebens und in ihnen stets aufs Neue idealisiert und eingeführt wird. [...] Sie wird durch ihre Verkörperungen (re)produziert, durch die Handlungen, die sich ihr anzunähern suchen, durch die Idealisierungen, die in und durch solche Handlungen reproduziert werden.12

However, there is no "original" gender, no general truth about how male and female should be defined.

Die stillschweigende kollektive Übereinkunft, diskrete und entgegengesetzte Geschlechtsidentitä­ten als kulturelle Fiktionen anzuführen, hervorzubringen und zu erhalten, wird sowohl durch die Glaubwürdigkeit dieser Produktion verdunkelt- als auch durch die Strafmaßnahmen, die diejeni­gen treffen, die nicht an sie glauben. Die Konstruktion 'erzwingt' gleichsam unseren Glauben an ihre Natürlichkeit und Notwendigkeit.13

Summarizing, Simone de Beauvoir depicts women as the second sex, the "other" in re­lation to men. She lays the cornerstone for further gender studies with her remark on the differentiation between body and situation. Thus, a woman is not defined by her body -her biology so to say- but by the situation -historical, social, psychological fac­tor- she is in. Due to the fact that men have always occupied the superior position de Beauvoir argues that women can only liberate themselves by redefining femininity and thereby become equal to men. Judith Butler, moreover, refers to de Beauvoir's con­cept and expands it with her theory of gender performativity. Her theory, then, states that people unconsciously imitate behavior that society purports to be male or female. She further claims that there is no "original" gender identity.

2.2 Confessional Poetry

According to Miranda Sherwin's book "Confessional" Writing and the 20th Century Lit­erary Imagination from 2011, Confessional Poetry first emerged in Robert Lowell's Life Studies in 1959. This highly influential school of poetry is characterized by its intimate, personal topics that often have strong parallels to the author's own life and the aim to deliver the unsanitized truth.14

By entering into public discourse topics previously deemed private, such as depression, mental breakdown, incarceration in an asylum, adultery, and divorce confessional poets changed indeli­bly the literary landscape and rewrote the rules about what constituted serious literature. Noth­ing was too shady; too divulge; no subject was too personal.15

The term 'confessional', then, was first coined by M. I. Rosenthal, due to whom it de­scribes the interrelation between poetry and the poet's life.

Traditionally counted among the Confessional Poets are Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman and others. Nevertheless, there is no consensus on whether Rosenthal's definition is adequate and after all whether it is meaningful to group the mentioned poets as such.

First of all, it must be accentuated that the term confession refers to admitting a pre­ceded sin or guilt. This is contradictory for the fact that most poets do not confess to anything, but rather detect tensions between the society and the individual.16 Never­theless, according to Sherwin,

[g]uilt does factor into the poetry, but rarely in the structural confession; instead the poetry de­ploys guilt thematically, either transforming it into cultural critique or making it the focus of ana - lytic exploration.17

Therefore, the term confessional is misleading as the poets rather explore and analyze topics that are classified as social taboos.

To deal with the second problem of Rosenthal's definition, there are at least as many noteworthy differences between the poets who are classified as the group of Confes­sional Poets. Ironically, the most significant attitude they have in common is the dissat­isfaction with the label Confessional Poet. This is because reading poetry by a Confes­sional tends the reader to take the subject matter of the poem as an autobiographic truth. "Thus, the canonizing question 'What is truth?' cannot be separated from the process of verifying that truth."18 In pursuit of verifying this truth readers can be mis­led about the poem's purpose. Therefore, Sexton, Berryman and others have always been ambitious in denying that autobiographic, confessional label. Nevertheless, there is indeed evidence for autobiographic fragments within the poems. Suzan Juhasz ar­gues:

The poem is never 'raw' experience itself; it is language that has shaped and ordered experience as it describes it. The voice of the poem must likewise always be both a selection (an aspect of the whole person who is writing) and an artifice, shaped and ordered to suit the needs of the poem.19

Hence, for Juhasz the confessional style does not derive from its author's autobio­graphic experience, but from the speaker's persona which combines elements of elu­sive truth and artificial construction. Anne Sexton described this phenomenon, "I'll of­ten confess to things that never happened. As I once said to someone, if I did all the things I confess to, there would be no time to write a poem."20 That is an essential ele­ment of the confessional ethos, the persona which originates from the individual to become an universal truth for society. This derives from the readers' wish to read an autobiographical piece of art. Hence, the Confessional Poets were the first to address personal failures in their poetry. Failures, that many of the Americans of the time had experienced themselves.

[...] this poetry produced in its initial reader a collective anxiety, a cultural need to be assured that the poetry's social critiques had a basis in a personal reality. Thus, contemporaneous reader turned to the authority of the poets themselves, whose broken marriages and nervous break­downs reinforced the poetry's message.21

Therefore, by labeling the selected poems as autobiographical confessions the hitherto seemingly personal problems were detected to be problems of a whole nation. Robert Lowell commented on this, "[i]t may be that some people have turned to my poems because of the very things that are wrong with me. I mean the difficulty I have with or­dinary living."22 An explanation, then again, for those social tensions was, according to the Confessionals, most notably the destruction of the individual life and the in­escapable position it possessed in the temporary American society.23

Die Entfremdung des Individuums von der dominierenden Gesellschaft wurde als psychische Er­krankung und nicht selten drogeninspirierte Zerrüttung erfahren und in den Gedichten in Wahn­sinn - und Selbstmordmotiven reflektiert, wie etwa bei Ginsberg, Lowell, Roethke, Berryman, Plath, Sexton.24

Concluding, it is with great difficulty to define this school of poetry. Not least because it consisted of a comparatively heterogeneous group of poets. Apart from that the term confessional is problematic and misleading. Thus, it cannot be applied in the re­ligious sense as the poets do not confess to anything, but rather address social taboos - such as social failures, the dissolution of the nuclear family, mental breakdowns, di­vorce, adultery, alcoholism, isolation, menstruation, abortion; topics that did not fit in the shiny superficial American society of the time. Consequently, this ensued the read - ers' wish to turn the poems into autobiographical works to feel less alone with their personal problems, even though, the authors insisted that their poems were not auto­biographic. However, Confessional Poetry can be seen as a direct reaction to social tensions of the time and as the precursor of many following literary genres such as postmodernists, post-confessionals and even the reality-based media of contemporary culture.25

2.3 The Poet and the Women-Poet

From the very beginning poetry and gender have been both difficult to reconcile and inseparably linked at the same time. This is because poetry on one hand does not nec­essarily reflect the social gender norms on the other hand, however, a poet can never completely reject his/her own identity as either woman or man.

At the time when Berryman and Sexton wrote their major poems the difficulty of com­bining the profession of the poet with gender-specific properties were uttered in two concepts. The first concept juxtaposes the 1950s' emphasis on masculinity and the characteristics typical for being a poet. The second concept, moreover, deals with the double bind of the woman-poet.

The former idea is based on the undue emphasis on virility within the American society of the time. Historically, men always inhabited a superior position while women habit­ually were subordinated. Thus, also the arts have a long tradition of virility.

Because the masculine has always been the norm in our society, familiarity with the nature of masculine expression and its formalization in art is long-standing and to a great extent deter­mines our very definitions and evaluations of art.26

Nevertheless, being a poet was far from being socially esteemed. This is because po­etry requires sensitivity, empathy, emotions etc. - all typically female attributes.27 Cer­tainly, within the poem itself masculine manifestations can be found but the profes­sion as a poet in its essentials does not reflect social manhood. On several occasions John Berryman and other male poets uttered their opinion that being a poet was an "unsuitable profession for a man."28 Especially in the 1950s and 60s this contradiction combined with other life circumstances of the poets lead to a heavy insecurity and the ambivalent compulsion to either prove oneself or label oneself as a failure in society. After Berryman's suicide his close friend Robert Lowell wrote, "[y]et really we had the same life,/the generic one/our generation offered."29 With the term "generic life" Low­ell meant certain patterns that often occurred in the lives of poets of the so called mid­dle generation.

Parental difficulties in childhood, severe emotional strain, alcoholism, depression and mental ill­ness are among the now familiar features of this model [...]. The middle generation were lost and deserted children. For them, and for Lowell and Berryman particularly, the need of parents come to be closely involved with the search for a poetic father.30

In search of such a poetic father, the poets were highly under pressure to either write in their poetic ancestors' tradition or to "create a space for poetic individuality."31 This individuality included turning away from the highly academic poetry to the personal poetry of feelings and perception which in turn was contrary to the virility of the time.

The second concept, the double bind of the woman-poet, is even harder to conciliate with societal norms. First of all, the woman-poet ultimately combines two social groups that are normally oppressed by others; the poet and his/her inferior position in society and the woman downtrodden by the patriarchal society. This means that the woman-poet not only had to prevail against the housewife role that was imposed on her by society but also was in need to gain her position within her intellectual peer group. What made it even more challenging is the fact that during the 1950s and early 1960s there was hardly existing any established body of feminine poetry. As a result, not only poems were chiefly written by men but also the corresponding reviews. 32 Fe­male poets had to fight doctrines such as "[i]t is men who make art, who make books; women make babies"33 or "a woman who writes feels too much"34. Further, the wom­an-poet had to be aware of the risk of writing like a man. This is because, she needed to combine her female being with attributes normally referred to as masculine.

Creative women seem to be more original, intelligent, and have a stronger need for accomplish­ment. [...] they seem to show more so-called masculine characteristics in those areas that enable them to produce creative work: ego strength, independence, need for achievement. If anything, they are supra-feminine in other areas, namely those that would enable them to be creative: emotionality, sensitivity, and the rest.35

Further characteristics of female identity differentiate her from her male counterpart.

"A woman's identity is not defined by a profession, such as poet, but by her personal relationships as daughter, sister, wife, mother."36 Thus, while the male poet's work is freed from those bonds and therefore is considered as universal, not gendered, the woman-poet's work always refers to her social position and her relation with others. The woman-poet, therefore, is both "in and out of the world."37 This means that she is in a double bind situation with her profession and her position in society. If she uses her individual skills for writing poetry she neglects her feminine social role and vice versa. Anne Sexton once described this condition as follows,

I do not live a poet's life. I look and act like a housewife. [...] But still I cook. But still my desk is a mess of letters to be answered and poems that want to tear their way out of my soul and onto the typewriter keys. At that point I am a lousy cook, a lousy wife, a lousy mother, because I am too busy with the poem to remember that I am a normal (?) American housewife.38

All the named encounters the woman-poet has to deal with certainly influence the de­vices she uses in her poetry. Thus, the female voice is rather subjectively entertaining, identifying and relating than analytic or objective. Other typical female devices, ac­cording to Suzan Juhasz, include,

The female poet will more often identify the poet and the speaker of the poem, the mind that creates and the woman who suffers, the knower and the known[...]. The 'I' of the woman's poetic voice will be visible more often because the defenses which make the male more objective are not part of the female acculturation process.39

Having these two concepts in mind, it appears that neither men nor women were con­sidered suitable for the profession of the poet. Therefore, it seems to be no surprise that lyrics and literates often referred to the afterlife as a place free from sexual con­ventions.40

2.4 On America's Society, Gender Roles and Poetry in the 1950s and 60s

The political events and the social tensions of the 1950s and 60s played an important role in terms of how America's society evolved and hence, the shaping of the poetic landscape of the time.

The 1950s mark a decade of prudish conformity; of capitalism and consumerism; Mc- Carthyism and the Cold War. From a historical perspective, America was situated in the ongoing threat of the Cold War with the USSR. The nation felt insensate and uncertain how to detect right from wrong. This created a settled and moderate political land­scape in the beginning of the decade. Those, who represented radical opinions during the 30s and 40s fell silent with the outbreak of the Cold War and focused to a great ex­tent on the prevailing cultural situation instead. Consequently, universities expanded and a new type of literature gained substantial recognition - the psychoanalysis. A re­sult of the huge reputation of Lionel Trilling's book The Liberal Imagination. The retreat from politics towards private topics of the Self was to be seen as the desire to escape from the menacing situation of the Cold War.41 But the strains of the clash between the East and the West did not only lead to a more inward exploration of the Self, it also nurtured a strong anti-communist ideology meticulously implemented by Senator Joseph McCarthy.42 The so-called 'anti-communist investigations' rather resembled a radical communist witch-hunt, resulting in assassinations, detentions and an even deeper anxiety among American citizens. This apprehension was long-lasting and only very few intellectuals dared to criticize the system. Most Americans remained submis­sive and put their energy in consumption rather than politics.

Unstable political conditions and the overall anxiety had an enormously positive influ­ence on the American consumerism, and combined with a wealth of advertisement in all fields of mass media, the communication industry shaped the creation of the "New American".43

Studien zum Nationalcharakter [...] hatten bereits die typischen Dimensionen dieses 'neuen Men­schen' freigesetzt: den Wunsch, sich mit anderen zu arrangieren, das Bestreben, sein/ihr privates Leben mit den Erfordernissen der großen Konzerne in Einklang zu bringen, den Versuch, sich zu verkaufen, so als ob Persönlichkeit eine Ware mit bestimmten und bestimmbaren Marktchance sei, weiterhin das neurotische Bedürfnis nach Anerkennung, Sicherheit, Belohnung, sowie die An­fälligkeit für die Wertekorruption.44

The traditional idea of the nuclear family - consisting of the hard-working husband and his devoted wife, finding her feminine fulfillment in taking care of the children and the household- was ubiquitous. Being subject to this social performance, the private lives of many Americans soon became fraught. The concept, suggested by all types of me­dia, strongly blurred the lines between reality and illusion. Experts published a multi­tude of companions on how to survive within these social conventions and quickly the idea of the New American resulted in a hollow, uniform role behavior.45 The overall conservatism and the compliant behavior were also reflected in the poetry which was dominated by a strict formalist style. In the 40s and 50s lyric had become an art that was exclusively designed for a highly intellectual group of academics. Its main focus lay in the continuous improvement of formal beauty and stylistic elegance.

Lyrik war zum akademischen Rätsel für eine immer schmaler werdende literarische community geworden, die bisweilen nur noch aus Dichterkolleg/innen bestand, denn nur sie besaßen das universitär erlernte, analytische Instrumentarium, das sich in der Jagd nach 'Ambiguitäten' und 'Ironien' unter Beweis stellen konnte.46

This development was not only leading to a poetic dead end but it was also the cause for severe psychological distress among the poets. Contrary to its later therapeutic us­age, poetry, then, could necessitate psychological treatment.47 A lot of intellectuals, therefore, called for a new kind of poetry that "could reflect the dangers of the mod­ern world," without limiting it to an isolated, purely poetic ideology.48 Up to World War I literary power had laid primarily in the hands of WASP-groups; male white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.49 So, due to the fact that the American culture at that time still placed an undue emphasis on virility it was up to the male poets to turn against the formalist poetry.50 The first approach was made by Charles Olson. His "Pro- jective Verse"- concept urged for a new lyrical perspective; one that was closer to con­temporary events; one that reflected the real concerns of the population. Other poets (such as Ginsberg) realized the potential of Olson's vision and changed their lyrical di­rection. The new 'poetry movement' included all poets who deviated from the rigid academic establishment. Probably, the movement's most popular sub-group were the Beats including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller.51

Die Beats prägten in ihrer Literatur das Bild vom intellektuellen Anti-Bürger, der sich durch einen neuen 'Lebenstil' [...] zu erkennen gab: Vollbart, lange strähnige Haare bei Frauen, aufgerissene Hemden bei Männern. Anti- bzw. Gegenkonventionalität war ein bewußt eingesetztes Mittel, um die eigene Identität vor dem Zugriff durch eine reduktionistische Zivilisation zu schützen.52

Within short time, the previously meager group of university poets expanded consider­ably. New publishing houses and journals were created - such as Origin, Black Moun­tain Review and the Pocket Poet Series. The "tranquilized Fifties" were finally over­come.53

Historically, the 60s started with the Kennedy Administration and the subsequent po­litical and intellectual liberalization after the preceded start of the Cold War era. But this phase did not last long and was soon replaced by a radical phase that was charac­terized by a series of political assassination (the Kennedys, Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr.).54 The American foreign policies were defined by the military intervention and its failure in Vietnam. The resulting costs caused considerable cuts in social security benefits and, thus, reinforced existing social disturbances. Consequently, the previous hopes of better social benefits under Kennedy (which were later adopted by Lyndon Johnson) were deceived. This, moreover, had an influence on the destruction of the centralized political structures of the United States. The disappointment in the seem­ingly utopian idea of the 'American Dream' unleashed new formations of underrepre­sented groups. For the first time, America became aware of its significant amount of black citizens, Chicanos and other fringe groups.

Of special interest for this paper, moreover, is the 'housewife-revolution' of the early Sixties preceding the feminist movement in the late 1960s. As Betty Friedan explains the situation in The Feminine Mystique, "Fulfillment as a woman had only one defini­tion for American women after 1949 - the housewife-mother."55 As early as 1961, John F. Kennedy took measures to explore the status of women in the United States.


1 Robert Lowell. Qtd. In Stephen Matterson. Berryman and Lowell: The Art of Losing. Macmillan, 1988.

2 „Gender". Def. 1. Oxford Dicitionaries. Web. Feb. 2017.

3 Fiona Darroch. "The Second Sex. By Simone de Beauvoir." Literature & Theology. Vol. 22, No. 3, September 2008. pp. 368-71. 368.

4 Simone de Beauvoir. The Second Sex. Vintage Classics, 1997. 19-20.

5 Darroch. 368.

6 De Beauvoir. 65.

7 Darroch. 369-71.

8 Simone de Beauvoir. Qtd. In Judith Butler. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1990. 1.

9 Paula-Irene Villa. Judith Butler: Eine Einführung. 2nd ed. Campus-Verlag. 2003.62.

10 Butler. 25.

11 Friedrich Nietzsche. Qtd. In Butler. 25.

12 Judith Butler. Qtd. In Villa. 76.

13 Judith Butler. Qtd. In Villa. 78.

14 Miranda Sherwin. "Confessional" Writing and the 20th Century Literary Imagination. Basingstoke, 2011. 1-3.

15 Sherwin. 3.

16 Sherwin. 3-4.

17 Sherwin. 4.

18 Leigh Gilmore. Qtd. In Sherwin. 10.

19 Suzan Juhasz. Naked and Fiery Forms: Modern American Poetry by Women. A New Tradition. New York. 1976. 142.

20 Anne Sexton. Qtd. in William Heyen. American Poets in 1976. Indianapolis. 1978. 309.

21 Sherwin. 9.

22 Robert Lowell. Qtd. In Sherwin. 9.

23 Socha. 48.

24 Helmut Winter. Qtd. In Socha. 48.

25 Sherwin. 15.

26 Juhasz. 3.

27 Juhasz. 2.

28 Morgan. 134.

29 Robert Lowell. Qtd. In Matterson. 3.

30 Matterson. 3.

31 Matterson. 1.

32 Juhasz. 1.

33 Ibid.

34 Anne Sexton. "The Black Art". In The Complete Poems. Houghton Mifflin. 1981. 88.

35 Juhasz. 2.

36 Ibid.

37 Juhasz. 1.

38 Anne Sexton. Qtd. In Sexton and Ames. 33.

39 Juhasz.141.

40 Morgan. 125.

41 Ingrid Kerkhoff. Poetiken und Lyrischer Diskurs im Kontext Gesellschaftlicher Dynamik: USA: „ The Sixties". Lang, 1989. 75-76.

42 Janice Markey. A New Tradition? The poetry of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich: a Study of Feminism and Poetry. Lang, 1985. 12.

43 Kerkhoff. 103-105 and 68-69.

44 Kerkhoff. 68.

45 Kekhoff. 68-69.

46 Kerkhoff. 2.

47 Ibid.

48 Markey. 15.

49 Kerkhoff. 74.

50 Thais E. Morgan. Men Writing the Feminine: Literature, Theory, and the Question of Genders. State University of New York Press, 1994. 125. And Markey. 12-13.

51 Kerkhoff. 1-5.

52 Kerkhoff. 38.

53 Markey. 14.

54 Kerkhoff. 14-15.

55 Betty Friedan. The feminine mystique. Gollancz, 1971. 39.

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The Performance and Interrogation of 'Generic Lives' and Gendered Selves in the Confessional Poetry of John Berryman and Anne Sexton
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"
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Anne Sexton, John Berryman, Personal is Political, poetry, suicide, gender, generic lives, confessional poetry, USA, Sixties, gender studies
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Elena Mertel (Author), 2017, The Performance and Interrogation of 'Generic Lives' and Gendered Selves in the Confessional Poetry of John Berryman and Anne Sexton, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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