Celebrating Women in Literature
Throughout history, many women have influenced English literature and continue to contribute to the progression of literature today. Although many women have not received adequate acknowledgement or recognition for their works, their ideas and writings remain fundamental.
Sylvia Plath was an American writer, born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932. Plath was a feminist writer, notable for her melancholic and dark works. Many of Plath’s writings include common themes such as freedom, death, motherhood and one’s self. For instance, in the poem “Metaphors”, Plath cleverly and strategically uses extended metaphor and syllables to emphasize the burden of responsibilities, challenges and physical limitations that women must endure when encountering motherhood. Plath also expresses one’s feelings of fear and anxieties that arise as a result.
In “Metaphors,” Plath comments on the difficulties that women approaching motherhood may endure, her novel “The Bell Jar” similarly highlights a woman’s internal struggle. “The Bell Jar” follows a woman’s internal journey and struggle in eventually becoming herself. For example, in “The Feminist Discourse of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’”, Budick highlights Marjorie Perloff’s “A Ritual for Being Born Twice”, which conveys that the female protagonist, Ester, attempts to define and distinguish herself from her true self and the false façade that she portrays (872). Ester struggles to pursue her career as an editor while simultaneously struggling to uncover her own identity. Budick draws attention to Erica Jong’s (Reardon 136) assertion that “the reason a woman has greater problems becoming an artist is because she has greater problems becoming herself” (872). Ester’s internal conflict displays a larger societal conflict, and a woman’s struggle to affirm herself in spite of it.
Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri was a memoirist, poet, and Civil Rights Activist. Although Angelou often writes and criticizes society’s injustices, her tone is usually hopeful and optimistic. As a Black female writer in the early 1960s, Angelou’s writings and ideas were transformative. For instance, in Angelou’s autobiographical novel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Angelou confronts themes such as race, inequality, oppression and social status. Angelou highlights the impact of race and identity. She expresses her Eurocentric view of beauty and success (2) as a child, and her struggle to accept her own race. Angelou is initially unable to differentiate herself and her identity from negative stereotypes (27) portrayed of Black individuals and communities. Her novel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, illustrates the journey of reclaiming one’s own identity in a prejudiced society.
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian poet, novelist and essayist, born on 1939 in Ottawa, Canada. She is also a feminist, and a monumental and influential figure of Canadian literature. From an early age, Atwood was inspired by writers such as Edgar Allan Poe to pursue writing. She is notable for novels such as, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian commentary about patriarchy and power, and “The Blind Assassin,” a thrilling narrative set in the 1930s about control, manipulation, and one’s desire for a legacy. Atwood’s writing and poetry is rich with both metaphor and imagery. In many of Atwood’s works, common themes include nature, longing, femininity, and patriarchy.
Many female writers such as Plath, Angelou, and Atwood, have helped shape and continue to challenge English literature today.
Poetry Foundation: Sylvia Plath, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/sylvia-plath
Budick, Miller E, The Feminist Discourse of Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica: Maya Angelou, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maya-Angelou
Angelou, Maya, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Margaret Atwood: Biography, http://margaretatwood.ca/biography/
Oates, Joyce, “Margarey Atwood: Poet” http://movies2.nytimes.com/books/00/09/03/specials/atwood-oates.html