Judith Fetterly describes the fiction of Fanny Fern as basically conservative due to the seeming resignation to the institution of marriage. She claims that Parton’s work is safe and makes only small challenges to the patriarchal institutions of her day. I do not see this in my reading of “Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio.” I hear the voice of a woman who recognizes the problems with patriarchy and who does not flinch from revealing them. I found her writing to be bold and even angry in places. Rather than Fetterly’s interpretation, I identify more with Hawthorne’s assessment that Parton “writes as if the Devil was in her” (244). I think that her anonymity as Fanny Fern allowed her greater freedom to critique society. Her status as a widow freed her from many of the Victorian constraints, since she had the benefits of independence, but permission to be aware of her sexuality and of relationships between the sexes. Furthermore, she had the excuse that her work was fiction and therefore “safe.” This set of circumstances allowed her to use the Devil within her to describe and decry the Devil around her, namely patriarchal society. From behind the veil of fiction and of her pen name, Sara Willis Parton criticizes traditional gender roles by showing the folly of men, the wisdom of women and the flawed nature of patriarchy.
The folly of men is a persistent feature of the short stories in the collection. Men are portrayed as patronizing and oblivious at best and tyrannous and unfaithful at worst. The husbands and lovers in these stories behave so poorly that they arouse a defensive response from me as a male reader. I very much want to relegate their behavior to …
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…r forever,” “true love sails on” or something my mother would have inscribed in her high school yearbook. Instead I found a crass, even if comical, description of patriarchy. Even today, my mother blushed as the picture and apologized for the groomsmen saying “we were young; it was the seventies.”
The stories I have chosen to discuss are not conservative creations designed to please male editors and readers. They are poignant descriptions of the sufferings of women. Their fictional nature makes them acceptable, but their generality makes them applicable. Parton uses her craft to create popularly acceptable criticisms of sexual injustice. I believe that this struggle lends a mimetic quality to her work. Because of the generality of her characters and the continuing oppression of patriarchal society, her stories are as pertinent today as when they were written.
Plath’s Daddy Essay: Father and Husband as Vampires
Father and Husband as Vampires in Plath’s Daddy
The poem “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath concludes with the symbolic scene of the speaker killing her vampire father. On an obvious level this represents Plath’s struggle to deal with the haunting influence of her own father who died when she was a little girl. However, as Mary G. DeJong points out, “Now that Plath’s work is better known, ‘Daddy’ is generally recognized as more than a confession of her personal feelings towards her father” (34-35). In the context of the poem the scene’s symbolism becomes ambiguous because mixed in with descriptions of the poet’s father are clear references to her husband, who left her for another woman as “Daddy” was being written. The problem for the reader is to figure out what Plath is saying about the connection between the figures of father and husband by tying them together in her poem.
A clue lies in the final image she uses, the vampire. In today’s movies and books vampires are portrayed as humans who have gained immortality and power in exchange for the need for blood and avoidance of sunlight and crosses. However, Plath wrote her poem in 1962, and since then our culture’s image of the vampire has changed drastically. Historically, people who were transformed into vampires were no longer the same human beings. Instead, they became monsters who retained only the physical appearance of their former selves. Our interpretation of the poem is affected if we assume that when Plath wrote about a vampire she had in mind the older conception of a monster which took over the body of a now dead human. With this image in mind we will tend to look for ways the duality of father and husband in the poem correspond to the vampire’s dual i…
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…the memory of her father’s equally painful though unintentional abandonment. Despite the mixing of father and husband in the antagonist of “Daddy” it is obvious which man Sylvia Plath is addressing with the poem’s last line, written during the breakup of her marriage and three months before her suicide: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through” (80). Works Cited
Cam, Heather. ” ‘Daddy’: Sylvia Plath’s Debt to Anne Sexton.” American Literature 59 (1987): 429-32.
DeJong, Mary G. “Sylvia Plath and Sheila Ballantyne’s Imaginary Crimes.” Studies in American Fiction 16 (1988): 27-38.
Ramazani, Jahan. ” ‘Daddy I Have Had to Kill You’: Plath, Rage, and the Modern Elegy.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 108 (1993): 1142-56.
Srivastava, K.G. “Plath’s Daddy.” The Explicator 50 (1992): 126-28.