Reading about/as/through the gender critics…

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:00 pm by Dominique

Hi all,

Alessandra Cervinaro and Cassandra Ramlochan have agreed to be our main bloggers this week. They will continue the discussion we began at the end of class on Thursday by composing an analysis of The Turn of the Screw using a gender studies approach. Using the steps outlined on the handout you received in class, and selecting a useful “passage” (as modeled in class) that will support a gender-focused analysis, each main blogger will write a carefully-structured paragraph of 500-550 words using the guidelines below. These paragraphs should be submitted by this Monday at midnight.

First, consider the questions we addressed from a feminist perspective. (See the handout from last class on 11/1–also in your email box–especially for Steve E. who didn’t get a copy in class! A lot of feminist issues overlap with gender criticism–just remember what we said about gender critics approaching gender as a social construction.) Think specifically about how gender and sexuality were conceived of when the text was composed and/or published. See the gender criticism essay assigned for Thursday in the back of The Turn of the Screw about two central historical factors that make gender an interesting and challenging topic in the late 19th century: Oscar Wilde being put on trial for homosexual behavior and the rise of early women’s rights movements. You’ll want to acknowledge these historical circumstances as you dive into your analysis.

Then, focus on the following two-step method. Don’t think about responding to these questions in list form–rather use them as a guide to construct a fluid paragraph. If you focus more on some parts of the questions and leave others out in order to develop your ideas, that’s okay!

1. (More descriptive) How are gender norms established: What kinds of gender norms are present in the text? Are specifically gendered codes of behavior explicitly or implicitly dramatized in the text? (Are certain things assumed about how “males” and “females” should behave–how they should dress, interact, pursue a career, etc?)

2. (More analytical) How are gender norms transgressed: Do characters transgress general social codes of gender? If so, how does the text respond to this transgression? If not, why not? Do characters exhibit unexplained desire (or desire without a coherent object of that desire)? Are characters depressed or melancholy for reasons that are relatively unexplained? How are same-sex friendships described? Are these more or less passionate than opposite-sex couplings? Are these friendships seen as problematic?

When you think about how to craft your paragraph, try using the following outline:

I. In a sentence or two, establish the historical and cultural importance of gender issues at the time James is writing and consider why such issues might be reflected in James’s text, whether consciously or not. (This is where you establish your motive for using this particular critical approach. Alternatively, if you were using post-colonialism, you might discuss how the author is invested in/aware of how imperialism. If you were using psychoanalysis, you might want to note when the text was published in relation to Freud’s work and why the notion of the unconscious would capture people’s attention at that time.)

II. Describe the way gender roles are treated in the text more generally (see question 1 above). The purpose of providing this context is to help set you up to focus on one specific illustration of the way these roles are enforced and/or transgressed later on in the paragraph (and later on in an essay, if you were writing an essay).

III. Include a “passage” (carefully transcribed, properly indented, and cited, please!) that will allow you to focus in on one character, one relationship, or one type of gender “norm” that you can then analyze in more detail (thinking ahead to how you will use question 2 above as you cite your passage).

IV. Present your analysis of the passage, responding to some aspect of question 2 by highlighting the implications of specific language used or assumptions made in the passage.


Commentators should do this same exercise in a shorter form–in 150-200 words, by Wednesday at midnight–providing only one sentence for each part of the outline. While these paragraphs will clearly not be as well developed as those of the two main bloggers, this a useful approach to test out anyway; I hope it’s one with which we’ll grow more comfortable during the remainder of the semester and beyond this course.

This is also a model that I would like to see all of you adopt in your second paper, which you’ll be working on over the next four weeks and which I’ll tell you more about on Tuesday! I loved that we found a way to think about the Snickers commercials as feminist critics at the start of last class (thanks, Victoriane!). The upcoming paper assignment will allow for more of a similar kind of cultural analysis.

So, we’ll begin Tuesday’s class by returning to the handout on writing around “passages” from Thursday and briefly talking more about gender criticism. Then we’ll discuss Alessandra and Cassandra’s paragraphs. Next we’ll do…well….something else.**  And then we’ll end with a discussion of the next paper assignment. **In preparing for that “something else,” please make sure you have reviewed The Turn of the Screw, as well as your notes on psychoanalysis, feminism, and gender criticism, looking at any critical essays assigned for each of those lenses.  You may also want to practice using the paragraph structure above on your own so that you can see whether you run into trouble; if you hit a wall, contact me to show me how far you got, or stop by my office on Tuesday. As many of you have already realized, we might think we understand a critical lens when we’re discussing it in class but when we try to apply it in writing that can be a whole ‘nother ball game.

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week and will do my best to leave comments on the final versions of your Heart of Darkness essays by then.

Have a great weekend,



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