Womenand Gender Issues
Literaryworks have, since time immemorial played a fundamental role in thegrowth and development of societies. The growth and development ofsocieties almost always starts with a change of its mindsetparticularly the ideas that members of the society hold regardingvaried issues. Literary works, alongside their role of educating andentertaining the readers, also cause them the question the basis ofsome of the aspects of the society. They critique certain aspects ofthe society particularly those that cause it to lag behind and imbuein the readers ideas pertaining to a better way of life. Needless tosay, one of the most explored themes in literary works remains to bethe place of women in the society. It has been well acknowledged thatsince time immemorial, women in a large number of societies havealways been relegated to the periphery and thought of as weak andincapable of making any decisions. Indeed, their place remained to bein the kitchen as they were thought of as not having sufficientintellectual capabilities as to allow them to make fundamentaldecisions both pertaining to their lives and those of their families.This draconian way of looking at women has received its fair share ofexamination in a large number of literary works with authors andpoets aiming at highlighting its existence, its negative effects,baseless nature and imploring the readers to change the mindset. Thiswas the case for the poems “My Life Stood a Loaded Gun” and“Goblin Market” by Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossettirespectively.
In“My Life Stood a Loaded Gun”, Dickinson sees herself aspossessing the power and force of a lethal weapon rather than just abeing a recluse whose capacity to act and effects change in thesociety is concerned. She uses the metaphor of a gun, where she seesherself as a “loaded gun”. As much as it may be necessary for aman to notice it and take it with him in a hunting expedition, thegun, from that point going forward would be speaking with a force orpower that is well beyond that of a man. In the society that EmilyDickinson lives, it is apparent that the inclusion of women in thevaried activities of the society is primarily at the discretion ofthe men, probably because they own the means of production and otherfactors. However, Emily underlines the notion that this should notmean that women are weaklings whose functionality would be crippledby the deficiency of decision-making opportunities since they havedecision-making capabilities that could well surpass those of men. Ofcourse, this could be applied in her life where she was writing poemsjust as the men in her society did, and creates a powerful poeticvoice that is deadly, lethal and dangerous. At this time, she seesherself and the women at large as powerful objects that have thecapacity to speak (7) for men, hunt with men (6), guard men (14), andbe more lethal than man’s “deadly foes” (17), while stillincorporating the “power to kill without the power to die (23-24).Of course, it may not be clear what “men” in this regard means,as it could imply all human beings or the male gender. Nevertheless,the poem underlines the notion that women are way beyondpowerlessness, controlled and limited lives pertaining to womanhoodin the society but rather are beings who have volition, voices, powerand pride, aspects that were suppressed and deemed inappropriate forwomen in those days.
Oneof the most distinctive or conspicuous aspects of the poem is theexistence of the “other” or a man in her life. Scholars have seenthis as the “masculine” element of the psyche of women andcorresponds to the depiction of an “anima” as the feminineelement in the man’s psyche. The animus or anima, which is firstexperienced in the uneasy and troubling existence of “the other”in an individual, therefore, is key to the fulfillment of anindividual and can allow him or her to suffer through the firstcrisis of conflict and alienation to assimilate the “other” to anintegrated identity. The message that Emily tries to send across isthat for women living in the society where their lives are subjectedto particular assigned roles, the integration and growth processwould become particularly fraught with painful traps, risks andambivalences ((Miller 56)). However, Dickinson sees her poetess roleas an opportunity for fulfillment in her relationship to the malefigure and her identification with him. Prior to his coming, her lifehad only been privy to inertia, living in neglected and tight placesand caught in corners where her movement and capacity to expressherself were limited (Miller 56). However, in spite of standing asthough she was in a constricted place, she knew that she hadpotential way beyond her current status. It is worth noting that sheobtained her prerogatives via being submissive to the masculineprinciple that was entrenched deep in her. Indeed, the poem stateswell that the release of her power was dependent on her being“carried away” by the owner or master. On the same note,surrendering her womanhood modified her into a phallic or lethalweapon that subsequently, his adoption and recognition identifiedher.
Ofparticular note is the fact that Dickinson’s fantasy in the poem isa woodsman and a hunter. The poetess’ imagination grasps herpredicament in terms of a fundamental American experience myth. Ithas been well known that pioneers underline their manhood throughmeasuring themselves against the unfathomable and unfathomedimmensity pertaining t the elemental world, whose “otherness”would be experienced as either “inhuman”, “feminine” or even“divine”, and in some cases, a combination of the three. Inessence, the link with the landscape or forest comes off as a passageinto the unknown world pertaining to his own psyche or rather themystery pertaining to his own subconscious. Of particular note is thefact that the hunter would reach out to nature and engage hisfundamental spiritual and physical needs, thereby finding himselfreaching out with the hands of a predator to subdue and possessnature and allow it to serve his own ends. This perspective of naturewould assume a tragic or devastating significance. The forsaking ofthe institutional structures pertaining to the patriarchal cultureallows the woodsman to go alone and test the capacity of his mind tooutwit the wiles and lures of nature. His capacity to vanquish herwould allow him to resume or assume his place in the society, as wellas derive his share of the spoils of nature alongside the service ofthe entities beneath him in the existing order. Within thepsychological context pertaining to the archetypal struggle,Dickinson would be collaborating or taking part in the killing of thedoe without any regret as she craves for the power of mind andautonomous nature of the will, which would be made possible by herallegiance with the woodsman. In particular, the engagement with thewoodsman would unlock her artistic innovation and allow her to becomea poet via his mastery and inspiration. The irresistible power of therifle’s bullet and muzzle are expressed metaphorically with regardto the physiognomy of the artist. Dickinson uses “Vesuvian face”to outline the artist’s blazing countenance, “Yellow Eye” forhis vision, “Emphatic thimb” for his shaping hand and “cordiallight” to elucidate his responsive heart. In essence, once thehunter fires the rifle, he is essentially guiding the actions of thebullet as shown by the line “I speak for him”. This means that ifthe hunter does not initiate or pull the trigger, there wouldpotentially be no incandescence, while there would exist no artwithout her as the craftsman or seer. Their conjunction would giverise it the voice of the poem, which would be sufficientlyreverberant to create an echo in the forest.
Itis clear that in the poem, Dickinson is acceding to the “rape” asshe longs for the overturning of sexual roles that, from the point ofview of males, would enable hunters to call their phallic weapons bythe names of girls or speak to them or of them as women. By thesecond stanza, the “he” and “I” come “we”. Scholars havealso underlined the fact that the repetition and rhythm in the lines“Andnow We roam in Sovereign Woods– / And now We hunt the Doe”underline the momentous modification of identity. However, it isnoteworthy that the roaming of “the Sovreign Woods” underlines acompetition for survival, which would mean bloodshed. She boasts thatshe would be an enemy to his enemy “Tofoe of His–I`m deadly foe”.In addition, it is noteworthy that their first hunting expeditioninvolves hunting a (specifically) female deer or doe. This underlinesthe fact that for Dickinson, her identification with the archetypehero in the form of a woodsman would necessitate that she sacrificesher womanhood, as well as the range of experience and personality asmaternal and sexual woman. Within a few lines, Dickinson manages totransform her “rape” by the male, to hunting creatures in MotherNature by masculine comrades.
Thispoem or rather the manner in which the message is conveyed therein iscompletely different from Christina Rossetti’s “GoblinMarket”.One of the major differences is the fact that Rossetti does jotincorporate any male characters, with the only indication pertainingto the existence of men being incorporated at the end where it isstated that Laura and Lizzie became wives (544). Laura’s behavioris described in a manner similar to sexual arousal, demonstratingearly on in the poem that the girls are feeling sexual desires. Laurasuccumbs to the desires as the goblins get nearer to them, therebyentering the same animalistic realm inhabited by the goblins. At thisjuncture, she is not the same as her sister, a variation that isaffirmed by the statement that the “last restraint is gone” (86).This means that Laura is no longer living in denial of her sexualdesires and sexuality as was the case initially where she was alwayshiding from the goblins. It is noteworthy that Laura does not paywith money rather she uses her “precious golden lock” (126) aspayment. This underlines the notion that she has a sexual interactionwith the goblins. The main difference from Dickinson’s poem comesup from the fact that the women would not be required to hide theirsexuality or further the desires and needs of men so as to progressrather they could go ahead and obtain what they wanted and expressthemselves freely. This seems to give women much more power overtheir bodies compared to the case of Dickinson’s poem where a womanis in a state of inertia and would only have her potential coming upsimply in instances where a man takes the initiative and gets herout. Scholars have noted, however, that Christina Rossetti waswriting the poem as a way of criticizing the behavior of her brothers(Rich 456). Of course, it may be surprising considering that Rossettiis said to have enjoyed a close attachment to her sister and mother,as well as her two brothers. However, it is noted that as much as thebrothers encouraged her to write, they did not allow her toofficially join their artistic movement called the Pre-RaphaeliteBrotherhood. Scholars opine that the exclusively women’s world thatGoblin Market is comes as the answer to the exclusively male artisticmovement that her brothers had. In addition, it is seen as, in partrevolving around the exclusion of women in the male-dominatedartistic world in the Victorian period. Further, it is clear that themen in this period are unaware of the trials and tribulations thattheir women counterparts have to go through to simply exist. Men, asrepresented by the goblins, are way above the realm of the women inwhich case they cannot hear the cry of women. This is shown by thefact that they do not share the same community with the two sisters,which is why they would be willing to take sex for things that couldbe paid for using money.
Inaddition, there is a clear difference with regard to the manner inwhich the women treat their female counterparts. Of particular noteis the fact that Rossetti only references to the two sisters Lauraand Lizzie, with no reference being given to a community. In fact,even after the traumatic experience that they go through, theresponse is started off by the sisters with no help whatsoever fromother members of the community. The distinction between the two poemscomes in the view of the other women. In the case of Dickinson, otherfemales can be trampled upon as long as such an action furtheredone’s agenda. This is why the gun is primarily used to hunt femaledeer or doe. However, Rossetti underlines the irreplaceable nature ofwomen in the statement that “For there is no friend like a sister”(562). Of course, this may come off as a pretty ambiguous thing tosay particularly considering that not every other sisterlyrelationship is as idyllic as is the case for the two sisters.However, the feminist perspective would imply that the concept ofsisters does not necessarily underline the genetic concept rather itis in reference to the connection that exists between all women as aresult of the experiences that bind them, particularly motherhood.This, as a consequence, would create the idea that statements such ascheering one “on the tedious way” implies that the mutualunderstanding that exists between them would make them moreappropriate candidates for supporting each other in the times oftrouble and hardship. This may also be interpreted in the context ofChristina Rossetti’s life who, as earlier stated, had beenprohibited from joining the artistic movement that she so craved tobecome an official member of. Scholars have gone ahead to state thatthe incorporation of statements pertaining to a mythical world thatonly has women with the only males being the hideous goblins may beseen as sending the message that Rossetti, alongside other femalepoets and literary giants of the period, did not require men so as tosurvive in the field. She may have been aiming at demonstrating thata male-dominated world that perceived itself as progressive andresulting in the advancement of it was inherently misogynistic.
Thedelicious fruit and the effect that it has on Laura, as well as theaftermath pertaining to her eating of the fruit elicits ideaspertaining to the biblical Adam and Eve story. In the later, the textoutlines the susceptibility of women to downfall and temptation andparallels narratives pertaining to the goblin market (Humphries 401).As is the case with Adam and Eve story, Lizzie and Laura are livingin a secluded world where no community is mentioned, with which thetwo sisters are part of or interacting with. However, in spite of theseclusion that they are in, they are perfectly privy of thetemptation and danger that the goblins present as shown in thestatement “We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy theirfruits” (42-43). As was the case for Adam and Eve, where the latterwas successfully tempted by the serpent to consume the fruit thateventually resulted in her downfall and that of Adam, Laura issuccessfully tempted into giving in to her sexual desires andfulfilling them with the help of the goblins.
Inaddition, the sexuality and sensuousness that is prevalent in thegoblin market marks the distinction between the worlds in which thetwo sisters live and that in which Dickinson lives. It is noteworthythat in Dickinson’s case, the hunter must take her (the gun) intothe woods and pull the trigger so as to allow her t express herselfand demonstrate her capacity to effect some change or make decisionsin the world in which she lives. However, the same cannot be said inthe case of the two sisters where the ideas pertaining to eating thefruit are not planted in their minds rather it swells up by its ownvolition. This means that her expression is not tied to anotherperson’s or being’s liking rather it is at the sole discretion ofLaura. Nevertheless, the two are similar in the fact that thepoetesses do not seem to castigate the characters for their decisionto indulge in what may be seen as unbecoming behavior of women inthe patriarchal societies. This was well established in the case ofDickinson’s poem where the poetess seems to even encourage thesacrificing of one’s womanhood for the furtherance of her desiresand needs, even when the sacrifice means having male characters useher. On the same note, Rossetti does not raise qualms with regard tothe utilization of one’s female wiles and sexuality to achieve herown goals as seen in the overt description of the Laura’s sexualityand capacity to express it. Indeed, she gets what she wants from thegoblins for simply parting with her golden lock.
Inaddition, there is a similarity with regard to the results of usageof one’s sexuality in search of one’s identity or to assert one’simportance in the society. Of course, for Dickinson, allowing men totake advantage of her is the only way that she can get an opportunityto express her potential and power. In the case of Rossetti, awoman’s sexuality can be used in obtaining favors from the dominantmembers of the society, who can be assumed to be men in this case.However, the results for the two are pretty clear as they become onewith men, and are eventually pursuing the likes, preferences andgoals of men. In the case of Dickinson, this is expressed in the factthat she is said to be a deadly foe to the men’s enemies, whichmeans that her likes and preferences will be dictated by the likesand preferences of the men. In the case of Rossetti’s poem, oncethe women allow themselves to use their sexuality and lie with thegoblins, her restraint is eliminated to the extent that she becomesdifferent from her sister and joins the sexual realm that the realms,or rather men, represent. This means that she is acting like them andfollowing the rules by which they live.
Inconclusion, literary works have always played the crucial role ofenhancing the progression and development of the society in theshort-term and long-term through challenging some of the ideas thatare entrenched in the society fabric. One of the most explored issuesrevolves around the place of women in the society, particularlyconsidering that women, in a large number of communities are seen asweaker sex that does not have the capacity to make decisions evenregarding its own life (Humphries 407). In the two poems, this comesout clearly considering that the women in the two poems have to tradetheir sexuality and womanhood for favors and recognition. However,the two poems are different in the manner in which they presentwomen. As much as Dickinson portrays women as strong and powerful,she makes the mistake of depicting them as requiring the assistanceof men so as to show their potential. This is something that Rossettiseems to be averse to, considering that the two sisters are livingperfectly well in the society that is deficient of men, counting oneach other in the times of trouble and managing to salvage theirlives in the same.
Dickinson,Emily. My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun. In Ralph W. Franklin, “ThePoems of Emily Dickinson”. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Humphries,Simon. “The Uncertainty of "Goblin Market.!” VictorianPoetry 45.4 (2007): 391-413. Print
Miller,Cristanne. EmilyDickinson: A Poet’s Grammar.New York: Harvard University Press. 1987
Rich,Adrienne. "Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson."Reprinted in OnLies, Secrets, and Silences.New York: W.W. Norton, 1979. Print
Rossetti,Christina G. GoblinMarket, and Other Poems.New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.