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Vicious binaries: gender and authorial paranoia in Dreiser's "Second Choice," Howells' "Editha," and Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." (Theodore Dreiser; William Dean Howell; Ernest Hemingway)

William Dean Howells' "Editha" (1905), Theodore Dreiser's "Second Choice" (1918), and Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber" (1936) are three frequently anthologized short stories that operate in apparently very different arenas. There is certainly no reason to associate them if we work within traditional Anglo-American critical frames. Not only do they differ thematically: considered historically, each reflects a very different national mood. Howells' looks back to the Spanish-American War, the end of the nineteenth century; Dreiser's looks at the effect of twentieth-century mobility -- physical and social -- on small town aspirations; Hemingway's looks at gender relationships created by an environment that presupposes physical mobility and personal choice. Set within these historical contexts, they are three very different stories.

If we examine them from a feminist perspective, however, the stories suddenly manifest a striking similarity. All three feature marginalized female characters who suffer as a result of their distance from whatever the stories define as the locus of freedom and power. If we examine these characters' behaviors as responses to their marginalization, we confront the stories' implicit oppositions, and are led to examine the stories in light of their common binary infrastructure. Suddenly the authors of the stories appear in a new light: first, as inheritors of a discursive practice mandating gendered opposition; second, as creative subjects disturbed by their own bad faith as author-ities in regard to their female protagonists; and finally as gendered subjects grown fearful that the hapless female objects they have created will retaliate against them. Viewed ahistorically, the infrastructures of the three stories reveal themselves to be surprisingly similar.

In order to uncover these infrastructures, I'm taking the stories out of chronological sequence, beginning with Dreiser's "Second Choice" because it so clearly exhibits certain basic assumptions that create a binary trap. Although my sequencing is ahistorical, my critical stance is not; I am treating these texts as products of particular "authors," by which I mean a subjective consciousness that, though originating a given work, is itself a product of its culture's multifarious present. Equally important here, an "author" is also a product of his or her culture's interpretations of the past -- its readings, and methods for reading, prior texts. If each author's productions are also returns, rewritings, of prior texts, then what interests me here are the ways authors first repeat and/or alter inherited concepts, and, second, fill in gaps in prior texts and ramify their implications.(1)

My immediate concern here is the metaphysic of binary opposition and the way it has affected the imaginary construction of gender relationships in these canonical American stories. "Vicious Binaries" examines the binary pairs

activity/passivity and male/female. Most specifically, it examines the cultural valorization of the fusion of "activity" with "male" and "passivity" with "female" and the relationship of these value-marked pairs to two other binary couples, power/powerlessness and effective language/reactive language. These three stories express a culturally encouraged disposition dialectically to link activity with maleness and passivity with femaleness, thus collapsing four potential categories (active or passive males, active or passive females) into two, and to value these particular combinations over any other possibilities. What we also see -- and this is what especially concerns me here -- is a dialectic that is Hegelian in the sense that creation of one half of the binary pair necessarily calls the Other into being, but that is also Platonic in its lack of the Aufhebung, the transcendental synthesis that, in Hegel's system, resolves differences and shifts the enterprise onto another plane, providing movement and the possibility for change.(2) Rather, in inheriting the particular dialectical linkage that at once mandates and celebrates active men and passive women, the authors are unable to explore textually the implications of gender gaps in any way other than by increasingly polarizing men and women. This results in an authorial paranoia that, examined as an historical phenomenon limited to these three texts, is simply interesting, but that projected across the intervening years suggests the tenaciousness of conceptual structures that mandate gender warfare even when writers attempt to resist reinscribing them. Hence my long-range purpose in pursuing this project is to lay bare some of our inherited interpretive structures and to suggest that we attempt to reconstitute not binary opposition itself -- clearly that would be impossible -- but the content, the representations of human beings, that we use to fill our binary "slots."(3)

Dreiser's "Second Choice" should be titled "What Would Have Happened if Sister Carrie Hadn't Gone to Chicago." In this story, Shirley, the protagonist, is jolted out of her lower-middle-class complacency by Arthur, a dashing, romantic newcomer who woos, wins, and leaves her. Love, Shirley suddenly finds, is excitement, defined by Arthur as freedom, movement, exploration. Shirley wants to go with him. When he drops her, she regards herself as a failure because in his eyes, she is worthless. So she forces herself to settle for Barton, her steady, phlegmatic suitor, and resume the life she had abandoned when Arthur appeared. "What's the use?" she asks herself, sounding much like Carrie's George Hurstwood. "I don't amount to anything, anyhow. Arthur wouldn't have me" (Perkins et al. 1076).

Shirley's resemblance to Hurstwood gives the clue to this story's plot. As in many of Dreiser's works, a structure resting on the play of binary oppositions underlies "Second Choice." In Sister Carrie, published eighteen years before "Second Choice," Dreiser compares and contrasts his characters according to indices of activity and passivity, continually reexamining their capacities for effective action as their outward circumstances change. Hurstwood, initially active, becomes increasingly passive, finally dying because he is unable to summon the energy to combat his circumstances. Moreover, the onset of his decline coincides with the onset of Carrie's rise. When she trades quiescence for movement, he trades effort for inertia.

It's worth noting that Dreiser's experiment in creating an active woman did not altogether succeed: while some contemporary readers were shocked by Carrie's sexual activity,(4) subsequent ones have noted her lingering passivity.(5) One revisionary project this differing reaction suggests is to look at aspects of Dreiser's characterization that we have hitherto examined in light of literary naturalism as, rather, reflections of Dreiser's fascination by the nature of passivity. For although he explores the nature of inertia perhaps more than any other American writer, Dreiser does not like it. Reflecting cultural values, he marks active characters positively and passive ones negatively. Even though ambitious characters may also challenge other cultural values (Frank Cowperwood, for instance), they still function as positive signs in the theme of "freedom from" that animates Dreiser's work. Consequently in Dreiser's variations on the binary plot, one character must fail to escape a repressive environment simply because an opposing character succeeds. While he at times presents passive characters sympathetically, he nonetheless celebrates energetic ones, even while he questions the morality of particular actions.

However, when Dreiser explicitly thematizes conventional gender roles, as he does in "Second Choice," not only does he abruptly reverse these values, but the story also begins to exhibit tensions consequent on its author's reflection of contradictory cultural values. Although the cultural default value celebrates activity and denigrates passivity, this value actually only holds for men. Once gender comes into play we reconfigure the binary fusions. Adding "female" to the complex active/passive, good/bad reverses the fusion: we approve passive women and denigrate active ones. And whereas, for men, we represent "activity" in terms of physical mobility, effective speech, and access to experience, until very recently we represented passivity in women as the opposite. In other words most positively marked female protagonists did not speak much, did not wander far from home, acted on others' advice rather than according to their own desires, and had little access to the kinds of experience that train men for positions of power and responsibility.

In "Second Choice," Shirley and Arthur represent the collapsed binary complex fusing passivity with women and activity with men. While these collapses simplify the binary schema, this plot also complicates the values assigned because it not only describes but prescribes female passivity, making it a criterion for an exemplary female protagonist. Moreover "Second Choice" complicates the basic binary plot even further, because in it Dreiser tried to write a story not only from his passive character's point of view, but also sympathetic to that viewpoint. "Culturally literate" readers of the early twentieth century would be predisposed to sympathize with Shirley because she is not aggressive, and certainly Dreiser exploits that predisposition by highlighting his protagonist's conformity to gender values. Shirley "lacks" along all three axes of culturally approved femininity: she lacks language, she lacks will, and she lacks access to experience. She is, for instance, not only quiescent but silent. She rarely speaks: Arthur's "Dear Shirley" letter makes her "dumb -- with despair," but she had never, we are told, even in her own letters, made "an open plea" (1065) for Arthur's love. Not wanting to be perceived as aggressive, during their courtship she had only "timidly" and "rarely" asked him "pretty, seeking questions about himself and her" (1069). Moreover, when she realized she was going to lose him "she did not think of reproaching him . . . she was too proud . . . She would not be willing to say to herself that she had ever attempted to hold any man" (1070).

In many ways, it is possible to see "Second Choice" as a male-identified Ur-text for the gendering of binary oppositions. In this exploration into the subjectivity of apathy, the protagonist not only reflects the cultural association of femininity with passivity, she has internalized it. The complex binary infrastructure of "Second Choice" attempts to examine passivity from the point of view of a "good" woman -- a woman who not only lacks access both to experience and to language but also defines herself as a being whose nature is to lack effective power. All life, all "love," must come through an active agent. According to this definition, failure to get the desired man means failure at life itself. It never occurs to Shirley that she, too, could leave --ould move, act, pursue excitement in her own right. "Choice" in this schema is heavily ironic, for Shirley actually has no choices; according to her self-construct she falls to whichever man chooses her. Her case, as she constructs it, is hopeless: she is a passive agent who has discovered a desire that cannot be fulfilled.

Thus Dreiser tells a binarily driven story from the loser's point of view. Not surprisingly, the protagonist ends in a state of despair, unable to see her way out of the binary trap. Hurstwood, too, we remember, ends in despair. But Hurstwood's hopelessness is not gendered; rather, it is caused by the collapse, not the absence, of will, and the possibility that he may reactivate himself lingers up to his suicide. In contrast, Shirley's despair is a direct consequence of having been born female.

And that gendered despair is the particular problem that concerns me here. It is the textually evident response that Dreiser has to the female figure that he has created within this binary paradigm. For given the semiotic building blocks of "Second Choice," it is impossible for Shirley's story to conclude in any other mode. First, because Dreiser operates within an infrastructure that is not only binary but relentlessly oppositional. Active/passive, male/female, freedom/imprisonment, hope/despair, are all positioned as polar opposites. There is no suggestion that synthesis, and hence change, is possible. Second, because Dreiser's default values privilege activity. Within the oppositional schema, if it is good to be active, then it must be bad to be passive. Here we see how the culturally assigned values skew Dreiser's experiment. Trying to operate from inside the subjectivity of the passive agent, an agent whose passivity is culturally mandated and consequently positively valued, this author is caught in the binary trap himself, forced to imagine life as a passive character.

Finally, and as a consequence of his experience of the binary trap, Dreiser is aware that as a writer -- an active agent -- he is himself acting in bad faith, predetermining passive characters whose experience of Self he finds repugnant. In Shirley, Dreiser creates a character who possesses imagination but lacks power to satisfy her desires. But though Dreiser can imagine a subject who sees herself as passive, he cannot imagine a subject so passive as not to rebel against her own marginalization. His own energetic sensibility cannot imagine contentment in its Opposite. Despair is his projected response to the binary trap, his own reaction to being displaced from the center. In an environment (call it a culture, fictional or "real") that is built on the binary opposition of active/passive but values activity, the passive agent must, by definition, see him/herself as failed -- as Shirley, lamenting her loss, seeing herself only as the reflection of what she is not, blames herself: "My dreams are too high, that's all . . . I'm a failure, that's what's the matter with me" (1076). If being good means being passive, then for Dreiser, to be a good woman must mean to exist in a state of alienation and despair.

"Second Choice," then, outlines the binary trap. William Dean Howells' "Editha" operates on a similar infrastructure but tells us more about the authorial paranoia that such gendered binaries seem to produce.(6) Howells' vision of the binary gender trap is at once more theorized, less focused, and more vicious than Dreiser's. Editha, we remember, in part because she's read too many junk novels and too much yellow journalism, coerces her pacifist fiance into going off to war in order to prove himself worthy of her. He is killed, and she never understands her culpability. Though she doesn't know it, Editha is not what her culture would designate as an exemplary female character. Her grave faults include possession of language, will, and energy, all of which she exercises indirectly -- and consequently detrimentally -- because she is displaced from the center of action. Nevertheless Editha does not know that these qualities mark her as a villain. She does not know she is forcing Grearson to prove his manhood. Rather, she thinks she's helping him perfect himself. Certainly she knows she should not argue with her man: ". . . it occurred to her that she was not . . . giving him a fair chance . . . She was pushing, threatening, compelling. That was not a woman's part. She must leave him free . . ." (Perkins et al. 934).

Howells' narrator is unrelentingly caustic about Editha -- while he projects the story from her point of view, he also makes it clear that he thinks she's a ninny -- and a dangerous one. But he also reveals himself in one line: more, I think, than Howells understood. Just after Grearson remarks that if he concedes the validity of the war he will feel it his duty to join the army, the narrator notes of Editha that "She had noticed that strange thing in men; they seemed to feel bound to do what they believed, and not think a thing was finished when they said it, as girls did" (932). Examined in the light of the binary trap, this is the most perceptive -- and potentially the most radical -- line in the story. Here, Howells theorizes Editha's situation, astutely formulating the problem as the relationship between words and effective action and seeing gender as the crucial factor. The crux of Editha's problem is her relation to language, the fact that it is her only avenue to the world. Prevented by her gender from understanding the power of words, of the results of acting upon words, Editha destroys as she seeks to impose herself on the world via words. All of Editha's cliches, then, are only that -- she thinks that all one has to do to be patriotic is to talk right. And the reason she cannot think beyond the words alone is that she's a woman in a culture where reactive speech -- women's talk -- does not lead to action. In Editha's culture women are not involved in making decisions about wars or in fighting in them -- or in dying in them. Experiencing action only through the medium of words, "girls" such as Editha feel that language is all there is.

But Howells is also caught in the binary trap. Having formulated the problem, Howells does not pursue his insight into its social ramifications. Deeply concerned about the moral power of written language, in "Editha" Howells focuses on language isolated from its gendered context. Even though he was concerned about false language corrupting young women -- and certainly "Editha" demonstrates this concern -- he does not pursue his insight that people who use false or inflated language do so because they do not understand the connection between signs and signifieds -- they have no way of knowing what words -- words about situations they cannot experience first hand -- mean in a sensory, immediate way. Rather, he focuses on Editha as an exemplar of people corrupted by the idealization of reality through false art. Here, it is the inflated language and imagery of idealized representations that undermines Editha's values, not her lack of access to effective experience. Howells' attack here is on false art, not the social construction of gender.

But though Howells shifts his focus in "Editha," I think we can pursue his original idea, see how he has filled in the gaps in his reading, or rewriting, of the binary metaphysic. Examined as a story that is as binarily driven as "Second Choice," "Editha" first problematizes its protagonist's binary entrapment and then attacks her for it.

Howells' constructive insight is his perception that women are excluded from effective experience and are relegated to positions of irresponsibility as a result. Put very simply, Editha can say whatever she wants because she does not have to experience the consequences of her words. The dark side of Howells' vision, however, is that Editha is also both wilful and active. On the one hand, though writing earlier than Dreiser, Howells buys into less of the culture's complex fusion of good women with passivity and, hence, with lack of language, will, and experience. On the other hand, the fact that he recognizes, but does not pursue, the ramifications of the social construction of gender means that the women he creates will still function as opposites to men and will, as a consequence, be villains unless they are passive.

If we examine the binary infrastructure of "Editha," we see that Howells has used the cultural restrictions on female aggressiveness to create a malevolent Other whose combination of energy and ignorance threatens male safety. Editha is not evil because she speaks in cliches (so, after all, do the men who write the newspapers she parrots), but because she has the energy and self-confidence that belong to the male preserve and because she uses language aggressively, intentionally or not. Most importantly for our purposes, Editha is evil because she wills others into action in which she cannot participate herself. Editha is manipulative, and in "Editha," she manipulates a good man into being killed, and -- even worse -- for a cause of which the author disapproves.

Howells' dark vision, then, goes a step farther than Dreiser's. Rather than projecting women who desire but not only do not act but do not speak, Howells projects women who possess language, will, and energy but, still, no access to effective action. Because they are denied experience of their own, they work through men, that is, they manipulate men, and as a consequence they destroy men. In "Second Choice," Shirley's despair is a private matter; in "Editha," the results of gendered opposition impact on the public sphere. Howells' vision is that women, capable but constrained at the margins of experience, will manipulate and finally destroy the men who are socially constructed as their opposites. In Howells' variation on the culture's stories about men and women, on some level women recognize and resent their marginalization and retaliate through whatever means they possess. In "Editha," women use language as a substitute for action, forcing men to suffer the consequences. Culturally defined as passive, yet as an individual wilful, energetic, and capable, Editha is, for Howells, both the victim and the avenger of her culture's gender restrictions.

In Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" this dark vision evolves to its inevitable conclusion.(7) Hemingway, though at times aware that his self-absorbed male characters can be harmful to others, nevertheless more often privileges male sensitivity over female destructiveness than the reverse. Because of this authorial sensibility, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" reveals where the binary trap leads authors who cannot leap the gap and imagine women as active subjects. In this story, too, binary structures associate men with activity and women with passivity; physically, Margot is passive -- the men shoot, she sits in the jeep. Not only does the action of the story restrict her physically, it's clear that her history has done so, too -- "she was an extremely handsome and well-kept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she had never used" (Perkins et al. 1290). She has been a model, an object to be gazed at, and she has been a wife: "She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years," and she has "done" nothing else. In fact she does not "do" anything; she is. And that, as with Shirley and Editha, is her problem.

Like Editha, Margot possesses only reactive language. Also like Editha, she manipulates her man, but deliberately and cruelly. Even more dependent than Shirley (who at least has a job), and more consciously vicious with language than Editha, Margot is a destroyer in the first person -- first of her husband's potency, then of his life. But Hemingway's plot vehicle is also the most revealing of its own premises. First, there is no culturally explicit rationalization in "Short Happy Life" for the male ritual that constitutes this safari -- Howells used the moral problematic of war to frame his killing, and Dreiser's male protagonist is lured by the culturally valued possibilities of travel and experience. In contrast, the killing in which Hemingway's protagonists are involved has a kind of rarified purity. It is also, incidently, multicultural and equalitarian -- all the men -- English, American, African -- participate, even if they aren't equal socially. When it comes to the kill, a man is a man, even if he is a lion.

But Margot is not a man. The sole female character in the story, she is the Other, introduced when she walks towards Wilson and Mac as they sit, concocting ways of pretending that Mac's failure had not happened. Margot violates the male ritual, first by her presence, then by her words, which first attack her husband, then Wilson, and finally the false code of the hunt itself. When she threatens to report Wilson for letting Mac shoot at the buffalo from a moving jeep, she fingers the exact place where Wilson's code is most fragile -- Wilson may have "known" what the lion felt as he came at "the crashing, blasting thing that had destroyed him" (1301), but in the end his rationalization of hunting as a fair fight between equals is negated by his blood lust. Margot perceives that Wilson's "honor" is a myth. Consequently not only does she destroy her husband's physical life, but she also has the potential for destroying the self-concept -- not to speak of the livelihood -- of Hemingway's most favored character as well.

Examined in terms of its binary infrastructure, Hemingway's construct of Woman may be the most insightful. At the same time, it is the most paranoid. Here, the woman is the one who, excluded from access to significant action, nevertheless has the power to destroy not only men's lives, but their self-constructs. The basis of Hemingway's existentialism is his design for a psycho/metaphysics for living with the fear of annihilation. "The Short Happy Life" is all about finding a way to construct the Self. But clearly it's an "I" that brings its opposite into being with its own birth. Margot is the Hegelian Other to Hemingway's masculinized Self, but she is a vengeful Other who seeks not reconciliation with, but annihilation of, the male. In Hemingway's variation on the culture's binary metaphysic, then, women deconstruct male constructs of identity. What Hemingway perceives is an Other so enraged by the binary trap that she destroys her Other -- an Other that has at once oppressed and failed her.

Clearly the "readable" portions of these texts depend on readers' grasp of their binary infrastructure, especially the association of men with action and women with lack of access to action. But we can "write" these texts as well, by deconstructing their binary mandate. First, despite individual variations, in all three stories the binary infrastructure mandates opposition. There is a Dark Side, an Other that, in a Hegelian dialectic, is called into being by the very sign of action. In these stories, significant action is associated with men and is valorized. Crucially, the association of women with passivity occurs as a necessary response. The binary opposite comes into being simultaneously with the creation of the primary value. The binary mandate of the cultural metaphysic creates the cultural plot.

My concern is not so much with uncovering the existence of this infrastructure as with the paranoia it seems to induce in the subjects creating the texts. While the binary plot constitutes the readable text in all three stories, a writable one is constituted by the binary trap -- fears that the authors, all male, all possessing author-ity, express through their constructions of their female characters.(8) Even Dreiser, sympathizing with his protagonist, so effectively portrays her inability to act that late-twentieth-century readers, responding, are disturbed by her passivity. Our discomfort actually constitutes the writable (and by far the more interesting) aspect of the plot. And the other stories also suggest that their authors fear retaliation from the characters that the binary mandate forces them to oppress. As actors themselves, Subjects creating characters who are doubly objectified (first in their function as the Object or Other to the dominant male tonality, and second as literary characters, constructs), the writers cannot envision contentment in passivity. Most importantly, since their dialectic does not promise the possibility of transcendence, in their stories binary opposition is a necessary fact. In the male-identified writers' visions, the women, prevented by the cultural plot from participating in significant action, turn language, itself complicit in their marginalization, back on their oppressors, using it to destroy male concepts of the Self -- to destroy, that is, the figures that these male-authored women see as oppressing them. If these stories tell us anything about our culture, it is, at the very least, that male writers walk in fear that women will retaliate against male postures of author-ity.

But of course what that also says is that only the binary concepts are fixed, not the specific representations that fill them. To retaliate is to act. Certainly Margot acts -- effectively. (And gets what she wants -- Macomber's money without his encumbering presence.) Paranoia would not come about were there not, in the minds of these authorities, the suspicion that the doctrines of female passivity and male activity are cultural constructs rather than biological necessities. To put it another way, on some level these writers recognize that in our culture, representations of gender are fictional constructs ruled by a metaphysic that mandates opposition. The problem is not gender, but the metaphysic through which we are taught to interpret gender. Positing Selfhood, we are compelled to posit Otherness as oppositional. And if we value Self, as Americans in particular have been taught to do, we must devalue Other -- create Other as everything we are not. Hence men and women are represented as polar opposites that exist, at best, in a fragile truce. Our fear, our paranoia, is that the Other will retaliate against our author-ity.

What is the "return," in Foucauldian terms, that these texts practise? If we take them in the sequence I have posited, we see subsequent writers filling in gaps with increasing paranoia, rewriting the binary plot into a manifesto for gender warfare. But is this inescapable? Are representations of gendered warfare the only direction the binary plot can take us? Or can we "return" in an effort to recognize the subjectivity of the Other: filling in the gaps in some different way, positing a synthesis, bringing subject and object closer? It would be utopian to propose that we try to excise binary opposition from our ideational and linguistic structures -- I am acutely aware of how they have figured into the words and phrases through which I have structured this essay. But it may be possible to foreground our awareness of the linguistic pressure for gendered opposition, reconstitute our associations of men and women with activity and passivity (my sense is that that process is already well begun), and return to other gaps in the texts we rewrite. It might even be possible to encourage the evolution of the binary metaphysic from a Platonic to a true Hegelian dialectic, thus encouraging syntheses and hence, ideological and social change.

For instance, taking "Second Choice" as an Ur-text once again, we might respond, or we might see Dreiser as responding, to the association of women and passivity as a critique of the culture, in other words to see Dreiser operating not only within his historical milieu but also attempting to react against it. On an historical level, Dreiser's experiment in writing sympathetically from his passive character's point of view demonstrates a move toward transcendence, even though it does not succeed. On an ahistorical, reader-response level, we can ourselves rebel against "Second Choice" (as a portion of my students always do), and actively rebut Shirley's renunciation. Here we would provide the missing Aufhebung, positing a new possibility for the female character and consequently, a new idea. It is possible, as Judith Fetterley has demonstrated, both to understand (historically) and to "resist" (ahistorically) a culturally constructed set of discursive practices. We can, with Hans Robert Jauss, see readers' responses as expanding both literary and social horizons for the future (23-25). We can also, with Richard Rorty, understand that new sentences -- creative returns -- can make new cultural truths (Contingency 9-13). Informed resistance will at once enrich our readings of the past and clarify our struggles to interpret past culture in terms of present needs. It may also serve as a point of origin for new returns, different revisions of prior texts that will evolve into new paradigms for gender relationships.

Examining these three stories both as cultural productions and as structural artifacts, then, enables us to uncover an historical/linguistic plot and begin to understand it. As an interpretive strategy, foregrounding the binary plot lets us examine its manifestations over time and despite historical (situational) change. As a teaching strategy, it gives us a tool for discussing cultural constructions of Otherness -- gender, race, ethnicity, class. As an ideological strategy it gives us a tool for revisioning relational possibilities. The binaries, in other words, need not necessarily be vicious.


1 For discussion of writing as "returns," see Foucault, "What Is an Author?"; the concept of textual "gaps" is explored by Iser.

2 For a discussion of the distinction between Platonic and Hegelian dialectics, see Richard Rorty's essay "Is Derrida a Transcendental Philosopher?" Here Rorty distinguishes between "playing old beliefs against other old beliefs in an attempt to see which survives," on the one hand, and playing "elements of an old vocabulary off against each other in order to make us impatient for a new vocabulary," on the other. A discussion of Rorty's essay appears in Mailloux.

3 Critical predecessors to my discussion of woman as Other are, of course, legion: it is and was (especially among the first and second waves of contemporary feminism) one of the most frequently tackled concepts. Most contemporary discussions trace themselves back to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, especially to her chapter entitled "Dreams, Fears, Idols" (157-223). Irigaray continues the discussion within French philosophical modes of discourse. In the Anglo-American context, Lakoff, Daly, and Spender have stimulated much debate, both for and against their analysis of patriarchal modes of discourse. A good discussion of all of this appears in Cameron, especially chapter 4, on "False Dichotomies, Grammar and Sexual Polarities" (57-71), while Ferguson examines the philosophical bases of gendered polarities.

Some of the best essays on gendered opposition in the past 15 years have appeared in anthologies by McConnell-Ginet et. al., Thorne et. al., de Lauretis, Harding and Hintikka, and Barr and Feldstein. Discussions of Self and Other in specifically literary terms also can be found in Trilling (where of course it is not part of a feminist project), Donovan, and Bamber.

My discussion here of course falls within the category of feminist criticism that Elaine Showalter has termed "the feminist critique" -- and has criticized, quite rightly, as focusing too obsessively on images of women produced by men. But since Showalter's essay was first published in 1979, much "gynocritical" work has been accomplished, including my own work on nineteenth-century American women's novels. It seems to me at this time that our experience of gynocriticism also leads us helpfully back into the feminist critique, enhancing our abilities to apprehend how men generate images of women. In addition to Showalter, see Heilbrun and Stimpson for an early dialogue about the differences between the feminist critique and gynocriticism.

4 Most early reviewers of Sister Carrie understood that Dreiser was presenting a type rather than an exemplar. Some, however, insisted on reading the novel for its moral impact on its readers, and censored it accordingly. Probably the most quoted review of this type was published in the Chicago Advance of June 27, 1907, which characterized Sister Carrie as "A volume containing a terrible warning to men and one that women had better not read . . ." (Salzman xxi).

5 In 1951 F. O. Matthiessen remarked that Carrie is "passive rather than active, receptive rather than aggressive . . ." and saw these qualities as undercutting rather than highlighting Carrie's sexual adventures (Matthiessen 169-85). Amy Kaplan discusses Carrie's active desire for consumer goods as compensation for her social powerlessness (146-47). Howard discusses Carrie as a "victim of her desires," whose "peculiarly passive . . . pursuit of her dreams is also an exercise of will" (41). While ample secondary criticism exists for Sister Carrie, there does not seem to be any for "Second Choice." Neither Dreiser bibliographies nor a search through the PMLA bibliography 1980-1989 turned up any references to critical works on this story.

6 Like "Second Choice," "Editha" does not appear to be a favorite for critical analysis. Kehler and Piacentino (the latter treats the work as a war story), seem to be the only essays devoted to it.

7 Unlike "Second Choice" and "Editha," "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and its female protagonist have received a fair amount of critical attention. Recent relevant works include Bender, Seydow, Johnston, and Jackson. For an explicitly feminist perspective see Baym.

8 See Barthes' discussion of the difference between readable and writable texts.


Bamber, Linda. Comic Women, Tragic Men. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 1982.

Barr, Marleen S., and Richard Feldstein, eds. Discontented Discourses: Feminism/Textual Intervention/Psychoanalysis. Champaign: U of Illinois P, 1989.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974.

Baym, Nina. "Actually, I Felt Sorry for the Lion." New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Ed. Jackson J. Benson. Durham: Duke UP, 1990. 112-20.

Bender, Bert. "Margot Macomber's Gimlet." College Literature 8.1 (Winter 1981): 12-20.

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Harris is professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University. She is the author of Mark Twain's Escape from Time: A Study of Patterns and Images (Missouri 1982), and of 19th-Century American Women's Novels: Interpretive Strategies (Cambridge 1990). Currently she has a fellowship from the NEH to work on a study of the cultural environment into which Twain married.
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Author:Harris, Susan K.
Publication:College Literature
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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