The brief thesis focuses on subversion of heterosexuality through the short story "Bliss"
Introduction: - American literature is the collection of literary works produced in the English language in United States. Women writers are authors who focus their writing specifically on feministic issues such as needs, desire and emancipation of women. Katherine Mansfield was an eminent New Zealand modernist short story writer credited with world renowned works such as The Garden Party, The Aloe etc. âBlissâ is a modernist short story by Mansfield which was first published in 1918.
Thesis Statement: - [I intend to show] that Bliss focuses on a conventional heterosexual marriage through the relationship of Bertha and Harry who also have a little daughter named Little B. In juxtaposition to this, I shall read into the story as a challenge to heterosexuality through Berthaâs relationship with Pearl exemplified through the symbols of pear tree and the moon with a focus on its homoerotic aspect. I will further cite the views of Rita Mae Brown, a prominent feminist and an unflinching supporter of homonormativity in women. Lastly, I would discuss lesbianism in general and how it undermines androcentrism in society.
The story Bliss challenges the heterosexuality through the relationship of Bertha Young and Pearl Fulton. The relationship which can be classified as homoerotic is depicted through the imagery of the pear tree and the moon. Bertha has been symbolized as the pear tree, âtall, slender, in fullest, richest bloom, it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green skyâ whereas Pearl personifies the moon âall in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hairâ, and her fingers, ââlike moonbeams, are so slender that a pale light seemed to come from themâ. Bertha attraction to Pearl is alluded in a variety of quintessences such as âthe touch of cool arm blazed the fire of bliss in Berthaâ, âPearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what Bertha was feelingâ etc. The harboring of the âdesireâ of establishing a sexual relationship makes this homoerotic. This desire fosters in the mind of Bertha when she says, âAnd still, in the back of her mind, there was the pear tree. It would be silver now, silver as Miss Fulton.â
Another important aspect of homoeroticism is that the desire never matures into consummation but remains unfulfilled. Likewise, the relationship of Bertha and Pearl remains unappeased which is evident in these lines, âAlthough it (pear tree) was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon.â The words although and almost subtly point out the peak of desire but also point the lack of satiability. The temporality which marks a homoerotic relationship soon manifests when the author says, âblissful treasure that burned in their bosoms âdroppedâ, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?â Thus, the desire soon dwindles away and perforates the flowers. This is further augmented when Bertha skeptically ponders this transient desire as âa mere dreamâ and âthe lightâ snaps abruptly with the sound of coffee making.
âThe woman identified womanâ is a four page manifesto written by radicalesbian, a group of lesbian authors having Rita Mae Brown as the editor, writer and leader. The manifesto voices the definition, needs and future of a lesbian.
According to Rita Mae Brown, âa lesbian is a dehumanized woman who has accumulated rage condensed to the point of explosionâ. Attributing the reason to societal norms she says, âFrom an early age, she is tailored towards a society projected environment which makes her conflicting towards everything she comes into contact withâ. The inner turmoil âinduces guiltâ and âforces her to live her life aloneâ. Expounding further, she says that lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy. Those sex roles dehumanize women by defining them as a supportive/serving caste in relation to the master caste of men. Lesbian is a label invented by the Man to throw at any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives, who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs. This term divides humanity as a whole. Men constantly associate women as mere sex objects where women are given certain compensation: - identification with his power, his ego, his status, his protection etc.
Speaking on the stance of political feminists, Brown finds it upsetting that these women evades direct discourses on lesbianism but rather try to âincorporate it into some broader issueâ. They become hostile and dismiss it as a âlavender herringâ. Brown strongly asserts that it is absolutely essential to the success and fulfillment of the women's liberation movement that this issue is dealt with. She says âUntil women see in each other the possibility of a primal commitment which includes sexual love, they will be denying themselves the love and value they readily accord to men, thus affirming their second-class status.â But Brown does not want the female relationship to be associated with sexuality alone as it will make it a sexist and divisive term. The need is to âfind more privileges within the patriarchal systemâ and this can be achieved on two levels. âOn one level, which is both personal and political, women may withdraw emotional and sexual energies from men, and work out various alternatives for those energies in their own lives. On a different political/psychological level, it must be understood that what is crucial is that women begin disengaging from male defined response patternsâ. Concluding her manifesto she tells the reader that the male hegemonic society foregrounds male subservience as a norm when it comes to defining a âreal womenâ. But Brown condemns this mindset and for complete emancipation wants that women carve their own identity through the âcreation of a new consciousnessâ. She wants the entire womanhood to come together and search for their true self. Ending her manifesto, she says, âWith that real self, with that consciousness, we begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression.â
Lesbianism in general relates to attraction and sexual activity between two or more women. Lesbian is the term associated with women who experiences such tendencies. The wordÂ lesbianÂ is derived from the name of the Greek island ofÂ Lesbos, home to the 6th-century BCE poetÂ Sappho. Since the early 20th century, the associative identity of lesbianism has taken varied meanings. In ancient Greece and Rome, male homosexuality was common and encouraged but hardly anything regarding female homosexuality was recorded. Early Modern Europe was also oblivious of female homosexuality and it was in France in 1270 when female homosexuality was first criminalized. It was during the 17th to 19th century when a woman expressing passionate love for another woman was fashionable, accepted, and encouraged. Around 20th century, a culture of lesbianism was fostered in women colleges and these women started terming themselves as New Women. In the present 21st century these women are commonly called lesbians. Lesbianism in general can be classified either as aesthetic lesbianism or political lesbianism. Aesthetic lesbianism is concerned with sexual practice as a mode of freedom. The value of âpleasureâ outweighs that of the relationship itself. This feeling of bliss serves as a form of social communication and self creation. It can be attributed to artistic value based on voluntary choice system.
Political lesbianism is a movement which aims at subverting the authority of heterosexuality as the only norm, replacing it with homonormativity. Political lesbianism bifurcates further into two groups: - radical feminism and separatist feminism. The former calls to eliminate male hegemony by radically reordering of the society while the latter aims at breaking away from patriarchal society and forming a sequestered women only society.
Both aesthetic and political lesbianism assists in undermining androcentrism in society. Aesthetic lesbianism through the act of celebration of same sexual preference undermines the sexual dependency of women on men. Because aesthetic lesbianism provides an alternative route, women no longer are restricted to express their emotions, needs and sexuality to men alone. Women can forge a strong bond with other women which effectively deconstruct the patriarchal hold of men over women.
Political lesbianism targets the arena of politics and aims at acquiring legalized rights of lesbians in the society. These legitimate rights refer to right to freedom of choosing partners, matrimony, PDA etc. Political lesbianism aims to achieve this by staging protests, public discourses, demonstrations, writing letters to the concerned authorities, creating awareness through social media etc.
Due to the untiring and dedicated efforts of lesbian feminists, many countries have legalized lesbianism and imparted many rights to lesbians. This has become a topic of international importance and orthodox countries are also revising their stance. This effectively disintegrates the historic, lifelong women subjugation and thus creates a separate section for lesbians. Additionally, this also dispels the fear among women who earlier could not practice their orientation. Now ridicule and mockery from heterosexual sections and from men have also substantially reduced. This all collectively decentralizes the male hegemony and imparts women a voice of their own.
Conclusion: - The thesis has focused on Mansfieldâs presentation of a heteronormative family through the relationship of Harry and Bertha who also have a daughter. In collocation, the thesis read the story as a challenge to undermine this norm through the relationship of Bertha and Pearl depicted by the imagery of the pear tree and the moon. Further, the views of Rita Mae Brown, a renowned feminist and supporter of lesbianism have been discussed. Lastly, a general opinion on lesbianism is discussed and how it destabilizes male hegemony.