41 Pen Island

Samantha Latos

Reading Gilbert and Gubar’s “The Madwoman in the Attic” was an adventure. I laughed, I cringed. I gathered that the “madwoman in the attic” represents all of the subverted rage and pain experienced by female authors.

Women writers get defined by men by two “paradigmatic polarities.” Following that, women have to identify with angels, or monsters.

Under this ideology, women and men are totally separated. Men have the upper hand, because they can write freely. Women however, have to define themselves according one of the two crappy choices prescribed to them by men. Here’s why:

“Precisely because a woman is denied the autonomy -the subjectivity- that the pen represents, she is not only excluded from culture, but she also becomes herself an embodiment of just those extremes of mysterious and intransigent Otherness which culture confronts with worship or fear, love or loathing,” (Rivkin & Ryan 814).

Okay wow. Since women do not have the -subjectivity- that a pen symbolizes, they cannot write like men.

Women cannot be free-thinking writers because they are not readily equipped with a pen(is). Thus, they become tools for literary form. Women’s presence is shown through angels and monsters.

I’m gathering that angels and monsters represent submissive women and madwomen.

Submissive women, meaning those who fulfill their repetitive role of obedient, baby-rearing housewife, are represented as angels in literature. Continuing on page 814, we learn that angels take different forms other than little cherubs with wings; angels are also fairies and sprites. They are happy, whimsical beings that serve to reward submissive women who do what they are instilled to do.

The fun part is the monsters in literature. The monsters, meaning us scary women who live to watch the patriarchy burn. They are madwomen, in the sense that they do not bow down to the patriarchal household commands. On that same page we learn that monsters can take the form of real monsters, which are defined as imaginary creature that are typically large, ugly, and frightening, or they can also be witches, ghosts, or fiends. In my mind, witches are inherently female, the male archetype being warlocks, so that one does not surprise me. Ghosts and fiends representing madwomen on the other hand? I think we’re talking apples and oranges on that one.

All in all, men get to be self-governing writers, simply because they are “equipped.” Women writers, however, have to choose one of the two outlets that women are limited to. The entire female gender is separated into two categories: submissive women and non-submissive women, i.e., monstrous women.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Samantha Latos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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