Modern American Fiction
Q. Discuss the theme of female identity in As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Both As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God (hereafter Their Eyes)present important depictions of women in early 20th century America. Faulkner’s and Hurston’s representations of women are based around the domineering influence of men and the “appropriation by men of power to define tradition”. Indeed it is this tradition that both writers attempt to disrupt at various points in the two texts with varying degrees of success. At the time of writing women were often disregarded as second class citizens and were presented as inferior to men. In this way, these two texts present the difficulties that women experience when trying to assert themselves in male society. Specifically, their identities often suffer due to lack of communication and voice. However the traditional role of femininity that was enforced upon women by a stringent and somewhat vigorous society was changing and these two texts challenge the traditional role of femininity both directly and indirectly throughout.
The lack of communication and action of characters in As I Lay Dying is often conspicuous. As one would expect, this often leads to an obscuring of identity for both the female protagonists alongside males. Addie is scathing of words in particular. For her, they are just a “shape to fill a lack”. Indeed at her funeral when Tull and others are talking about Cash’s broken leg, we are presented with two very different conversations as we witness the spoken word versus the inner monologues of characters thoughts. Interestingly, the inner monologues often present us with many more insights into character intents than their actions would suggest. Addie presents this idea to us when she exclaims “I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth”. Michael Delville describes words in As I Lay...