Patriarchal Response to Feminist Ideology a Comparative Study of Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Latter and Ummunnakwe Ndubisi’s Dear Ramatoulaye
This research examines the Patriarchal Response to Feminist Ideology: A Comparative Study of Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Latter and Umunnakwe Ndubisi’s Dear Ramatoulaye. The study attempts to identify and examine feminist ideologies in Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Latter and the patriarchal response to these ideologies in Umunnakwe Ndubisi’s Dear Ramatoulaye and how they help to expose some unspoken facts about gender conflict in the society.
To establish a foundation for this research, Deconstruction theory is employed as a theoretical framework. The theory involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole. Through the analysis of the two primary texts.
1.1 Background to the Study
Patriarchy is an institutionalized social system in which men dominate over females. It also refers to male dominance over women. It can also extend to a variety of manifestations in which men have social privileges over women, which consequently leads to their exploitation and oppression. Patriarchy is a socio-cultural ideology or a belief system which regards the female as weak, emotional, inferior, and subservient, thereby encouraging male dominance, marginalisation, and victimisation of females.
Susan Philips notes that patriarchal gender ideologies gave justification for men’s domination of women (n.p). Patriarchy therefore marks out the female as the gender for oppression and domination through structures like marriage, motherhood and other socio-cultural and political institutions. It thus becomes a common phenomenon for women to be victimised or subjected to all forms of violence. Helen Cousins affirms this as she states unequivocally, thus:
…incidents of violence against women are rarely publicly condemned except for extreme physical abuse, yet African women’s lives are shaped, if not by violence (physical, verbal, or mental) then by threat of violence present in cultures underpinned by patriarchal ideology (1).
A critical look at a patriarchal society like Nigeria reveals debris of obnoxious socio-cultural and traditional practices which aim at eroding the dignity and self esteem of females. For instance, most widowhood practices do not only expose the females to danger, but equally dehumanise them.
In Bayo Adewale’s Lonely Days, Fafoyin is subjected to a degrading and humiliating traditional widowhood rite after the death of her late husband. Her late husband’s kinsmen prevailed on her to undergo a shameful widowhood rite. This could be deduced from the excerpt below:
Cut the hair down to the root….even if the skin on the head has to be bruised in the process! Bruise it, for goodness sake! We hope your razor is sharp enough to do the job the way we want it done? Cut this woman’s hair totally down to the scalp! Sprinkle her head with wood ash and oil it with paraffin ointment. (Lonely…26-27)
The above is an indication of the patriarchal conspiracy against womanhood, and an obvious hostility of the male-dominated society against females. It is worthy to state that the shaving of the woman’s hair in the traditional African society is a symbolic taking away of her dignity. Also, the rubbing of ashes on the head and face of a widow is a metaphorical shame and humiliation of females or widows by patriarchy.
Some patriarchal societies are also patrilineal. That is, property and title are inherited by the male lineage. Sociologists hold varied opinions on whether patriarchy is a social product or an outcome of innate differences between the sexes. Sociobiologists have argued that the roots of inequality were set in humanity’s earliest period and are primarily due to genetic and reproductive differences between men and women.
Aligned closely with evolutionary psychology, this theory posits that gender inequity is an inherent part of human social structures. Social constructionists contest this argument, arguing that gender roles and gender inequity are instruments of power and have become social norms to maintain control over women. Constructionists would contend that sociobiological arguments serve to justify the oppression of women. Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, religious, and economic organization of a range of different cultures. Most contemporary societies are, in practice, patriarchal.
Patriarchal Response to Feminist Ideology a Comparative Study of Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Latter and Ummunnakwe Ndubisi’s Dear Ramatoulaye
Furthermore, patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father”. Historically, the term patriarchy has been used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, since the late 20th century it has also been used to refer to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.
The term was particularly used by writers associated with second-wave feminism such as Kate Millett; these writers sought to use an understanding of patriarchal social relations to liberate women from male domination. This concept of patriarchy was developed to explain male dominance as a social, rather than biological, phenomenon. The sociologist, Sylvia Walby defines patriarchy as “a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women”.
Social stratification along gender lines, with power predominantly held by men, has been observed in most societies in their politico-religious institutions. For instance, Islamic religion discriminates the women from leading in any of the religious services. In most mosques, the sitting arrangement is done in such a way that women are kept in different sections, probably different from the main building. Equally, in some orthodox churches, women are relegated to the background. For instance, they are not allowed actively participate. They are seen as the passive members of the church who only obey.
Marxist theory, as articulated mainly by Friedrich Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, assigns the origin of patriarchy to the emergence of private property, which has traditionally been controlled by men. In this view, men directed household production and sought to control women in order to ensure the passing of family property to their own (male) offspring, while women were limited to household labour and producing children. Lerner disputes this idea, arguing that patriarchy emerged before the development of class-based society and the concept of private property.
Domination by men of women is found in the Ancient Near East as far back as 3100 BCE, as are restrictions on a woman’s reproductive capacity and exclusion from “the process of representing or the construction of history”. According to some researchers, with the appearance of the Hebrews, there is also “the exclusion of woman from the God-humanity covenant”.
Patriarchal Response to Feminist Ideology a Comparative Study of Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Latter and Ummunnakwe Ndubisi’s Dear Ramatoulaye
The archaeologist Marija Gimbutas argues that waves of kurgan-building invaders from the Ukrainian steppes into the early agricultural cultures of Old Europe in the Aegean, the Balkans and southern Italy instituted male hierarchies that led to the rise of patriarchy in Western society. Steven Taylor argues that the rise of patriarchal domination was associated with the appearance of socially stratified hierarchical polities, institutionalised violence and the separated individuated ego associated with a period of climatic stress. A prominent Greek general Meno, in the Platonic dialogue of the same name, sums up the prevailing sentiment in Classical Greece about the respective virtues of men and women. He says:
First of all, if you take the virtue of a man, it is easily stated that a man’s virtue is this – that he be competent to manage the affairs of his city, and to manage them so as to benefit his friends and harm his enemies, and to take care to avoid suffering harm himself. Or take a woman’s virtue: there is no difficulty in describing it as the duty of ordering the house well, looking after the property indoors, and obeying her husband. (Meno…12)
The works of Aristotle portrayed women as morally, intellectually, and physically inferior to men; saw women as the property of men; claimed that women’s role in society was to reproduce and to serve men in the household; and saw male domination of women as natural and virtuous. Gerda Lerner, author of The Creation of Patriarchy, states that Aristotle believed that women had colder blood than men, which made women not evolve into men, the sex that Aristotle believed to be perfect and superior.
Maryanne Cline Horowitz stated that Aristotle believed that “soul contributes the form and model of creation”. This implies that any imperfection that is caused in the world must be caused by a woman because one cannot acquire an imperfection from perfection (which he perceived as male). Aristotle had a hierarchical ruling structure in his theories. Lerner claims that through this patriarchal belief system passed down generation to generation, people have been conditioned to believe that men are superior to women. These symbols are benchmarks which children learn about when they grow up, and the cycle of patriarchy continues much past the Greeks.
During this time period in China, gender roles and patriarchy remained shaped by Confucianism. Adopted as the official religion in the Han dynasty, Confucianism has strong dictates regarding the behavior of women, declaring a woman’s place in society, as well as outlining virtuous behaviour. Three Obediences and Four Virtues, a Confucian text, places a woman’s value on her loyalty and obedience.
It explains that an obedient woman is to obey their father before her marriage, her husband after marriage, and her first son if widowed, and that a virtuous woman must practice sexual propriety, proper speech, modest appearance, and hard work. Ban Zhao, a Confucian disciple, writes in her book Precepts for Women, that a woman’s primary concern is to subordinate themselves before patriarchal figures such as a husband or father, and that they need not concern themselves with intelligence or talent.
Although many 16th and 17th century theorists agreed with Aristotle’s views concerning the place of women in society, none of them tried to prove political obligation on the basis of the patriarchal family until sometime after 1680. The patriarchal political theory is closely associated with Sir Robert Filmer. Sometime before 1653, Filmer completed a work entitled Patriarcha. However, it was not published until after his death. In it, he defended the divine right of kings as having title inherited from Adam, the first man of the human species, according to Judeo-Christian tradition.
However, in the latter half of the 18th century, clerical sentiments of patriarchy were meeting challenges from intellectual authorities – Diderot’s Encyclopedia denies inheritance of paternal authority stating, “… reason shows us that mothers have rights and authority equal to those of fathers; for the obligations imposed on children originate equally from the mother and the father, as both are equally responsible for bringing them into the world. Thus the positive laws of God that relate to the obedience of children join the father and the mother without any differentiation; both possess a kind of ascendancy and jurisdiction over their children….”
I n the 19th century, various women began to question the commonly accepted patriarchal interpretation of Christian scripture. Quaker Sarah Grimké voiced skepticism about the ability of men to translate and interpret passages relating to the roles of the sexes without bias. She proposed alternative translations and interpretations of passages relating to women, and she applied historical and cultural criticism to a number of verses, arguing that their admonitions applied to specific historical situations, and were not to be viewed as universal commands.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton used Grimké’s criticism of biblical sources to establish a basis for feminist thought. She published The Woman’s Bible, which proposed a feminist reading of the Old and New Testament. This tendency was enlarged by feminist theory, which denounced the patriarchal Judeo-Christian tradition.
In 2020 social theorist and theologian Elaine Storkey retold the stories of thirty biblical women in her book Women in a Patriarchal World and applied the challenges they faced to women today. Working from both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, she analysed different variations of patriarchy, and outlined the paradox of Rahab, a prostitute in the Old Testament who became a role-model in the New Testament Epistle of James, and Epistle to the Hebrews.
In his essay, A Judicial Patriarchy: Family Law at the Turn of the Century, Michael Grossberg coined the phrase ‘judicial patriarchy’ stating that, “The judge became the buffer between the family and the state” and that, “Judicial patriarchs dominated family law because within these institutional and intraclass rivalries judges succeeded in protecting their power over the law governing the hearth”. (290–291).
Feminism came as a reaction against patriarchal rule. It has its origin in the struggle for the women’s rights. It began in Europe in the late eighteenth century. According to the World book Encyclopedia (1984: 318) Mary Wollstonecraft (1792), and John Stuart Mills’ (1809) publications were the early major contributions to feminist literature. According to Ruth Sheila (1980: 444):
The first stirrings of women’s movement were felt in the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Right of Women in 1792. The Women’s Right Movement in the United States was born during the drive for the abolition; particularly in the activities of writing of the Grimke sisters in the 1830’s. It culminated in the winning of the vote in 1920 and then because women had exhausted themselves in the fight for suffrage, it died until Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique brought it back to life in 1963.
Feminism is the cross cutting theory in contemporary scholarship. It is intertwined with the question of woman. The growth of feminism began in Europe and America in the nineteenth century when women became conscious of their oppression and marginalisation and took steps to redress this oppression. At present, feminism has spread all over the world although in many countries it has become tagged with different labels. Feminist ideas are now part of everyday thinking. As Maggie Humm puts it:
While most writers agree that … feminism as a group, of political and social movements probably dates from the seventeenth century, feminism as a body of answers to the ‘question of woman’ has a more diffuse and considerably long-standing existence. (Humm 1992: 1)
Feminism is a historical diverse and culturally varied international movement probing the “question of woman”, it has been variously defined as described by many critics. Since feminism means various things to various people, it becomes difficult to have a concise universal definition of the term.
While recognising the implications of a sweeping definition, the following definitions throw light on the concept of feminism: According to Barrow and Milburn (1990:128), “Feminism is a label for a commitment or movement to achieve equality for women”. J. A. Cuddon (1991: 338) also defines feminism as “an attempt to describe and interpret (or reinterpret) women’s experiences a depicted in various kinds of literature”. Maggie Humm (1992: 1) asserts “the word feminism can stand for a belief in sexual equality combined with a commitment to transform society”.
Ruth Sheila (1980: 4) rightly observes that feminists do not agree among themselves on one all-inclusive and universally acceptable definition of the term. According to her, what feminism means to various people depend on one’s political or sociological observations and goals, one’s understanding and interpretation of the word ‘woman’ and several other factors. Feminism, she emphasizes, may be a perspective, a world-view, a political theory, or a kind of activism.
Feminism originates from the Latin word ‘femina’. Femina is a term which describes a woman’s issues. It is clear from the above definition that whatever feminism means to different people, it revolves primarily around the female experience. Feminism is concerned with females not just as a biological category, but the female gender as a social category. Feminists share the view that women’s oppression is tied to their sexuality. This is so because women and men’s biological differences are reflected in the organisation of society. Based on these differences, women are treated as inferior to men. Whether as a theory, a social movement or a political movement, feminism focuses on women’s experiences and highlights various forms of oppression which the female gender is subjected to the society.
Since feminists are of the view that male domination is found in virtually all important aspects of life, this male domination is seen in the source of social inequalities and injustice which affect the life of women. Feminists therefore seek to remove all barriers to equal social, political and economic opportunities for women. They object to the notion that a woman’s worth is determined principally by her gender and that women are inherently inferior, subservient or less intelligent than men.
Feminist scholarship is aimed at ‘deconstructing’ the established predominant male paradigms and ‘constructing’ a female perspective which foregrounds the female experience. Feminist literature is supposedly the by product of the feminist movement. However it is not easy to designate a literature as feminist literature even if it is written by a feminist. This challenge is posed by the fact that critics are divided in their opinion of what really constitutes feminism literature.
According to Rosaline Coward in Mary Eagleton (ed) (1986: 149), it is difficult to say that women centred writings have any necessary relationship with feminism. The critic concedes that: But to make such a claim it would be necessary to specify in what way woman-centred writings allying itself with feminist politics did mark itself out as different (Eagleton 1986: 155).
Despite the obvious lack of agreement on what constitutes feminist writing among critics, the general consensus is that feminist literature is a work written in a prejudiced way to favour the status of women. More often it is a glorification (sometimes unrealistic) of the female and a corresponding castigation of the male. Very often, the feminist writer adopts an unacceptable portrayal of the male in her work in protest against the previously damaging female portrayal in many male writings. Green Gayle and Kahn Coppelia (1985: 1-2) maintain:
Feminist literary criticism is one branch of interdisciplinary enquiry which takes gender as a fundamental organisation category based on two premises, inequality of the sexes is neither a biological nor a divine mandate but a cultural construct. Male perspectives assumed to be universal has dominated fields of knowledge. Hence feminist’ scholarship serves to correct these and restore a female perspective by extending knowledge about women’s experience and contributions to culture. (1-2)
Feminist literary criticism confronts patriarchal values. It attempts to unveil the prejudices embedded in the appreciation of arts and cultural artifacts. It also exposes how the linguistic medium promotes and transmits the values of male domination. Feminism’s major aim is to combat female oppression and repression in all forms. The works of various female African writers like Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nawal El Saadawi, Zaynab Alkali, among others reflect the various positions taken by these writers on gender issues as it affects the African woman.
In her works, Bouchi Emecheta presents the African woman as a helpless victim of tradition. Since African tradition is largely based on patriarchal structure, it is often considered a veritable means of oppression against the African woman. African women in Emecheta’s fiction who attempt to break free from the noose of the rigid, oppressive culture and tradition eventually end up in self destruction or get estranged in the process. Zaynab Alkali expounds love, endurance, forgiveness and tolerance as the principles of true material happiness for the oppressed African women.
In one of her texts, The Still Born (1984),Li’s marriage to Habu Adams does not yield her expectations. Habu left her in the village in search of greener pastures in the city. He does not send for her until four long years later, rather reluctantly because of pressures from his family. Li obviously does not find fulfillment in her marriage even though she fulfils her dreams of becoming self reliant woman. Zaynab Alkali apparently judges that the road to happiness and self fulfillment for the African woman lies in human understanding and forgiveness. She reveals her position on the appropriate ideological posture of the African woman as follows:
All I am advocating in The Stillborn is understanding between men and women, togetherness between husband and wife, but some people don’t understand this. my intention is to uphold God’s law of mutuality, coexistence. Equality between men and women doesn’t arise at all. Men are like the brain and the women, the heart. (Otonio Nduka, 1996: 148)
This study therefore tries to examine the feminist ideology and the patriarchal response to this ideology and draw a deconstructive conclusion on how the patriarchs and feminists can come to the realization that both genders are important and therefore should be given equal attention.
1.2 Statement of the Problems
The modern African society is confronted with the problem of gender inequality and mistreatment. And in this case, it is no longer the women that only suffer gender mistreatment; the men suffer too, though they mostly choose to keep quiet because of the fear of the reactions that will come from the society. This has caused a lot of problems between these two genders.
While one advocates for her voice to be heard so that she will be given equal treatment and equal right, the other is dying in silence because he is also facing this maltreatment but cannot speak up because of the fear that he might end up being mocked by the society.
Aims and Objectives
The objectives of the study are;
- to examine gender oppression and victimisation in Mariama Ba”s So Long a Letter and Ndubisi Umunnakwe’s Dear Ramatoulaye
- to interrogate patriarchal society’s response to gender issues in the two novels.
- to make a deconstructive analysis of Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter via Ndubisi Umunnakwe’s response in Dear Ramatoulaye.
- to draw conclusion on the feminist and patriarchal response to gender issues.
This paper examines the patriarchal response to feminist ideology through textual analysis of the primary texts: Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter and Ndubisi Umunnakwe’s Dear Ramatoulaye. This is a qualitative research, therefore, all analyses are based on textual examination of the two primary texts as the primary sources of data while relevant library materials like text books, journals, magazines and internet sources constitute the secondary sources of data for this study.
This study focuses on the feminist ideology and patriarchal response to these ideologies in Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter and Ndubisi Umunnakwe’s Dear Ramatoulaye. Although the gender issues explored by these writers are prevalent in almost every society, this paper will limit itself to the African societies, any other society cited will only serve as a reference.
This study is an attempt to comparatively interrogate the patriarchal and feminist gender ideologies in Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter and Ndubisi Umunnakwe’s Dear Ramatoulaye. It explores how males and females narrate or react to gender victimisation. Therefore, the work is of immense significance to researchers in gender studies, women development studies, as well as scholars in social sciences like Sociology and political sciences. This paper equally serves as a reference material to up and coming researchers in the field of gender studies. Also, the paper enlightens society on the different gender issues relating to both male and females. Above all, this work has contributed to the existing body of knowledge on gender studies.
1.7.1 Mariama Bâ
Mariama Bâ is considered an influential author whose novels examine the unique challenges faced by modern African women who struggle to gain rights and earn a living in a traditionally misogynistic culture. Bâ published her first novel, Une si Longue Letter (So Long a Letter; 1980), at the age of fifty-one; she died before the release of her second work, Un Chant Écarlate (Scarlet Song; 1981).
Critics have observed that Bâ’s novels offer pointed social criticism of the plight of women who are treated as inferior commodities in an oppressive, male-dominated society that resists education and employment for females while it endorses institutions such as polygamy.
Bâ was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1929. Her mother died when she was young and her father was a prominent government official who traveled extensively. As a result, Bâ was sent to live with her maternal grandparents, who raised her in accordance with their traditional Muslim values. During her formative years, Bâ attended primary school and was recognized as an exceptional student.
Despite her grandparents’ opposition to advanced education for women, Bâ’s father insisted that she attend secondary school at the École Normale du Rufisque. Following her graduation in 1947, Bâ worked as a teacher for twelve years, beginning with a post at the School of Medicine in Dakar, where she eventually became a regional school inspector. During this time, she published a treatise on the state of education in colonial Senegal and she began to speak out about French colonial policy in Africa.
Bâ married a member of Senegal’s parliament and had nine children. The marriage ended in divorce—a controversial matter in her Muslim society—which inspired Bâ to become active in feminist issues. She contributed numerous essays to African newspapers and periodicals favoring women’s rights and an end to colonial activity in Africa. In 1980 Bâ published So Long a Letter, which, a year later, won the inaugural Noma Award—a prize granted to African writers and scholars who publish their works in Africa. Bâ died in 1981 just prior to the publication of Scarlet Song and after a long battle with cancer.
1.8 Theoretical Framework: Deconstruction
The theoretical framework adopted for this study is the Deconstructionist theory. The theory of deconstruction emerged in the 1960s as a response to the structuralist school of thought. Deconstruction as a literary theory became popular in 1966 with Jacques Derrida’s reading of his seminary paper entitled “Structure, Sign, and Play” at a Johns Hopkins University symposium. In the essay, Derrida questioned and disputed the metaphysical assumptions held to be true by Western philosophy since the time of Plato, and thus inaugurated what many critics believe to be the most intricate and challenging method of textual analysis yet to appear.
Derrida himself, however, would not want Deconstruction constructed as a critical theory, a school of criticism, a mode or method of literary criticism, or a philosophy. Nowhere in Derrida’s writings does he state the encompassing tenets of his critical approach, nor does he ever present a codified body of deconstructive theory or a particular methodology. Although he gives his view in bits and pieces throughout his canon, Derrida believe that he cannot develop a formalised statement of his “rule, interpretation, and writing.”
Unlike a unified treatise, Derrida claims his approach to reading and literary analysis is more a “strategic device” than a methodology, more a strategy or approach to literature than a school or theory of criticism. Such theories of criticism, he believes, must identify with a body of knowledge that adherents decree to be true or to contain truth. It is this assertion, or a core of metaphysical ideals actually exists and can be believed, articulated, and supported, that Derrida wishes to dispute and “deconstruct” – his device is deconstruction.
Because deconstruction utilises previously formulated theories from other schools of criticism, coins many words for its newly established ideas, and challenges beliefs long held in Western culture, many students, teachers, and even critics avoid studying its ideas, fearing the supposed complexity of its analytical apparatus. By organising deconstruction and its assumptions into three workable areas of study rather than plunging directly into some of its complex terminology, we can, we can begin to grasp this approach to textual analysis.
To understand deconstruction and its strategic approach to a text, we must first gain a working knowledge of the historical and philosophical roots of structuralism, a linguistic approach to textual analysis that gained critical attention and popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. it is from this school of criticism that Derrida borrows the basis of and the starting point for his deconstructive strategy. After examining structuralism, we must then investigate the proposed radical changes Derrida makes in Western philosophy and metaphysics. Such changes, Derrida readily admits, literally turn Western metaphysics on its head.
Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole. As J. Hillis Miller, the preeminent American deconstructionist has explained in an essay entitled Stevens’ Rock and Criticism as Cure (1976), “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock but thin air.”
A deconstructor begins textual analysis by assuming that a text has multiple interpretations and that it allows itself to be reread and thus reinterpreted countless times. Denying the New Critical stance that a text posses a special ontological status and has one and only one correct interpretation, deconstructors asserts that the great joy of textual analysis resides in discovering new interpretations each time a text is read and reread. Ultimately, a text’s meaning is undecidable, for each reading or rereading can elicit different interpretations.
When beginning the interpretative process, deconstructors seek to override their own logocentric and inherited ways of viewing a text. Such revolutionary thinking decrees that they find the binary opposition at work in the text itself. These binary oppositions, they believe, represent established and accepted ideologies that more frequently than not posit the existence of transcendental signifieds.
These binary operations, then, restrict meaning, for they already assume a fixed interpretation of reality. They assume, for instance, the existence of truth and falsehood, reason and insanity, good and bad. Realising that these hierarchies presuppose a fixed and a biased way of viewing the world, deconstructors search for the binary oppositions operating in the text and reverse them. By reversing these hierarchies, deconstructors wish to challenge the fixed views assumed by such hierarchies and the values associated with such rigid beliefs.
The technique of identifying the binary operations that exist in a text allows deconstructors to expose the preconceived assumptions upon which most of us base our interpretations. We all, for example, declare some activity, being, or object to be good or bad, valuable or worthless, significant or insignificant. These kinds of values or ideas automatically operate when we write or read any text. In the reversal of hierarchies that form the basis of our interpretations, deconstructors wish to free us from the constraints of our prejudiced beliefs. Such freedom, they hope, will allow us to see a text from exciting new perspectives that we have never before recognised.
These various perspectives cannot be simultaneously perceived by the reader or even the writer of a text. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, for example, many readers believe that the fifty-year-old character who shepherds Goodman Brown through his night’s visit in the forest is Satan and therefore necessarily an evil character. Brown’s own interpretationist ideas, at least two binary operations are at work here: good/evil and God/Satan. But what if we never reverse these hierarchies? Then the scepter figure may not be Satan and therefore may not be evil. Such a new perspective will dramatically change our interpretation of the text.
Deconstructors say that we cannot simultaneously see both of these perspectives in the story. To discover where the new hierarchy Satan/God or evil/good will lead us in our interpretation, we must suspend our first interpretation. We do not, however, forget it, for it is locked in our minds. We simply shift our allegiance to another perspective. The process of oscillating between interpretation, levels, or perspectives allows us to see the impossibility of ever choosing a correct interpretation, for meaning is an ongoing activity that is always in progress, always based upon difference.
By asking what will happen if we reverse the hierarchies that frame our perceived ways of thinking, we open ourselves to a never-ending process of interpretation, one that decrees that no hierarchy or binary operation is right and no other is wrong. Deconstructors do not want to set up a new philosophy, a new literary theory of analysis, or a new school of literary criticism. They present instead an new reading strategy, one that allows us to make choices concerning the various levels of interpretation we see operating in a text. All levels, they maintain, have validity. Deconstructors also believe that their approach to reading frees the reader from ideological allegiances that restrict the comprehension of meaning in a text.
Since meaning, they believe, emerges through interpretation, even the author does not control a text’s interpretation. Although writers may have clearly stated intentions concerning their texts, such statements should and must be given little credence. Like language itself, texts have no outside referents or transcendental signifieds. What an author thinks he or she says or means in a text may be quite different from what is actually written. Deconstructors therefore look for places in the text where the author misspeaks or loses control of language and says what was supposedly not meant to be said.
These slips of language often occur in questions, figurative language, and strong declarations. For example, suppose we read the following words: “Important Senior Meeting.” Although the author thinks that readers will interpret these words to mean that it is important that all seniors be present at this particular meeting, the author may have misspoken, for these words can actually mean that only important seniors should attend this meeting. By examining such slips and the binary operations that govern them, deconstructors are able to demonstrate the undecidability of a text’s meaning.
Overall, deconstruction solicits an ongoing relationship between the interpreter (the critic) and the text. By examining the text alone, deconstructors hope to ask a set of questions which will continually challenge the ideological positions of power and authority that demonstrates literary criticism. Further, in the process of discovering meaning in a text, deconstructors declare that criticism of a text is just a valuable as the creative writing being read, thus inverting the creative writing/criticism hierarchy.
Deconstruction aims (among other things) to remind us of the arbitrary and unstable nature of language by taking texts apart-undoing them until we see how a text inevitably contradicts itself, containing traces of its opposition or “other”. Any effort to explain deconstruction is therefore doomed according to the theory itself. Any effort to say anything, in fact, must go astray. Such an assumption could be dismaying, but many deconstructive critics have chosen to adopt a mischievously comic and even shocking stance. Although deconstructive criticism can be very difficult to read, it can also be very amusing and engaging.
Thus, based on the tenets of Deconstruction explicated above, it is obvious that to undertake a result-oriented scholarship on the subject of this research using the novels under consideration, application of Deconstruction as a theoretical framework becomes inevitable.