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Philomela's tapestry: Empowering voice through text, texture, and silence
Ovid's version of the Philomela legend provides a pertinent analogue from which to examine how verbalizing in silence creates a powerful textual and textural eloquence. The women writers considered in this project--Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), Kate Chopin (The Awakening), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Alice Walker (Meridian and Possessing the Secret of Joy), and Maxine Hong Kingston (Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts)--explicitly or implicitly have predicated their works on this legend. Their writing offers a means for inferring a definition of voice that includes text, texture, and silence as its major qualities.^ But voice does not develop in a vacuum, and the tension existing between speaker and audience constitutes a necessary sounding board for its evolution. These works do not rely on the gods to intervene to save or to punish a character for taking revenge against the source of her enforced silencing. These characters develop the confidence to speak out as they do because of their verbal interplay with their audiences. Philomela's artistry gains power from its text because her audience--her sister, Procne--"reads" the "words" which the pictures in Philomela's tapestry convey to her. For a woman's voice to exert an impression, however, the writer must draw from the cultural context within which those words acquire meaning.^ Additionally, silence becomes a language tool in its own right since it prompts or inhibits dialogue. This project focuses on the longer silences predominant in a sisterhood sensitive to deciphering unspoken nuances and drawing inferences. The women writers considered here approach their relationships with their respective audiences from at least two vantage points. Sometimes they appeal to an audience in the text itself; at other times, they envision "ideal" listeners. In either case, the writer focuses on audience response to stimulate her creativity in weaving a text from the context of her experiences. Text, texture, and silence overlap and enrich the voices which result, voices which echo Philomela's protest against imposed silence. These women writers use their audiences as sources of inspiration to reveal the underlying strength, creativity, and courage which introspection generates. ^
Literature, Classical|Literature, Modern|Women's Studies|Literature, American
Judith Segzdowicz Chelte,
"Philomela's tapestry: Empowering voice through text, texture, and silence"
(January 1, 1994).
Electronic Doctoral Dissertations for UMass Amherst.