Thursday, 15 March 2012

Agency in Women's Lit

One of the things that keeps surfacing in Women's Lit this semester is the notion of agency. In what ways and to what extent do the women and girls in these texts direct and control their own lives and selves?

For instance, we kept wondering whether Offred (in The Handmaid's Tale) is being brave enough. Does she have options? Is she able to be brave? Moira is brave and ends up tortured and broken, a prostitute happy enough with her hand cream.

Now we are asking similar questions about Jane/Jyoti/Jasmine. Her childhood world is entirely limited and controlled by men: her father, her brothers, the man who predicts her future under the banyan tree. She marries Prakash at fifteen. In her hellish journey to America after Prakash is murdered, Jasmine is entirely dependent upon strangers, raped by a man she calls Half Face, taken in by a savior of a woman named Lillian Gordon...

It seems in the U.S. that Jasmine's fate is still heavily determined by the men in her life: first Taylor in Manhattan, then Bud in Iowa (and to a lesser extent, Darrel and Du as well). Jasmine "shuttles between identities" because she has been many different people already in her young life (77).

At times it seems to me that Jasmine is quite willing. As Half Face leads her to her doom, she says, " What was fated to happen would happen" (111). As she continues on her journey after killing him, she notes, "My body was merely the shell, soon to be discarded" (121). At times like these I wonder about Jasmine's sense of self. Does she believe in her own right to govern her life, her body, her direction? I'm not sure.

As the novel goes on, however, if I remember correctly from previous readings other years, Jasmine increasingly claims agency, empowered in many ways by Taylor to do so, which raises further questions. Without Taylor would she begin claiming her own life, or is this still just another variation of patriarchy?

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