Friday, 10 January 2014

Points of Contact

I'm struck so far in the literature of this course by the moments and points of contact between characters; in contrast, some of them are kept from contact and communication, and we see an absence instead of a presence. For example, Minnie Foster (Mrs. Wright) has no telephone, a symbol of connection and conversation, in Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers." In Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat," Delia seems to live alone without the companionship of other women.

In "A Jury of Her Peers," Martha Hale and Mrs. Peters gradually establish a connection--both between the two of them and between them and Mrs. Wright. As they spend time in Mrs. Wright's house, they begin to experience empathy for her, her story, her situation. And understanding begins to pass between them, manifested in moments of making eye contact. Glaspell writes, "Their eyes met--something flashed to life, passed between them; then, as with an effort, they seemed to pull away from each other" (Glaspell 10).

Somewhat similarly, Andrea Lee creates a scenario of contact and connection in her story, "Brothers and Sisters Around the World." When the main character slaps the young island girl, Lee writes, "In that second of contact I feel the strange smoothness of her cheek and an instantaneous awareness that my hand is just as smooth. An electric current seems to connect them" (Lee 4). A slap both seems and is violent; yet in this moment of violence emerges an unexpected moment of connection and communication. The next time the main character sees the girls, they have become like "sisters" (Lee 7).

In "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator essentially invents another woman (who is also she--potentially the "Jane" at the end) behind the wallpaper--a self, a persona, a woman who needs freeing--with whom to identify, to try and understand, to aid in breaking free of her predicament. She splits herself in two and then becomes the woman behind the wallpaper, the paper itself becoming a point of contact. Gilman writes, "I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper" (Gilman 8). A partnership forms between the two women, even if only one of them exists concretely. They are both enemies and allies, I think--kind of like the main character and the two island girls in "Brothers & Sisters…"

All of this so far has me thinking a lot about points of contact. Where are mine? Where are ours? Where might they be? When do they alienate us from one another, and when do they make us free?

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