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Troubling gender : bodies, subversion, and the mediation of discourse in Atwood's The edible woman

by Fleitz, Elizabeth J.

Abstract (Summary)
Bill Albertini, Advisor This study focuses on the role of the body as a central factor in subverting gender norms. Hypothesizing a model based in Judith Butler’s work on sex and gender performance that places the body in an integral position as mediator of discourse and creator of identity, I posit that bodily disruptions occur when the body re-cites patriarchal discursive assumptions of gender in such a way as to emphasize the constructedness of gender identity, and in turn, of discourse itself. By looking at the body as a type of subversive space, I uncover the hidden methods texts use to undercut the gender norms of the mid-1960s. Using Margaret Atwood’s first published novel The Edible Woman, I apply this theory to analyze the ways in which the body is able to recite discourse to question the stability of gender identity. I explore the ways the text plays with the construction of gender through the use of bodies, such as through performance. The role of ironic language (in highlighting this construction) is also discussed, as are the different uses of irony among characters, and irony as a type of bodily performance. I discuss the subversive qualities of protagonist Marian’s eating disorder, abjection of food, and mimesis in detail as they relate to the character’s (unacknowledged) questioning of gender norms. I stress the importance of the disruptive body to Marian’s eating disorder, especially since previous Atwood scholarship often speaks of her disease as either psychosomatic or conscious rebellion. The body is clearly the central factor in this novel, re-citing discourse and questioning gender identity. While the character’s bodies can be interpreted as questioning gender norms, the characters are either unaware of it or are unable to express what their bodies are doing. Finally, I conclude with a iii discussion of the role of language in the text, how it poses a complication to bodily rupture (as language is capable of lying or manipulation), and how the body is able to step outside of language. Since the body exists within but also prior to discourse, the body is unable to be completely expressed through language, and thus leaves an excess of itself. This excess, symbolized by the mess in Marian’s apartment, testifies to the lasting force of bodily subversion. Because it is not limited by language, the body has a freedom to express itself in other ways (as demonstrated by its excess) and thus provides a more successful disrupting force. iv The Female Body is made of transparent plastic and lights up when you plug it in. You press a button to illuminate the different systems. The Circulatory System is red, for the heart and arteries, purple for the veins; the Respiratory System is blue, the Lymphatic System is yellow, the Digestive System is green, with liver and kidneys in aqua. The nerves are done in orange and the brain is pink. The skeleton, as you might expect, is white. The Reproductive System is optional, and can be removed. It comes with or without a miniature embryo. Parental judgment can thereby be exercised. We do not wish to frighten or offend. —Margaret Atwood, “The Female Body” One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine. Only the intervention of someone else can establish an individual as an Other. —Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex v
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:

School:Bowling Green State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:atwood margaret eleanor body human in literature gender identity

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