Politics of Representation: Comparative Feminist Reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
This research attempts to show the Politics of Representation through the Comparative Feminist reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Both of the texts written by male authors, mainly focus on the supremacy of male characters presenting them as the protagonists of the entire narrative. This tendency shows the hegemonic psychology of the male members of the the-then period. In both of the novels, though it seems the dominance of male characters in most of the crucial phases of plot development, there are some significant as well as bold figures such as Madame Defarge and Lucie Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. Similarly, in The Grapes of Wrath figures like Ma Joad, Rose of Sharon and Ruthie Joad. The context of 1880’s movement for women’s equal legal and political rights as equal to men is the foundation of Radical Feminism. This movement was fully articulated in the late 1960’s and it argues that patriarchal power over women is the primary power relationship in human society. So, the ultimate goal of the Comparative Feminist Reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is to trace out the fundamental similarities as well as differences in the two masterpieces of Dickens and Steinback.
The French Revolution is the background of Dickens’ novel. For a long time, critics have paid great attention to its background and continuously argued whether it is a historical novel. In terms of characters, most critics either are only interested in the heroes like Sydney Carton or Dr. Manette or criticize Madame Defarge for her cruel vengeance. Most critics certainly follow the author’s guidance. But as a critical realist, Charles Dickens criticizes not only the social reality but also the unreasonable phenomenon for him. As a male writer, he must maintain his masculine power in his writings. But in his times, there were two sorts of women: one is the angel of the house like Lucie, the other “the occupational woman” or “the fighting woman” like Madame Defarge. This is how Comparative Feminist Reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath examines characters from the gender perspective.
The Joads begins their journey down Route66 where they meet the Wilson when they stopped for the night to sleep on the side of the road. They notice that grandpa is ill and Ma gives him a tent to sleep in. Grandpa progression gets worse and worse and he passes away. Both the Joads and the Wilson bury him together. These two families travel together for two days when Wilson car breaks down. Pa wants to continue on the trap without Casey since they offered of fix the Wilsons car. This was ma who intrudes and make sure that it is done her way:
“I tell you, you got go. We made up our mind.” And now Ma’s mouth set hard. She said softly, “On’y way you gonna get me.” She moved she jock handle gently again. “An’ I’ll shame you, same you. Pa. I won’t take no whupping’, cryin’ an’ a-beggin’. I’ll light into you. An’you ain’t so sure you can whup me anyways. (169)
These lines spoken by Ma shows her boldness and decisive power throughout the novel and the above-extracted lines are only a few examples of it. Ma demonstrates boldness and leadership by telling pa what is going to happen with their family and also the Wilsons. Ma progressively started to regain the respect deserved and everyone is starting to realize who the true leaders should be. The entire family looked at Ma from a completely different perspective. They all were aware of that she held the power.
When we discuss on Comparative Feminist Reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, we are often moved by the impressive, as well as the decisive personality of Madame Defarge who is presented in a very distinctive way. She directly threatens and gives suggestion to other characters in need. Furthermore, her thinking power and her oppressed psychology along with her historical ideology seem to play a very significant role in her behaviors and dialogues. While saying about the reality of women, she says:
“The wives and mothers we have been used see, since we were as little as this child, and much less, have not been greatly considered? We have known their husbands and fathers laid in person and kept form them, often enough? All our lives, we haves seen our sister-women suffer, in themselves and in their children, poverty, nakedness, hunger, thirst, sickness, misery, oppression and neglect of all kinds?” (254)
American Modernism has been used in different literature for centuries and a big part of this modernism is feminism. Women for cunterious and even to days are known as the “ weaker-links” in today society but today they are looked at form a different view point. Back in the 1990’s, women were known as the people who took care of the house hold, cooked the food , and , made sure everyone in the family was satisfied. This is what a typical house wife or mother does but they do more and sometimes it is unrecognized. In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck show a clear transition with one of his characters, Ma, form being the typical housewife to trans forming in to the leader.
“Al right”, said Ma . “weel’ll go along. We’ll sport first place they’s water an’ shade. An;- truk’ll come back an’ take you in town to get your part, an’ it’ll bring you back. You ain’t goin’ walkin’ along in the sun, an’ I ain’t havin’ you you out all alone, so, if you get picked up there ain’t nobody of your folks to he’p ya.” (170)
In Oklahoma, during the great Depression, there was the massive suffering from drought, dust and storm. The dust blow have ruined farmers’ crops and destroyed their livelihood including the serious failure in an economy. Under such circumstances, as the goal of this paper, Ma Joad, the leading female character, plays the decisive role to save her family along with the .assistance of her son and other characters too.
The feminist reading of A Tale of Two Cities foregrounds social ill in the form of plague which has captured both France and England. Basically, both countries suffered mostly on their capital cities. The revolutionary activities were mainly focused in the town areas where the revolutionaries exercise their every action in such places where their targeted group also stay. As the novel shows:
Instantly Madame Defarges Knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and the vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing form house to house, rousing the women. (209)
These powerful and shocking words show the vengeance of the revolutionaries. Their merciful activities along with their revenging deeds seem really dangerous and aggressive. The whole paragraph extracted above show the pitiless emotions of the characters like Madame Defarge. Her long term planning to destroy the ruthless aristocrats seems very planned and organized. The scene of her silently knitting the names of the people to be killed is somehow realistic and emotional.
Let’s draw the conclusion of Comparative Feminist Reading of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
In this way, we can conclude this discussion relying on the fact that the main underlying ideology of male writers play the significant role on shaping the whole narrative of any fictional work. In both of the novels, A Tale of Two Cities and The Grapes of Wrath the novelists used such female characters who can give justice to their aim i.e. to portray the politics of representation of targeted ideology. So, it can be claimed through this way that in both of the novels, use of such tough female characters is not to present themselves as strong characters but also to challenge the historical hegemony of male characters of simply patriarchy.
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