A Feminist Perspective of Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio

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A Feminist Perspective of Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio

Judith Fetterly describes the fiction of Fanny Fern as basically conservative due to the seeming resignation to the institution of marriage. She claims that Parton’s work is safe and makes only small challenges to the patriarchal institutions of her day. I do not see this in my reading of "Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio." I hear the voice of a woman who recognizes the problems with patriarchy and who does not flinch from revealing them. I found her writing to be bold and even angry in places. Rather than Fetterly’s interpretation, I identify more with Hawthorne’s assessment that Parton "writes as if the Devil was in her" (244). I think that her anonymity as Fanny Fern allowed her greater freedom to critique society. Her status as a widow freed her from many of the Victorian constraints, since she had the benefits of independence, but permission to be aware of her sexuality and of relationships between the sexes. Furthermore, she had the excuse that her work was fiction and therefore "safe." This set of circumstances allowed her to use the Devil within her to describe and decry the Devil around her, namely patriarchal society. From behind the veil of fiction and of her pen name, Sara Willis Parton criticizes traditional gender roles by showing the folly of men, the wisdom of women and the flawed nature of patriarchy.

The folly of men is a persistent feature of the short stories in the collection. Men are portrayed as patronizing and oblivious at best and tyrannous and unfaithful at worst. The husbands and lovers in these stories behave so poorly that they arouse a defensive response from me as a male reader. I very much want to relegate their behavior to ...

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...r forever," "true love sails on" or something my mother would have inscribed in her high school yearbook. Instead I found a crass, even if comical, description of patriarchy. Even today, my mother blushed as the picture and apologized for the groomsmen saying "we were young; it was the seventies."

The stories I have chosen to discuss are not conservative creations designed to please male editors and readers. They are poignant descriptions of the sufferings of women. Their fictional nature makes them acceptable, but their generality makes them applicable. Parton uses her craft to create popularly acceptable criticisms of sexual injustice. I believe that this struggle lends a mimetic quality to her work. Because of the generality of her characters and the continuing oppression of patriarchal society, her stories are as pertinent today as when they were written.

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