Literary critic, Jane Tompkins targets the "male-dominated scholarly tradition that controls both the canon of American literature - and the critical perspective that interprets the canon for society" (502), in her exploration of the canonical exclusion of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, written in 1899, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper." Tompkins further notes that "the tradition of Perry Miller, F.O. Matthiessen, Harry Levin, Richard Chase, R.W.B. Lewis, Yvor Winters, and Henry Nash Smith has prevented even committed feminists from recognizing and asserting the value of a powerful and specifically female novelistic tradition" (502-3). Tompkins' criticism of the scholarly tradition not only asserts the existence of a male-dominated literary paradigm and exclusivity but, with this literary 'gate keeping', also questions how tradition becomes imprinted upon us so as to color our judgment.
Tradition becomes the constant, the thing we write, read, rebel against and, interestingly, the thing we supplant with a new tradition once we are excluded from the established boys' club. But how does a so staunchly established tradition, which determines the inclusion and exclusion of literary works, come to be?
Tompkins posits the existence of a male-centered agenda that masks its biases as "universal standards of aesthetic judgment" (503). These "universal standards" of aesthetics are subsequently biased against domains which have traditionally been declared feminine. Tompkins indeed contends that "twentieth-century critics have taught generations of students to equate popularity with debasement, emotionality with ...
... middle of paper ...
...knowledging and paying homage to the powers that we keep in power, all in the name of tradition. Tradition is a paradox, for it oftentimes seems bigger than us; our own creation becomes a wall, seemingly insurmountable and impenetrable, that indeed crumbles by our own questioning and refutation.
Baym, N. (1978). Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels By and About Women in America 1820 – 1870. Ithaca: Cornell U.P.
Bloom, H. (1975). A Map of Misreading. New York: Oxford U.P.
Kolodny, A. (1980). A map for rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts. New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 11, 451-67.
Tompkins, J. P.(1985) Sentimental power: Uncle Tom's cabin and the politics of literary history. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860, New York: Oxford U.P.
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