An Investigation of Literary Greatness: Still a Battle of the Sexes

An Investigation of Literary Greatness: Still a Battle of the Sexes

Length: 1646 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
An Investigation of Literary Greatness: Still a Battle of the Sexes

"'I am an experienced writer and have some sense whether an idea can work or not...I wasn't sure it would work and I really thought about it for nine months before I put pen to paper. But I didn't feel intimidated by Melville's accomplishment. I felt inspired by it.'" Naslund quoted by Jamie Allen (CNN Interactive Senior Writer)(1999)

For most people the mention of "great literature" stirs up the classic images of such authors as Shakespeare, Twain, Hemmingway, Salinger, Fitzgerald, and Melville among many others. Without belittling those very talented authors I would like to question their superiority over lesser acclaimed or widely known authors. What makes great literature and who gets to decide what qualifies? Perhaps a book such as Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund could be a "greater" book than its famous precursor, Herman Melville's Moby Dick. But who can one say that one book is greater than another? In the end the question of greatness comes down to who is measuring it.

Well first off, what does it mean to be great at anything? Perhaps it means to have succeeded gracefully at whatever goal there was in mind. Perhaps it is to be liked by others, or to be meaningful. Perhaps it is represented by being carried on through time. Or perhaps greatness is whatever people make it to be and can never be fully defined. Most likely any or all of those things contribute to greatness.

Given a flexible definition of greatness, what is great literature? Is it literature that has meaning (doesn't it all), invokes thought, is it defined by being likable, or achieving the authors goal, is it marked by the span of time and influence that the story has, or is a broad equation encompassing any or all, perhaps even none, of those characteristics?

Many would say that Melville's Moby Dick is great literature. Moby Dick is a classic novel that surely has had, and continues to have, a huge influence on the collective evolution of writing and literary thought. Melville's story of madness and obsession combined with his realistic old English style of writing has been mimicked and transformed to give rise to hundreds, possibly thousands, of new stories and an infinite number of thoughts have been born. There is no question that Moby Dick has been a very influential book. Does that mean it's great?

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"An Investigation of Literary Greatness: Still a Battle of the Sexes." 31 Mar 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay about Battle of the Sexes

- In the topic the battle of the sexes the statement, "Ironically, the man still wins the battle of the sexes in literature" I agree with. In the way the statement draws upon the hypocrisies of our ongoing society and social interactions it highly relates to the ordeals in both The Taming of the Shrew and Ten Things I Hate About You. The subjects of male dominance through the centuries proves to the point that men do win the battle of the sexes by what is expected of them and is proved not just in literature but reflected in society in general....   [tags: Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare]

Research Papers
900 words (2.6 pages)

Battle Between the Sexes Essay

- Battle between the Sexes Thomas Jefferson and the country’s founding fathers played a pivotal role in paving the way to achieve the opportunity of freedom for Americans when creating the Declaration of Independence. The constant issues of unfair treatment from King George III and his tyranny ultimately led the American colonies to harbor anger and tried to strive for a better life. In the 1700’s, King George III extended his tyrannical control by interfering with the objective judicial processes and civil rights of the colonists....   [tags: power, laws, declaration]

Research Papers
1986 words (5.7 pages)

Battle of the Sexes Essay

- Battle of the Sexes Had the daughters and wives of the countryside played a part in the committees in Tunnel Six and elsewhere. Was it common for a woman to bring a dispute before the assembly. What did the fact of the conflict’s setting a pair of women against each other say about solidarity and division by gender in the countryside. Could a woman ever be a rondero. In 1977, a woman’s committee was organized in Cuyumalca by Omelia Lopez. Omelia was soon to be the first president of the women’s committee....   [tags: essays papers]

Free Essays
594 words (1.7 pages)

Essay about Battle of the Sexes

- Battle of the Sexes Tiny pink nipples peeked out from our pasty chests and our protruding ribs gave way to our sun-starved tummies. Alex and I ran free, our shirts flapping in the wind as we waved them over our heads like victory flags. Moments later, on that April day in first grade, my best friend and I experienced the injustices of womanhood; our teachers informed us that we were not allowed to go shirtless during recess. "Why?" Alex whined. "That's not fair," I protested. "The boys can." Of course our complaints received the usual response, "It's different for little boys and little girls." An answer that was not only unsatisfactory, but infuriating as well....   [tags: Personal Narrative Essay Example]

Free Essays
641 words (1.8 pages)

Shopping And The Battle Of The Sexes Essay examples

- Shopping and the Battle of the Sexes Down through the ages when it comes to shopping and acquiring goods, men and women differ so much that it’s led to many a row. So what makes each gender clash so much, and is there an amicable solution. Chief marketing officer of CVS Pharmacy, Robert Price says that “Women tend to be more invested in the shopping experience on many dimensions. Where men want to go to Sears, buy a specific tool and get out.” For women, shopping can be an enjoyable time, especially when it comes to buying items on sale....   [tags: Gender, Woman, Need, Gender role]

Research Papers
1090 words (3.1 pages)

The Wife of Bath and the Battle of the Sexes Essay

- How far do you agree that in the battle of the sexes it is the wife of Bath who has the most effictive weapons and armour. The Wife sees the relationship between men and women as a battle in which it is crucial to gain the upper hand, 'Oon of us two must bowen, douteless' Her armour was indeed necessary, as in Medieval England, women definitley were second class citizens who were viewed as goods and chattels, with no financial independence. They were often beaten, and it is clearly in the Wife's nature to protect herself....   [tags: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer]

Research Papers
680 words (1.9 pages)

The Battle of the Sexes Essay examples

- The Battle of the Sexes All students deserve an education that nurtures them, providing opportunities and experiences that inspire their creative and intellectual minds. Whether a student gets this education from a man or a woman should not make a difference. The fact of the matter is that in many cases the gender of a teacher does affect a student's ability to learn. In many instances, it also matters to some teachers if the student is a girl or a boy. Why would this be so. From research and personal observations and experiences, I will answer this question....   [tags: Education Educational Essays]

Free Essays
1924 words (5.5 pages)

Essay on the Battle of the Sexes in Taming of the Shrew

- The Battle of the Sexes in Taming of the Shrew Battle of the Sexes would have been another appropriate title for this play because the entire play is women verses men, men verses women. This battle of the sexes shows no boundaries between the rich and poor, young or old, man or women. The basis of all the rivalry stems from the fact that the men in this play look at the women as if they were objects, instead of human beings with feelings. This theory that women are merely objects creates an environment that the women have to adapt to and survive in and the environment of a person will depict what he or she will become, resulting in a battle between the sexes....   [tags: Taming Shrew Essays]

Research Papers
1496 words (4.3 pages)

Karen Horney's The Distrust Between the Sexes Essay

- Karen Horney's "The Distrust Between the Sexes" In Karen Horney's "The Distrust Between the Sexes," she attempts to explain the problems in the relationships between men and women. She writes that to understand the problem you must first understand that problems stem from a common background. A large amount of suspiciousness is due to people's intensity of emotions. Early in Horney's essay, she defines passion and discusses why it is rare. People do not feel safe putting all of their faith and trust in only one other person....   [tags: Karen Horney Distrust Between the Sexes]

Research Papers
734 words (2.1 pages)

Battle of the Sexes Essay

- Bad Choosers By K.L. Casado The tired cliché has rung throughout the halls of maternity wards and law firms for years. "The Battle of the Sexes" as it is called; the everlasting struggle for supremacy among men and women. However, in the wider scope of events, how easy one's life is would ideally be more important than how supreme one is. Just ask Colin Powell or maybe even a reincarnate Kurt Cobain. It does not matter much if you're the top dog if your a top dog with an uncomfortable life....   [tags: essays research papers]

Free Essays
1767 words (5 pages)

Related Searches

Well perhaps, but does it mean it's greater than a story not as wide spread or mimicked? And what is it that is so great about this one book? Well some say Moby Dick is great because it invokes thought; while it is fantastical and adventurous, there is meaning in it that comes through to every human being who reads it. The book is praised for its openness to multiple interpretations and depth that can be achieved in those interpretations. It could be said that the greatness of Moby Dick lies in between the lines of writing, in the interpretations, and what is unanswered by the author.

Of the many stories to branch from Moby Dick, one such transformation inspired by Melville's famous tale was Naslund's book Ahab's Wife, which cleverly creates a female compliment to Moby Dick. Naslund creates a story that follows the text of Moby Dick, delves into many of the interpretations of Moby Dick, and spotlights the female experience with the main character being "the strong, adventuresome, intelligent, sensitive, successful woman -- successful in a very ordinary sense in that she feels fulfilled her life" (Naslund qt. by Allen, 1999). Ahab's Wife can be read as a supplement to or an expanding of Moby Dick or an entirely independent entity. Naslund herself says, "One of the most important things I want to say about the book is, you don't have to have read 'Moby-Dick' in order to enjoy 'Ahab's Wife.' 'Ahab's Wife' is designed as an independent, stand-alone reading experience."

When comparing the two books standing on their own, they appear very different. Melville writes a powerful archaic, gruff, and vengeful sequence of events along a short span of time, while Naslund writes a colorfully vivid, emotional, and romantic life story. Both books have adventure and passion but in very different contexts and styles. Is either style the example of great writing? Because Naslund's style is differs so greatly from Melville's does that mean it is less powerful, meaningful, or noteworthy? I think not! On the contrary, I found great pleasure in reading the sensual descriptions that Naslund used on every page; I was engrossed and quickly invested in the life of this woman. I saw clear pictures saturated with color and emotion, and I felt deep sorrow and delight (among other emotions) during my read. This was not the case at all with Moby Dick, during which I felt some emotion of sorrow and exhaustion but not out of a connection I felt with any of the characters. During Moby Dick I found myself searching for answers and meaning while during Ahab's Wife I found myself experiencing. Does enjoyment of a story not equate greatness? And a new flood of questions arise, was I just identifying with Naslund's book because she, the main character, and I were women, or was it just the style? It was most likely both, but was my enjoyment of the style in a correlation with the identification with the femaleness of the book?

It wouldn't be fair to say that a female reader will always automatically identify more fully with a female author and/or main character (or the opposite for men), nor would it be fair to declare that there is a masculine and a feminine way to write/think, however, it would make sense that there might be some differences in the way opposite genders approach a topic. Sharon Begley in the Newsweek article, Gray Matters (1995) attributes many of the differences between men and women behaviorally and psychologically to physiological differences in brain structure and function. She sites research that alludes to a clear difference in brain function among the sexes, such that women react and think differently than men in various situations. Perhaps, this means there are gender-defined ways of writing after all (to a point and not exclusively).

Whether or not there is a gender influence at play in the two novels or not, there are countless variations in the way each author approaches similar situations in the two books. While not entirely fair given that the excerpts are not from the same time or circumstances and no one ever really knows what an author's intentions are, the attitudes toward whaling might be used as an example of different approaches. Melville (a man) spends a chapter with Ishmael trying to glorify the act of whaling. Melville writes on page 100, "Whaling not respectable? Whaling is imperial! ... No dignity in whaling? ... I know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty whales. I account that man more honorable than that great captain of antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns." Naslund (a woman) depicts the main character, Una, as having a very different take on the lifestyle of whaling,
As for the innocent blood of the whale... I did my duty. I suppose many a soldier tells himself the same, and thus assuages guilt...I do not think dragons drained such sad blood. Nor were dragons female, and this whale evidently was for I saw her calf...grow frightened and swim away...Already Kit anticipated that a bloody reality would replace his fantasy of whaling (183).
There seems to be difference here, possibly related to gender, but getting back to the real question, is either of these more effective? Is one better literature? Who is to judge?

In 1999 Jamie Allen of wrote a response to the list of 100 best books of the century put out by the Modern Library. In her response Allen wrote,
Aside from the usual brickbatting that accompanies any list that tries to encapsulate a century, the Modern Library's rankings has rankled both women and people of color... Only eight female authors were represented in the top 100, and minority authors were noticeably scarce, despite a considerable presence in literature over the past 100 years.
Is the rating system sexist (and racist)? Well, one can probably guess what sort of judges comprises such a group as the Modern Library... old, rich, white guys. After decades of "equality," it seems the battle rages on against the patriarchal society.

The point here is that members of the human race see things differently based on the human experience, sometimes as a result of biology and sometimes culture. As a result, each person's view of greatness might be different, and it's impossible to find a completely neutral party or fully encompassing and fair guidelines in order to judge. It seems that there are still a lot of effective and meaningful unrecognized authors out there. Interestingly all the "great" authors I (randomly) rattled off in the beginning of this paper were men, and I'm obviously not the only one who notes this still existing male domination. Perhaps female authors just haven't had enough time to spread their messages and see their influence, but one thing is absolutely clear in my mind, the explanation is not that men are just "greater" writers.

Works Cited

Allen, Jamie. (November 8, 1999). 'A 20th century response to a 19th century novel'. Retrieved 4/17/04 from book News:

Allen, Jamie. (May 6, 1999). The Top 100? Retrieved 4/17/04 from book News:

Begley, Sharon. (March 27, 1995). Gray Matters. Newsweek. Retrieved 4/14/04 from Lexis Nexis Database.

Melville, Herman. (2002). Moby Dick (Norton Critical Edition, 2nd Ed.). Parker, Hershel and Hayford Harrison (Eds.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Naslund, Sena Jeter. (1999). Ahab's Wife. New York: Harper Collins.
Return to