Cultural Constructions of the Female Body : Narrative as Resistance in Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman, Adele Wiseman's Crackpot and Gabrielle Roy's La Rivière sans repos
In this study I explore narrative resistance in three Canadian novels: Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman , Adele Wiseman's Crackpot and La Rivière sans repos by Gabrielle Roy. I argue that the first two novels counter the dominant constructions of the virgin as the thin, acquiescing body and the whore as the out of bounds, devouring body respectively. I also reflect on whether these texts recognize the importance of a common narrative that speaks to the specificities of female experience, helping us move beyond the dominant constructions that continue to frame our day-to-day lives. La Rivière sans repos is a postcolonial narrative, but it is also a text about mothers. It exposes the containment Western consumerism has placed on the role of mother, the subsequent devaluing of that role and consequently a devaluing of the women who fill that role. Throughout this study I draw from recent theorists who combine feminist perspectives with theories on the body including Susan Bordo and Elizabeth Grosz along with feminist literary critics such as Linda Hutcheon and Patricia Smart. By incorporating feminist theory and theory on the body along with literary criticism I approach the texts with an interdisciplinary analysis that offers a new reading of these narratives. Feminist thought was only just emerging into our cultural consciousness, and theory on the body was little known when Wiseman, Atwood and Roy were writing these novels in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Classical texts reflect and create the construction of women as objects of beauty, who are selfless, inherently weak and needy or they condemn us as "bitchie", manipulative and threatening if expressive of our desires. I seek alternatives to such cultural constructions by exploring how the three novels present and represent the body in relation to female subjectivity and agency by writing against classical representations. In my reading of The Edible Woman I suggest that Atwood's protagonist deviates from the virgin stereotype by following the knowledge of her body rather than that of her intellect. In Crackpot I argue that the fat, sexual body of Wiseman's Hoda asks the reader to question assumptions about normative beauty, female sexuality and marginalization. In La Rivière sans repos I explore how Roy places mother at the centre of the text, which allows for an exploration of the contrast between mothering as experience and motherhood as institution. Each novel proposes a complexity to our experience that has generally been limited to virgin, whore and mother and, consequently, I argue that each offers a discourse of resistance and the possibility of social, cultural and political change.