Protest and Possibility in the Writing of Tillie Olsen

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University of Virginia Press, 1993 - Social Science - 178 pages
Tillie Olsen's fiction and nonfiction portray, with all their harsh contours, the lives of people who cannot speak for themselves or whose words have been forgotten or ignored. Olsen's writing is neither serene nor despairing. In this sensitive thematic reading, Mara Faulkner shows that its most subversive function is the assertion that human life can be other than and more than it is. Olsen's promise of full creative life aims to make her readers forever dissatisfied with physical, emotional, and intellectual starvation. Faulkner finds in Olsen's writing a triple-layered pattern combining protest against oppression (blight), celebration of courage and strength (fruit), and the heartening dream of a radically transformed future world (possibility). She focuses on four of Olsen's main themes - motherhood, the relationship between men and women, community, and language - and shows how, because of social and economic circumstances, potentially creative tensions become destructive contradictions: motherhood stifles women's lives, patriarchy and poverty turn men into enemies of women and children, communities force their members into betrayal, and language distorts or erases human experience. Olsen reveals, according to Faulkner, the overlapping oppressions of class, race, gender, nationality, education, and age that both link people and set them apart. Yet, she refuses to exalt suffering and deprivation. In this comprehensive examination of a literature of social consciousness, Faulkner approaches Olsen's works within their historical, social, and political contexts without treating them as propaganda. In fact, she shows that it is Olsen's compressed, poetic style that gives her writing itsrevolutionary power. She illuminates both the author's individual talent and the traditions in which her works were created - traditions of women writers of color, writers of the working class, and writers who were immigrants or children of immigrants.

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Stories Old and New
Motherhood as Source and Silencer of Creativity
The Gnarled Roots of the Patriarchy
Community as Necessity and Danger for the Self
The Power and Peril of Language and Silence

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About the author (1993)

Mara Faulkner, O.S.B., is Assistant Professor of English at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

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