Ravensong is written by Lee Maracle, a First Nations writer and poet. Both of these novels have brought forth important issues pertaining to Women’s and Gender Studies such as colonialism, sexuality, fear of violence, and lesbianism. This paper will focus on the topic of sexuality and colonialism. These two novels have further educated me on many things. For example, after reading Ana Historic, I discovered that there are various narrative forms and styles other than traditional European models.
Daphne Marlatt uses writing styles such as ecriture feminine; in which feminist writers “try to use their own bodies as a source for writing” (Sand 10) and gynesis, which is an “aesthetic strategy which puts gender, sexuality and maternity into public discourse” (Sand 10). I also learned how femininity is constructed in a white middle class environment through what is considered appropriate conduct for a woman (Sand 10). After reading Ravensong, I discovered that in traditional aboriginal culture, men never entered the house of single women without a man being present (Maracle 103).
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This novel has also taught me about the important role of Raven, the trickster who is used to dissolve the boundaries between Native and white culture (Sand 20). The novels are very different in terms of narrative styles, point-of-views, time periods, and how lesbianism and the role of nature play out in the story. Daphne Marlatt uses a postmodern narrative style, while Lee Maracle uses a combination of aboriginal and European narrative approaches. Ravensong is written from the point-of-view of a young native woman, whereas Ana Historic is written from the outlook of a white, middle-class woman.
Lesbianism plays out differently in each novel. In Ana Hisotric, Annie slowly comes to terms with her sexuality and eventually realizes that she is a lesbian. In Ravensong, Stacey’s friends Rena and German Judy are a lesbian couple. The role of nature in Ravensong is indivisible from human life and landscape (Sand 20), where as in Ana Historic it is a place of comfort and cause of fear (Sand 20). Ravensong takes place in the 1950s and Ana Historic takes place mostly in the 1950s and 1870s (Mrs. Richards). Colonialism and sexuality are topics which are closely correlated. They are both about dominance, regulation, discourse and race.
Sexuality is defined as the historical organization and regulation of desire and sexual practices into social identities that are constructed as if they emerge from nature (Sand 18). Daphne Marlatt and Lee Maracle deal with this subject in very different ways. In Ravensong, sexuality is associated with shame and suicide. In Ana historic, sexuality is associated with mothering and lesbianism. Colonialism is the extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory beyond its borders by the establishment of either settle colonies or creating administrative dependencies in which native or indigenous populations are directly ruled (Patel 8).
Ravensong is written from the perspective of colonized people whereas Ana Historic is written from the standpoint of the colonizers. In the novel Ana Historic, Ina’s mothering impacts Annie’s perception of sexuality. Ina taught her daughters sexuality was something to be afraid of “you taught us your fear, you taught us what you knew about a world where even uncles were not to be trusted. you grew more afraid as our sexuality came budding to the fore... ” (Marlatt 34). Annie tries to write herself out of the patriarchal limitations of heterosexuality that have bounded her mother Ina to a life of domesticity.
She does this by freeing herself from her role as supportive house wife and re-writing her relationship with Ina (Sand 10). Annie realizes that feminine behaviour is not actually something natural and inevitable but it is rather an unnatural social construction. Annie writes “... you taught me the uneasy hole in myself and how to cover it up – cover girl, the great cover-story women inherit in fashion and makeup. You taught me how i was supposed to look, the feminine act” (Marlatt 61). Annie also recognizes “the inheritance of mothers” (Maralatt 60) that passes on sexual repression from generation to generation.
For instance, Ina says to Annie, “what do you know about repression? you were hardly a virgin when you married, were you? I didn’t know the first thing about sex - your grandmother simply refused to discuss it, though i begged her” (Marlatt 60). Marlatt avoids heteronormativity which is a belief and a set of cultural/institutional practices that enforce heterosexuality as dominant, essential and natural (Sand 18), by creating a sexualized lesbian relationship between Annie and her friend Zoe.
While creating a life for Mrs. Richards, Annie begins to realize that she is attracted to Zoe and she writes her into the story by creating a character named Birdie Stewart. Annie writes about the sexual desire she feels for Zoe in her imagined life of Mrs. Richards, “you turn intrigued, and your body turning in its long skirt, is caught in the act, you have caught yourself turning in Birdie’s eyes” (Marlatt 109). Annie’s inherent fear of sexuality surfaces in her imagined life for Mrs. Richard. Birdie recognizes Mrs.
Richards fear of her own sexual identity, she says, “but you’re afraid my dear, afraid of your own twat” (Marlatt 135). She addresses her fear of lesbian sexuality when she says “You fear what you want. ’... ‘am I right, my love? ” (Marlatt 139). Mrs. Richards is suddenly rushed with desire, she admits the truth of it and feels it written across her face (Marlatt 139). Annie finally gives in to her sexual desire for Zoe and the novel ends with a climatic sexual poem. Annie’s lesbian sexuality surfaces as a result of the decolonization process Marlatt inscribes for Annie and Mrs. Richards (Sand 10).
In her novel Narrative Deconstructions of Gender, Caroline Rosenthal defines sexual decolonization as a debate on whether “women are colonized by compulsory heterosexuality in ways only decolonizing strategies and the practice of critical consciousness can undo” (106). Marlatt deviates from the sexual oppression of middle-class white women by revisioning a lesbian life for Mrs. Richards. The problem of the intersection of women and the oppression of the indigenous briefly surfaces in Ana Historic.
While Mrs. Richards is walking through the woods she comes across two Siwash men who are simply passing by. Where they drunk?... Perhaps they were furious and meant to do her harm” (Marlatt 41). The assumptions that Mrs. Richards makes about these men are related to negative stereotypes such as the “drunken squaw” that colonizers created to justify taking over Native land (Anderson 229). In the beginning of the novel Ravensong, Stacey learns that one of her white classmates, Polly, committed suicide. Polly has killed herself in response to the shame she felt about being publicly identified as having been sexually active with another boy in Stacey’s class.
Stacey becomes very angry with the reactions of some of her classmates to Polly’s “lack of chastity” (Maracle 28). “She couldn’t believe how small and mean they all were. So what if Polly had a little fun last night? Big deal! ” (Maracle 28) Stacey does not understand the social disapproval of Polly because in her culture sexuality is seen with humour and is openly joked about. For example, Ella the village elder asks Stacey “What you going to save me for, have another baby? ” The women respond with laughter saying “Sure, why not Ella. You probably still like trying. They were on a roll, ribbing Ella about her zeal for men” (Maracle 50).
Raven pushes Stacey to come to grips with the loss of her classmate by guiding her to explore Polly’s culture and history. “Wander around Polly’s insides, feel your way through decades, generations of lostness” (Marlatt 39). In doing so Stacey discovers that white culture views sexuality very differently than her own culture. She realizes that Polly had a violent home life and that white town had no support for Polly’s mother. “In the end what struck her about Judy’s narrative was the lack of support in the white community for Polly’s mom.
Where was the family in all this? ” (Marlatt 81) Stacey is surprised by this because in her culture sexuality is natural, a part of everyday life. “People love, laugh and have babies” (Marlattt 71). In her thesis Rebelling against discourses of denial and destruction, Rachel Deutsch writes that “in European ideology, sexuality and sexual acts, especially involving women, were seen as deviant” (30). This ideology starts to influence Stacey to reject some aspects of her own culture such as the anger and disgust she feels towards her mother for wanting to remain sexual after the death of her husband.
In Kim Anderson’s article, The construction of a Negative Identity, she states that colonizers created a negative sexual identity for Native women in order to justify “taking over Indian land” (229). The “dirty squaw” image made it easier to “cover up the reality of Native women who were merely struggling with the increasingly inhuman conditions on reserve” (Anderson 231). This negative sexual identity presents itself in the novel when Stacey talks about the racism she experiences at school.
“A few of them hurled insults and racial epithets at her, whispered ‘cleutch’ as she passed them... (Maracle 69). A cleutch refers to a Native female’s private parts. Colonialism first presents itself at the very beginning of the novel when Celia sees a tall ship approaching the village filled with men. In this moment, Celia feels the impending doom of colonialism on her people and culture. “Fear, cold and thin, wove itself into Celia’s self” (Maracle 10). Another instance of colonialism experienced by the village lies in the general indifference of white town towards the flu epidemic that takes many Native lives.
Colonialism also surfaces in the relationship between Stacey and Steve, a white boy from her class. Colonialism led to the eradication and destruction of aboriginal cultures which assist in the explanation on why the doctors of white town were unwilling to treat the villagers. Stacey believes it is because their lives are deemed less valuable. “Under the shabby arguments about hospitals being full and doctors already overworked lay an unspoken assumption: white folks are more deserving... ” (Maracle 69). Stacey sees Steve and other white people as controlling oppressors.
She resists white power (colonization) many times throughout the book. Stacey resists her teachers’ authority and she also resists Steve’s desire for her. “The slave had just given an order to the master, which made him an ex-master. Neither man knew what it was to be an ex-master, so both were confused and hurt” (Maracle 75). Her growing frustration for white town’s lack of compassion towards suffering villagers is obvious in her attitude towards Steve. Stacey can no longer stand the racism and she tells Steve exactly how she feels.
She tells him that he will never know what her and her people have gone through and asks him “How did it feel to watch us die, Steve? ” (Maracle 186). Steve leaves in shame and Stacey realizes that he was not for her. Ana Historic and Ravensong have taught me several things that I was unaware of before reading them. I have learned that there exists many different writing styles and narrative approaches such as ecriture feminine and gynesis used by Daphne Marlatt and the conventions of Native orature (Sand 20) used by Lee Maracle.
I’ve learned how femininity is constructed in Ana Historic and about the important role that Raven plays in Ravensong. Marlatt and Maracle deal with colonialism and sexuality throughout the novel in a way which allows the reader to self-reflect on their own positions and understandings of these topics. Non-Native readers are removed from their usual hegemonic position by Stacey’s objectification of white town in Ravensong (Sand 20). Marlatt’s experimentation with language challenges the reader to both examine and interpret the world in a different way.
What impacted me the most about Ana Historic is Daphne Marlatt’s theory and practice of fictionalysis which is a combination of fiction and analysis used as a means to explore self-identity. Marlatt starts with facts from her own life and from history and uses her imagination to create an intersecting territory where “fact and fiction co-exist” (Sand 10). I enjoyed how she used this style in Annie’s reconstruction of traditional history through the life she makes up for Mrs. Richards. The role that Raven plays in the novel is what impacted me most about Ravensong.
Raven acknowledges the gulf between white town and the village and knows that it needs to be bridged in order to prevent further catastrophe. Raven brings the plague of the flu epidemic in attempt to expose white town to the diversity of the world and to teach them to work together. The inability of white town to grasp the lesson leads to the destruction of the indigenous community. Both novels bring important issues and concerns to women and gender studies and I really appreciate the different perspective that each novel has given me. Ana Historic and Ravensong have contributed important lessons, concepts and theories to this course.
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