How do you think that gender plays a role in analyzing literature or even texts? What role does gender play in understanding literature and society?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Let’s assume you are not speaking of the gender of the reader (a sociological question).  Deconstruction’s greatest contribution to literary analysis may be the attention it drew to unspoken assumptions of the writer by revealing predilection and assumptions the writer makes without even consciously realizing it.  Example abound in pronoun choices (assuming a doctor is a “he,” etc.), but more subtle is the assumptions of social roles (the housing chores and menial farm chores, etc.) and the assumptions of power brought on by wealth and title.  When the writer constructs the mise-en-scene of his/her story, he/she is constructing a social structure that he or she assumes is shared with the reader.  Consider Riders to the Sea and Playboy of the Western World, both plays relying on a shared understanding of men’s and women’s roles in the western Irish culture.  When a female character makes choices in a novel or play, those choices are deemed “normal” or “abnormal” depending on the reader’s gender assumptions.  Doll’s House was controversial because it seemed to champion a departure from those assumed proper roles.  Returning, however, to the role that gender plays in interpreting or appreciating literature, it is up to the reader to evaluate the author’s hidden assumptions, and to keep one’s own assumptions in check long enough to understand the social settings the characters live in, so that abnormal behavior can be recognized.  For example regardless of the reader’s views on sexuality outside of marriage, what was Hawthorne’s attitude toward Hester in The Scarlet Letter—was he condemning her or the community?  We all bring our personal perspective to literature, including our gender—our task is to become an “informed reader,” one who can interpret the subtleties of the text, not just follow the plot line.

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