The Cancer Journals Essay - Critical Essays

Audre Lorde


Lorde is adamant that women need to consider carefully their own lives and to evaluate them. Although this examination may be painful, it is necessary for the journey into a deeper self. It is in the deeper self that power lies, and if one never experiences the examination, the door to that more important self is never opened. Lorde is concerned that society sees women as mere ornaments and that many women accept that role, not reaching down into themselves to find their own strengths and talents.

She would make women with breast cancer into warriors. She asserts that she has been to war and is still engaged in the fighting. Because of the severity of cancer, and because its incidence seems to be increasing, she says that women cannot afford deception or look the other way. They cannot opt out of the battle. She was far ahead of her time in 1978 when she wrote about her grave reservations about silicone implants. She has been proven correct on this count. She brings up a little-considered problem of these implants: that money and research were devoted to developing them and to improving them rather than to understanding and treating cancer.

Lorde uses several interesting techniques in this volume. She did not write it in strict chronological fashion. Instead, she used a kind of layering, so that readers uncover Lorde’s physical and spiritual condition as the story unfolds. This technique seems right for this story. It gives it some of the elements of a novel, making the stark facts easier to assimilate and adding reader interest, as readers wonder what will be uncovered next.

This method also seems right for the author. It is a completely honest depiction of the discoveries the writer makes about herself. She does not know or understand all of her feelings at once. At the beginning of the book, there are many aspects of a life-threatening condition that turn out to be different from what Lorde thought. For example, she says that in her early days of recovery at home she “pretty much functioned automatically, except to cry.” From time to time she would ask herself how she could “preserve my new status as temporary upon this earth.” Then she would remember that “we have always been temporary, and that I had just never really underlined it before, or acted out of it so completely before. And then I would feel a little foolish and needlessly melodramatic, but only a little.”

This uncovering bit by bit is also useful in preparing the way for Lorde’s most important message. She insists that women must empower themselves, that they must not be ornaments or bystanders. She points out that a serious challenge of this type can strengthen the women who come to terms with its real meaning. The real meaning for Lorde is that this firsthand struggle with death makes her more powerful, rather than less,...

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