Silences Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Silences Analysis

Tillie Olsen

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Silences Analysis

Perhaps because of its rather unconventional format, critics have given Silences mixed reviews. While some have hailed the book as a feminist manifesto, others find it wanting in organization, consistency and analysis. It may be its very open-endedness and rather quixotic organization, however, that give the book its power. The structure of the book, which is clearly untidy and fragmented, appropriately reinforces Olsen’s depiction of her own (and others’) career, a career defined by distraction, interruption, and spasmodic efforts rather than by meditation, continuity, and sustained periods of creativity.

Olsen identifies a broad range of constraints that hamper individual and communal expression. She is not advocating an elimination of all these constraints—she sees motherhood, for example as both a constraint and a source of fulfillment—but she suggests that all people must strive to create the conditions that foster expression and creativity without negating the importance of sustaining relationships.

Undergirding Olsen’s analysis are the twin beliefs that human beings are born with curiosity and creativity and that, given the proper context, they are capable of transforming the events of their everyday lives into poignant and lasting literary works. She cites many examples to demonstrate her points and leaves the reader with a much clearer understanding of the ways in which artificial constraints have limited the understanding of humanity’s cultural heritage.

Olsen’s analysis is punctuated by her own humanistic values and her compassion for other people. By analyzing the reasons that past masters have fallen silent, she also offers encouragement to those who have just begun to write and to those who have interrupted their careers for whatever reasons. Taken a step further, Silences constitutes a mandate, a clarion call to the previously silent. Her explanations of the barriers faced by those who are married, those who have children, and those who are working one (or more) jobs are not meant to condone the silences. Instead, they...

(The entire section is 861 words.)