Through the Ivory Gate Essay - Critical Essays

Rita Dove


Dove’s focus on the experience of a female protagonist makes this work fit subject matter for a feminist reading. Such a reading reveals that Dove tries to shape female characters who have a strong sense of themselves and who assume the right to explore their creativity in self-involved ways. In this sense, Virginia represents an important portrayal of the woman who has evolved out of the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Virginia’s crucial decisions are founded on a conscious challenge of the stereotypical roles of the female—that of wife and homemaker. She likes children but is clearly not “a natural” with them, and she does not betray any “maternal instincts.” Virginia is decidedly “unmotherly.” Her quest for self-understanding constitutes the feminine equivalent of the archetypal journey into the “heart of darkness.” In her journey into her psychic interior, she is guided by both male and female characters whose relationships with her allow her to come to grips with her relationship with herself.

This distinctly feminine journey becomes complicated by the parallel journey that characterizes Virginia’s life. Her memories and the manner in which they emerge in her mind indicate that racial questions are crucial to her understanding of herself. She has experienced direct racism, yet she has had the peculiar experience of living an ostensibly white existence in terms of her artistic and social interests and activities. Dove expands the concept of the woman as intellectual and the black woman as free of any limitations that have been imposed by society through her positive portrayal of Virginia. Part of this articulation rests on...

(The entire section is 686 words.)