Many literary critics express concern that male authors are unable to authentically reproduce female voice in their writing. What are your thoughts about Lawrence Hill's ability to create an...

Many literary critics express concern that male authors are unable to authentically reproduce female voice in their writing. What are your thoughts about Lawrence Hill's ability to create an authentic voice for his character Aminata in Someone Knows My Name

What are some specific references from Book (I) I can use to support that the author has successfully reproduce the female voice of Aminata in his writing?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a difficult question, and the answer depends in part upon the experience and sensitivity of the reader. Consequently, two different readers may have two different thoughts on the matter. Since you ask for personal thoughts, I will feel free to state my personal thoughts as being that Hill has varying success in producing a female voice for Aminata.

In the opening paragraphs, the voice is dominantly male even though there are key words and phrases that are intended to suggest a female mental orientation and a female narrator through such things as a reference to cooking and a simile employing food: "stew of chicken necks ... in the iron pot" and "like pumpkin mush."

While the accumulation of key words and phrases, such as "our shared moments had grown like corn stalks in damp soil," point to a female character (as does the feminine ending on the name Aminata), it is not until Aminata actually speaks with the girl at the school that the voice Hill produces is authentically female, as in, for example, "I eat what you eat, I told her. Do you suppose I’m going to find an elephant walking about the streets of London?"

Hill also produces an authentically female voice in early passages that disclose Aminata's deepest emotions and longings, as in, for example, when she speaks of longing for an infant's nearness:

Sometimes, I wake in the morning with the splash of sunlight in my small room, and my one longing, ... is to lie back into the soft, bumpy bed with a child to hold. To listen to an infant’s voice rise and fall.

In between these instances of authenticity (using the opening pages for analysis for this is where a first-person narrator's voice is established) are other instances where Hill's tendency is toward a male voice or toward a neutral voice.

The strongest support for presenting a case that, throughout the narrative, Hill succeeds in producing a female voice for Amanata comes from the three items discussed: (1) key words and phrases associating the narrator with the feminine; (2) dialogue that successfully produces a female voice through cadence, wit, tone and relationship with the character(s) spoken to; (3) passages that disclose deep emotion and longings:

  1. Key words and phrases: "I have wondrously beautiful hands. I like to put them on things. I like to feel the bark on trees, the hair on children’s heads,...."
  2. Dialogue: "Honey, I said, my life is a ghost story. Then tell it to me, she said."
  3. Deep emotion: "In the earliest days, when I was free and knew nothing other, I used to sneak outside our walled compound, climb straight up the acacia tree...."

Interestingly, the question of authentic voice across sexes of author and character also applies to female authors who develop male protagonists. An example resides in Anne Brontë's novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Most critics agree that the common reaction to Brontë's opening paragraphs is first confusion, then surprise when it is understood that the first-person narrator is indeed a man--not a woman--named Gilbert Markham: it is generally agreed that Anne Brontë does not succeed in producing a male voice for her male narrator and hero.

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Someone Knows My Name

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