Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555
Throughout Grandmothers of the Light , Allen maintains a dual focus on education and transformation. As she informs her readers about American Indian peoples’ woman-centered, holistic worldview, she attempts to alter their perceptions. She attributes the many problems facing Western culture to the spiritual imbalance that accompanied the shift to...
(The entire section contains 555 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Throughout Grandmothers of the Light, Allen maintains a dual focus on education and transformation. As she informs her readers about American Indian peoples’ woman-centered, holistic worldview, she attempts to alter their perceptions. She attributes the many problems facing Western culture to the spiritual imbalance that accompanied the shift to rational thought and patriarchal social structures and asserts that the worldview embodied in North American myths provides social actors with an alternative perspective. Moreover, Allen believes that native cosmology offers twentieth century women an important tool for achieving personal and social change, for it challenges the sexism and other forms of misogyny found in Western socioreligious belief systems. This desire to instruct and transform readers influences Allen’s approach to her material. In order to reach a broad audience, she employs a conversational, nonacademic style and translates a highly sophisticated metaphysical system into accessible language and nontechnical terminology.
Myth plays a central role in the personal, social, and metaphysical changes that Allen advocates. She rejects Western ethnocentric conceptions of mythology as primitive belief systems, mystifying falsehoods, or nostalgic retreats into an irrecoverable past and maintains that mythic stories embody an alternate method of perceiving reality, as well as a highly complex metaphysics. In the introductory chapter, Allen equates myth with metamorphosis and transformation by defining it as a unique mode of communication, “a language contract that wields the power to transform something (or someone) from one state or condition to another.” By associating myth’s transformational power with the oral tradition, Allen constructs a unique theory of storytelling and a woman-centered, holistic epistemology that draw on language’s performative effects to generate personal and collective change.
Allen’s epistemology emphasizes women’s agency. As she asserts, “Since all that exists is alive and must change as a basic law of existence, all existence can be manipulated under certain conditions and according to certain laws.” By focusing their thought and channeling its energy in specific ways, she maintains, women can effect material change. Allen stipulates, however, that in order to utilize this transformative dimension of thought, people brought up under Western systems of knowledge must learn to perceive reality mythically. In other words, they must forgo their usual reliance on empirical knowledge and rational, linear thinking by entering into liminal space where alterations in consciousness can occur. Allen locates this liminal space, or what she calls “the universe of power,” within mythic narratives, at the interface between the spiritual and mundane worlds invoked by the oral tradition. She explains that her stories guide readers through a series of myths designed to dislodge their conventional modes of perception. This challenge to Western thinking is especially evident in “A Fish of Another Hue” and “Someday Soon.”
Allen’s emphasis on nonrational thought forms is highly subversive, for it allows her simultaneously to critique the masculinist, Eurocentric bias in conventional forms of knowledge and to develop alternate ways of thinking. Her use of storytelling rather than logical proofs unsettles Western-educated readers’ over-reliance on reason. As she uses paradox and ambiguity to expose the limitations of Western culture’s confidence in the accuracy of logical rational thought, she provides an alternative to analytical forms of thinking. In “A New Wrinkle,” for example, she describes the place of the Keres Laguna Grandmother Spider as both “far away” and “right among” human beings.