Date of Award

5-19-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Department

Women's & Gender Studies

First Advisor

Katie Oliviero

Language

English

Abstract

For centuries, “women’s space” in Western culture signified the kitchens, parlors, bedrooms, nunneries, and other feminized spaces where women were expected to work and live. The doctrine of “separate spheres” codified this gendered division where men occupied the public and women the private sphere. Yet this patriarchally imagined spatial separation failed to wholly enforce gendered spaces: women have consistently reinterpreted the “private” sphere to reflect its political and structural elements, as in the feminist rallying cry “The personal is political.” In this spirit, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood use space to construct their writers’ understandings of space by and for women, producing a spatialized women’s consciousness which demonstrates the spatial context and interpretive power of these novels and their use of space. Using an intersectional lens to focus on space in these novels by women, this project analyzes the ways each text invokes space to describe women’s navigation of conditions of marginalization, their interpretive processes to endow space with their own power. Jane Eyre actively engages with her environment to create a spatial representation of the imagined British nation; Janie of Their Eyes operationalizes both internal and external space to construct her self-determined identity in Jim Crow’s America; in The Handmaid’s Tale , Offred evokes space to interpret and appropriate her own body from the patriarchal regime which attempts to strip her of bodily autonomy. As these novels demonstrate, space is constantly renegotiated, reinterpreted, and reconfigured in the context of oppression. Spatiality and intersectionality ground this argument in an attempt to illuminate some of these reinterpretations and reconfigurations. An analysis of the spatial coding in Jane Eyre, Their Eyes Were Watching God , and The Handmaid’s Tale reveals the continued tradition of space in women’s literature as constantly subject to women’s interpretive, imaginative power.

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