Date of Degree
Vera M. Roberts
Mary Ann Caws
Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory
This dissertation is concerned with developing feminism as a critical tool, to be applied to drama. Feminist theory from anthropology, psychology, literary criticism, and film theory is summarized and one theorist from each field is selected to serve as an example of how feminism in that field can illuminate drama written by both women and men.
I begin by outlining the three chronological stages of feminist criticism: (1) Images of women; (2) Women writers; and (3) The questioning of an entire field. The various political divisions of feminism (liberal, radical, and socialist) also need to be kept in mind, and some of the feminist insights from science and history give perspective on the whole process of theorizing, "objectivity," and making categories.
The sixteen plays have been selected from the period 1945-1985. The playwrights include prominent figures in the traditional canon (Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Sam Shepard, John Guare, David Mamet, and David Rabe) as well as some women playwrights who would not generally be placed there (Jane Bowles, Carson McCullers, Maria Irene Fornes, Joan Schenkar, the group Split Britches, and Wendy Kesselman).
The chapter on feminist anthropology applies Gayle Rubin's idea of "the exchange of women" to three plays from the 1940s. The chapter on feminist psychology applies Nancy Chodorow's ideas about mother-daughter bonding during the preoedipal phase to three plays from the 1940s and 1950s. From feminist literary criticism, some of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's ideas on madness and confinement in nineteenth-century fiction are applied to five plays from the 1970s and 1980s. And from feminist film theory, Laura Mulvey's early ideas on the representation of women from "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" are applied to four plays from the 1980s. In concluding, I combine ideas from Chodorow and Mulvey to do a brief, illustrative analysis of My Sister In This House by Wendy Kesselman, and suggest future directions feminist dramatic theory and criticism might take.
Austin, Gayle, "Feminist Theory and Postwar American Drama" (1988). CUNY Academic Works.