The Daughters: Sexuality, Family, and Control Kayleigh Gray
Gray 2 Introduction Identity begins with the family. We are given two names at birth: a first name and a family name. The socio political discourse of the family is found in every topic under many names. Many critics have devoted entire chapters to the discussion of various social structures and holidays, such as Christma s, designed around the family. The fight against gay marriage is structured around the de from implying that gay couples cannot be (and could never be) adequate parental figures, this argument assumes a fundamental, stabilized structure revolving around a heterosexual dyad. In this paper, I will argue that th is is an inaccurate representation of the family The Bostonians Just Above My Head, and The Lost Language of Cranes deconstruct the ideal structure of the family, and instead reveal the instabilities involved in the heteronormative family as a result of the creation (or attempted creation) of identities through the control of sexuality. Eve Sedgwick, in Epistemology of the Closet begins her introduction political struggle since the turn of the century have only spread and deepened the long crisis of modern sexual definition, dramatizing, often violently, the internal incoherence Epistemology 1). In fact, gender theory requires looking back over this long history of crisis and making he lens of Henry James, writing at the turn of the 20 th century, to view the works of James Baldwin and David Leavitt more clearly (728).
Gray 3 Specifically, using The Bostonians I will drag issues of parent child relationships Just Above My Head The Lost Language of Cranes. The complicated relationships affecting all of the characters in these novels (Freeman 728). If that incongruity in excess (Jagose 3). The structure of the heteronormative family is sexual i dentity. The parents of three particular women in these novels, Verena in The Bostonians, Julia in Just Above My Head, and Jerene from The Lost Language of Cranes, control their identity as a feminist, as she has shown only a predilection for doing what she was told. Her father then rents her out to Olive Chancellor. Whereas a twentieth century interpretation might claim: oman, in an relationship, which, due to his overbearing influence, is unnatural (Faderman 325). Selah uses his daughter for income by training her to speak fluently a nd eloquently on feminism th century. Verena defies his, Southerner who controls her speech just as much as her fathe r. reader as a child evangelist, not quite human. She functions as the breadwinner of the
Gray 4 fa mily, what most consider a traditional male role, twisting the idea of the heteronormative family. Father daughter dynamics complicate further after the death of but n on functional role, refuses to take his place as provider. This move Julia makes with her identity, from child evangelist to normal teenager, from a source of income to e performative nature of the act of her evangelism and makes an identity change which her father promptly rejects. In doing so, Joel performs a reverse Oedipal complex and forces an incestuous relationship on his daughter, thus, very closely, controlling h er sexuality. The relationship between Joel and Julia reaffirms the connection between self identity and sexuality. Jerene and her adoptive upper class family are also African American, the only ones in their rich, primarily white neighborhood. Raised fro m an early age, Jerene has certain gender specific expectations forced on her by her mother, Margaret, who wants the perfect heteronormative, feminine, possibly even white, daughter. When Jerene turns out to have less feminine aspects than Margaret would l ike, she tries to force an image of femininity on Jerene. When Jerene then comes out as a lesbian, both of her parents refuse her existence entirely, banishing her from the family, wishing she were rather dead. her to the woman she marries. The o pposition of these two seemingly polar
Gray 5 effects of the family structure on the identities and sexualities of J erene, Verena, and Julia. All of these characters display a complex duality of identities: they are each involved in performances others expect of them and performances that they feel more accurately describe them. Julia and Jerene, on the rejection of the expected performance, tive outside, and to haunt those Julia and Jerene both come to occupy the outside of human, and become instead inhuman. Verena, as a sort of precursor to both Juli a and Jerene, brings the argument of what is human back to male vs. female rhetoric as well as questioning the meaning of identity. Aside from their questionable humanity, all three daughters occupy this inhuman space because they all function as a form of wealth. Verena is the source of income in her family; her father has trained her for the latest issue, feminism, and even rents her to Olive. Julia, as previously explained, is also the breadwinner; even after giving up evangelism she still supports herse lf and her father through smaller temporary jobs, cleaning. Jerene does not bring in money to her family, but is an image of their wealth, a source of credibility as a family that her parents think they require. a racial theme. All of the main characters in Just Above My Head The Lost Language of Cranes are African American. Race also functions as an aspect of sexuality in these texts; Julia and her family are African American. Since the 19 t h century, race and sexuality have
Gray 6 been linked through medical discourse. James avoids this problem directly for the most plantain owner. Politically, the itionist movement; both struggles arguing for more civil liberties and rights denied them due to discrimination. The 19 th century marks the development of two separate schools of thought regarding different races: polygeny and monogeny. Polygenists upheld that all of the so called races were members of the same species and that they had selection, the theory of polygeny was almost dismissed. Human variation could be explained through time and environment. However, polygenists altered their arguments, defined races as the stages that an mericans and white women were at the same stage as white male children and therefore represented an ancestral stage in the evolution lower evolutionary stage of white men, subjugating them biologically not just socially. swiftly followed the Abolitionist movement. James even describes Miss Birdseye, an elderly woman who was an Abolitionist a lover as well as African American, and Leavitt, who describes the socioeconomic issues
Gray 7 that trouble an African American family emphasis on race and sexuality as related, sometimes inseparable problems. The link between racial and sexual problems has b een thoroughly discussed, even within late nineteenth and early twentieth century medical literature. Siobhan few sites of explicit engagement with questions of sexualit y but also held substantial definitional power within a culture that sanctioned science to discover and tell the truth explain and define bodies and, when the question of race arose, to decide which bodies mattered. Sexual ideologies became linked with racial thought, especially when tion of sex and gender roles and participated in prescribing acceptable behavior, especially within a context of white middle defined exclusively through a specific racial, gendered lens. The other defined through deviation from the norm of white middle sexologists drew on Sexual difference and racial difference are tied by their long histories of subjugation and struggle against the heteronormative standard.
Gray 8 Both Baldwin and Leavitt discuss the inequalities present in the family structure, and the conflicts that arise because of them. In Just Above My Head with a cast of entirely African Americans, one of the friends of the narrator is killed while in the South by racist The Lost Language of Cranes is a middle class African parents deal daily with the stress of that position, and Jerene herself suffers because of th most consistent medical characterizations of the anatomy of both African American he falls into both of these categories, Jerene is placed in an uncomfortable place in medical and social discourse. This disjunction between society and family expectations causes problems for both Jerene and for Julia; Jerene in what her family requires t o view themselves as legitimate in their earned place in society, Julia in the capital her father expects and her changing role as evangelist and abuse victim in society. Henry James: Lack of Identity, Lack of Sexuality The Bostonians has long been examine d for its female same sex relationship The Bostonians in 1886, he of course issue before and after the publication of The Bostonians (Leavitt, Mitchell 220). While
Gray 9 ght be discussed, there is no direct oe uvre work. Faderman argues, though she does not agree, cut accepted view is the assumption that Verena is fact, Verena is a fake. She is a composition, an artifice created by her father, completely unable to decide her own identity, her control, not her own. In fact, they cannot be under her own identity because of a predisposed condition, seemingly her natural state of being. In this text, her identity is also directly tied to her gender. V erena is made to speak in defense of feminism, in order to advance the societal status of women. Yet her father teaches her to speak, the male still in control of the female. Barbara Johnson notes in The Feminist Difference w Verena for
Gray 10 inherited from her father, but he seeks to use her ability for his o get paragraphs put into the newspapers, paragraphs of which he had hitherto been the views Verena as a path to fame and fortune, more a steppi ng stone than a daughter. He recognizes her profitability and seeks to expand it for his gain, rather than her betterment. Her father was "a me smeric healer and she [his wife] was of Mesmerism, a practice originating from the 1700s, was the precursor for hypnotism. A specific practice was the laying on of hands in order to influence an individual. Selah serves (James 57). This combination of fatherhood and mesmerism creates an incredibly influential force over Verena. Selah uses the mysticism mesmerism invokes along with the hetero masculine power of the father to shape Verena and, more specifically, train her voice. Verena is defined in the b how long she had spoken; then he counted that her strange, sweet, crude, absurd, enchanting improvisation must have
Gray 11 the question arises if she is actuall y saying anything of value. Basil certainly thinks not. Right away, the diction used in this quotation gives the reader space to question whether or not Verena is authentic, if she actually means what she is saying, or if her have a gift of public speech; a gift that her father encourages and helps to flourish. girl itself out of control herself were all equally aware that it was not she. It was some power outside it seemed to trol To understand it, one must bear in mind her peculiar breathe and move in a rarefied air, as she would have learned to speak Chinese if her success in life h ad depended upon it; but this dazzling trick, and all her artlessly artful of her essence was the extraordinary generosity with which
Gray 12 she could expose herself, give herself away, turn herself insid e out, for the satisfaction of a person who made demands of her. (James 368). produce demarcate, circulate, differentiate than an ext by the Other. She can perform any role required of her. The Other, her father, controls her of the identity her father has created for her (James 368). James tells us that the ability to identity is to expose her answer is yes, and that human agent is Selah Tarrant ( Butler 7). Selah molds Verena, ative and citational practice by which mother construction (James 53) The discursive a
Gray 13 carpet ffect, Verena is largely unconscious, and therefore without much of a personal identity, until the point at which she acknowledges, or reflects on, her Verena to acknow ledge her own identity instead of giving herself over to her father. route away fr she is forcibly wrenched away from the performance her father generates, hidden under a coat on, figure and ground which refer to a certain distribution of outline and figure but must give that up in order to allow his daughter to fulfill h is desires. Selah operates as the figure, but draws himself into the background so that attention i s on Verena. But, Verena remains the ground on which Selah can be drawn. Which is why hich is why she
Gray 14 models of emotional containment, to be relatively uninvolved with children; their failure has both surpassed and underperformed his role. He cannot provide economically for his family because of his profession and desires. His profession is dying out, and he is lean, shabby sort, without the humour, brilliancy, pres tige, which sometimes throw a However, h is desire for fame is overwhelming; t paragraphs put into the newspapers, paragraphs of which he had hitherto been the subject, but of becomes the desire for the daughter to obtain fame, and from there it is a short leap to provide him with a representation of himself which calms hi s fears and phobias about (his Selah. He feels pressured to fulfill what he believes is his potential; Verena is his he has constructed it that way. Selah recreates himself through the voice of his daughter
Gray 15 daughter to Olive Chancellor. In fact, in their first meeting, Olive characterizes Selah as ffer him ten thousand dollars to renounce all claim to though he does guess at her purpose. Selah capitalizes on maintained control not only over property and tools but also, above all, over the labor in order to use her voice for financial form, her identity. Her vocal performance act becomes the entirety of her identity if you consider it nonsubstitutable, then yo u do not possess it any more than it possesses of his household and has structured her as an investment, a commodity to be sold.
Gray 16 interest in Verena is based upon the identity Selah constructed for her, her ability as a speaker for feminism. And Olive to explore her own dormant personality (James 368). Basil is the only character completely uninteres potential voice of the feminist movement. In fact, Basil holds the opposite views as 325). Verena is initially center of the public sphere, and thus the focu s of all the newspapers, Basil tells Verena (James 327). Basil seeks to own her in the same way her father has and in the same way Olive seeks to; all three wish Verena t neither opposed nor re innocence ther or Basil who are evil? The dichotomy of innocent/evil does not function this clearly in this novel. Basil pursues Verena without concern for her as a figure, wishing her to be the housewife, the background, to his masculine performance. Selah forces V erena into a fixed identity, his identity, in order to profit off of her, but also puts her into a position for fame and fortune. Of course, both of those are for his profit alone.
Gray 17 Olive presents an interesting side to the question of what it means and ho w to be a true feminist that is consistently asked throughout the novel. Olive represents the true stared at him in sudden horror; for the moment her self possession comp letely deserted her. There was so little of any greeting in her face save the greeting of dismay, that he felt there was nothing for him to say to her, nothing that could mitigate the odious fact of his olds the unique trait of pure feminist within this text, she falls into the same problem of figure and ground as Selah and Verena. Olive seeks to be a figure, desires to function as a figurehead for a cause she firmly believes in, but does not have the abi lity. So she purchases a voice, Verena, to serve her cause. She positions herself in the background in the role as teacher so that I can help her, she shall be an immense power for f as the means through which Verena can become more taken in by one argument than the other: he satirized Olive for believing that demotes the cause of feminism in this novel, but does question the validity of extreme points of view and the validity of extreme speakers in general. This novel is a call for authenticity of argument, which becomes clear to Olive after Verena falls in love with Basil. The reality was simply that Verena had been more to her than she ever was to Verena, and that, with her exquisite
Gray 18 natural art, the girl had cared for their cause only because, for the time, no interest, no fascination, was greater. Her talent, the talent which was to achieve such wonders, was was e Olive eventually acknowledges that Verena has no true interest in the cause; it is r is needed of her, which is why only Olive feels control her, and that, as a puppet, she can be possessed. Ultimately, it is this realization that allows Olive to let Verena leave with Basil and to take the stage herself, taking her place as a figure instead of the background. ames] shows us though female relationships that Verena will have to with whom he Verena type of chameleon, able to become whatever is needed of her, including the submissive domestic wife. The emphasis in this quote demonstrates the lack of agency that Verena rder to keep her body for himself. In the end of the novel, Verena finally succumbs to his desires, as opposed to Olive nces her to the crowd (James
Gray 19 tone. Preoccupied as Ransom was with the simple purpose of getting her bodily out of the place, he could yet notice her strange, touching t one, and her air of believing that she might really persuade him. She had evidently given up everything now every pretense of a different conviction and of loyalty to her cause; all this had fallen from her as soon as she felt him near. (James 431). Accor ding to Basil, Verena has abandoned Olive and Selah in favor of his desires. She has decided to substitute one performance for another. Basil is concerned primarily with keeping her quiet about her cause and with bodily removing her from the situation. Bas il knows that in order to control the voice he must remove the body. Getting Verena to a location that he can control is his primary concern. Again the voice and the body are equalized; just as Selah seeks to capitalize on both, Basil wants to have both to himself. most shameful negating any financial value she could have to her father or to Olive. Basil then attempts to take Verena away from the theatre. Olive knows she cannot stop either of them, now piercing cry might have reached the front. But Ransom had already, by muscular force,
Gray 20 voice is set against his body, her cry against his force, and he wins. However, when Olive sets her voice against Verena is the compilation of Olive, the product of her own beliefs, feels confident enough in her performance to speak. The vocal act of public speaking not only brings a subject to life, but also the speaker. The whole discursive practice of feminism presented in this novel presents itself the power of a subject or its will phenomenon in this text; she is a spectacle. She herself is the product of a vocal act; literally the training her father and Olive give her in the art of speaking. Verena is a vocal act, specifically the one that is supposed to bring feminism into being. However, when Basil enters the picture, Verena loses her voice, and thus her purpose. Verena functions only as the background to the figures of other, more powerful, voices in this text. James does not denounce feminism in this text, but rather reinforces the necessity of identity when in pursuit of ideals. Verena is not an example of anti feminism, but rather a call for truth in identity and motive. The difference between ground and figure is the difference between female and sexuality is never questioned or tried to change. She fulfills the normative standard of
Gray 21 femininity: obedient and doc ile to a controller, in this case, her father, Olive, or Basil. Of these, only Olive breaks the normative, as female. Olive does rise to be a figure, throwing off her masquerade of ground when Verena abandons the stage. This is the true call feminism. Verena, the normative female, is lost without a certain resistance and strength of character. In this text, resistance to normal view of female sexuality defines true feminism James Baldwin: Troubling the Heterosexual Relationship The similarities between Baldwin and James are unavoidable and not Americans, struggling through a welter of painful experiences in order to define struggle with this section of people, those who are alienated from society, not allowed its full benefits; James discusses women a nd Baldwin works through a racial window. both struggling to define and articulate their individualities. Both of these women fulfill roles delineated by their fath self. In many ways, Julia is a rewrite of Verena, with a highly sexualized twist. James Baldwin, autho r of Just Above My Head feels a distinct kinship with Henry James. expatriates or of the struggle between manners and self; he speaks of James as the writer who shares with him the one essential theme, that of the failure of Americans to see
Gray 22 marginalized peoples: in this case, women in the late 19 th century and African Americans. Baldwin feel s like he and James are attempting to communicate these inconsistencies and lo ok through their special windows in the house of fiction, if one sees black where the Just Above My Head is a rewrite of The Bostonians Just A bove My Head is another story of resistance to the normative in that it involves a woman engaged in protest who is silenced, in this case, rather queerly Primarily, it is the story of the narrator, Hall, and his brother Arthur. The novel takes place in America during (Tomlinson 139). I want to discuss somewhat more side characters: Julia, her father Joel, and, more briefly, her mother Amy. a gay gospel singer is compelling and discusses many problematic situations (like the conflict between gospel and gayness as its expression) but a more Hall and A rthur never encounter problems between them as children and their parents. to have been dragged out to this church to hear a child, who was nine year s old, preach preach. However, her status as a child is still debated among the characters demanding attention due
Gray 23 domestic women into public performance now not as fluent mediums but rather as what xemplifies this idea; she closes herself off through her performance, alienating herself from her peers and parents. And Julia commands authority in the home, brought through her place as sole provider for the family. This place is problematized, though, b ecause Julia is not quite human, a qualification of being a figure. Since s he is not a f igure in her own right, she must be a vessel for the authority claimed by her status as an evangelist. More priestess than evangelist, Julia evokes a kind of fear in he r age year old girl. performance that makes her inhuman. She en supernatural about Julia that inspires fear and commitment, which totally enraptures both eachings to the grave. Her father, who supports she would be gr oundless. But Julia also supports Joel, in a financia l and spiritual fashion. Julia makes the money in the household as well as inspiring her parents to greater religious belief (or performance). In this situation, Joel performs exactly as Selah,
Gray 24 allowing Julia to seem the figure while he capitalizes on her image. The difference is that (whereas Selah exports Verena) where she consumes his heteronormative role. Julia begins to take over the h ous e as part of her performance: a practice that ultimately kills her mother. So Joel, like Selah, gives up the male role of breadwinner and economic support support into Jul Joel should trad itionally have and undermines his position as a leader. Joel becomes 151). Hi s lack of manhood is due to the fact that his daughter appears to rule his life. Joel actually is allowing Julia to rule the household so that he can capitalize off of her voice, just like Selah and Verena. in her mannerisms (Gallop 70). Julia emasculates Joel, effectively castrating him and course, between the phallic suppression of masculinity and the phallic suppression of femininity is that the phallic represents his masculinity, in loaning it to Julia
Gray 25 the repression of power, which too, that this tepid rage had suppression of his masculinity sim mers into a rage that marks a building power, which castration, giving the heteronormative masculine role over to his daughter, allows him to gain power over her. Immediat ely following the death of her mother, Julia begins to feel an aversion bowels because she prevented Amy from seeing a doctor, believing instead in the laying on of I will. And hands punishment, an invasion of the body. Julia feels the brunt of this double edged practice when her father invades her body.
Gray 26 represented by her voice. However, Julia denies any further cooperation in the role of household financier. Joel can no longer capitalize on her voice; he decides instead to exchange her, no longer possess her in the economy by which true, masterful possession is the right to exchan ground is merely an accidental by reverse alteratio n (Johnson 18). Again, if the female is the ground and the male is the platform (Butler 1). Julia, as representative of figure, repositions her identity, shifting back into a more ground orcibly materialized power relied on her voice. Without her voice, Julia becomes empty, a vessel to be filled. income, which then forces Joel to capitalize on her change, from the masculine to the feminine. As her gender identity shifts from the masculine to the feminine, she obviously deni es certain familial expectations. Judith
Gray 27 speeches were discourses of identity Ju which, through repetition and reinforcement, form her identity. Gender meanings it takes on ramifications of being a child evangelist, is no w constructed through her father (Butler 7). sexual way, especially since Julia shifts her own gender performance. J her expected performance legitimized through now This change of identity Joel to continually dehumanize Julia exclusionary means, suc h that the human is not only produced over and against the inhuman, but through a set of foreclosures, radical erasures, that are, strictly speaking, refused the possibility of cultura s a set of (Butler 8). Joel has a delineated space for his daughter, partly as the financier of the household a nd partly as the source of his religious faith. The denial of that identity causes the following dismissal of her humanity and allows Joel to force a sexual relationship on her. This denial of heterosexual familial expectations and her subsequent push into the and troubles the idea of a heteronormative family
Gray 28 After Julia refuses to preach and Joel begins to force himself on her that Julia loses her voice. Her father, followin an of wine, and the smell of the (Baldwin 171). Her silence, her loss of voice, helps Joel to feel right in asserting his right over her body as he did over her monetar y value. If capitalizing on the voice were the same as capitalizing on the body, then lack of voice would cause an economic shift to the silence far more real than the si voice transforms into an inability to use her voice at all, which leads to a situation any image of figure hood (Sedgwick, Epist. 4). Silence is here a gap, an absence of will nitalia horrifies the young boy because he sees an absence. Mark that he does substantive that t he man has and therefore can hold over the woman. If the voice and body are equal, the absence of the voice is also a lack of body. Julia becomes completely
Gray 29 murmured Daddy to her fathe blurring the lines between rape and seduction Gallop as seductive, rather than an act of incestuous rape. This haziness gives Joel the space to gain his control over Julia. Similarly to the end scene of The Bostonians al act by a physical effort; Julia is kept in silence by force but then is also bodily removed from the situation by her family. After Julia discovers Joel has gotten her pregnant, Joel ith domestic private, domestic sphere, getting her pregnant as though the reproductive body takes precedence over the voice However, the beating forces the situation outsid e the domestic. This situation allows her relatives to take Julia away physically from this situation, just as Basil physically forces Verena out of the theater. The vocal problem Julia and Verena both encounter can only be solved by forceful removal. Jul that are really the artifices of their fathers. Verena does not attempt to break away from the control of others, relying on their decisions and wills throughout the novel. Juli a,
Gray 30 different exploitation. Both women function as sources of income, which allow their fathers to justify their misuse of their daughters. Sexuality functions as the me thod of control for both Julia and Verena: neither tries to become something other than feminine in an endeavor to free themselves from their heteronormative places. Even after being rid of her father, Julia does try to take care of her little brother in a motherly way. In the picture of parental control of children through the control of their sexuality, one more side remains to be discussed: the case of the queer child against the heterosexual, even homophobic parent. David Leavitt: the Queer Child Verena and Julia share many common themes; performative natures designed by their fathers, a lack of identity separate from that performance, vocal acts that define their bodies, and silences brought on by physical force. However, in the analysis of the parent c hild relationship, a missing link exists cannot be explained with either of these texts. Both Just Above My Head and The Bostonians queer the idea of the heteronormative family structure. They trouble the idea of set identities that are essential to the in dividual. Verena because she seems to have no essence except what she is told to do, she embodies the vocal act. Julia is al so a vocal act and commodity. H er sexual relationship with her father shifts the idea of a heterosexual relationship. But, neither discusses the relationship of the queer child to the family. The Lost Language of Cranes describes Jerene; an adopted girl of a rich, black family who is a lesbian. Her parents categorically reject her because of this and exclude her entirely from their fa mily. While neither Julia nor Verena are figures in their own right, because they are subservient to the ones who create their identities, Jerene does not allow her father or mother to specifically dictate her
Gray 31 personality. Jerene creates the space for her own identity, using the values she believes in as well as some of those instilled in her by her mother. The ability to use both the heteronormative and the homosexual aspects of her life gives Jerene a unique perspective on relationships and gives the read er an interesting viewpoint from which to view the child. Unlike James Baldwin, David Leavitt shuns a connection with Henry James. However, critics like Julie Rivkin seem determined to press the connection between the two authors. In an interview, Leavitt ). Despite this denial, the link between the two authors is unmistakable. Leavitt himself collaborated with Mark Mitchell on a collection of what they label homosexual stories titled Pages Passed From Hand to Hand emphasizing the covert nature of this lineage. Henry James features in this book, creating an image of literary fatherhood for future homosexua l authors, like Baldwin and Leavitt. In this sense, Leavitt does seem to suffer from an anxiety of influence, at once wanting to be part of a tradition yet denying any sort of familial fatherly, the argument for a queer literary tradition, built upon James and continued with Leavitt. In
Gray 32 r rapes her repeatedly because she refuses to support him with her evangelism. In The Lost Language of Cranes the character of Jerene also angers her family with the vocal act of s the traditional family structure her adoptive parents desire. The reason I chose Leavitt and Baldwin as comparisons to James is because of their connections as authors. Baldwin s it. James claims in his text that the only way for women to become more than ground to men is for them to deny traditional structures of femininity. Verena gives up any hope of ever being a true feminist once she leaves with Basil for the traditional lif e of a housewife ; Olive can Baldwin suggests that the traditional parent/child structure is unstable and that, to escape the abuses of power that accompany it, the child must physically leave. But Julia never gives up her feminine identity either, continuing to exist in the heteronormative structure that abused her as a mother to her younger brother. In both of these cases, the heterosexual woman cannot break from her prescribed gender performance. Although Leavitt does not argue for a total dismissal of either the heter osexual or homosexual, he does suggest that those structures can be deconstructed and recombined in order to create new sexualities and identities. Leavitt argues that the homosexual child does not need to entirely dismiss the heterosexual parent (even if the parent entirely dismisses the child) in order to define their homosexual identity. Jerene finds a way to combine both of these seemingly conflicting ideas into one identity.
Gray 33 The She is immediately described as studious, sitting at the kitchen table typing at a keyboard. he had long legs, the muscles braided like rope, skin the color of an avocado husk. A helmet of short strong, and intelligent, the picture of a self sure, independent wom an. Jerene is everything Verena stands for. However, the reader discovers that this surety was earned and his wife who in 1957 held the distinction of being the only black couple to own a atmosphere. Her parents, Margaret and Sam, feel they must fulfill the white, upper class performance in order to fit into their place. They act as if the accidentally instead of deserving it. visit them in Westport, and Sam and Margaret took her to tea at an elegant restaurant, where elderly black women in white aprons serv ed crumpets and petits fours on silver the waitresses as well as the other patrons gave the family curious, condescending glances, as if to question whether or not they belonged there. (Leavitt 57). place in society because of their race. In fact, this pressure causes Sam and Margaret to shun Jerene after she comes out as a
Gray 34 pride was. In her schoolbooks, the proud boy was haughty and looked down on his friends, but that sounded more like her parents financial assistance is a denial of the only thing that can help them. Sam and Margaret believe that the key to happiness, to fit ting in with the world, is money, except that they urchase a daughter, but covertly instructed to keep this fact a secret wit wealth, exacerbated by racial tensions, lead Margaret and Sam to expect a certain Jerene up in pink, lacey blouses, curled her hair and tied it with ribbons, sometimes painted her tiny but perfect nails bright red, until she resembled the black dolls that sat on wrong, o be strived for, and forced Jerene to perform their same function (Leavitt 58). Margaret is frantic in her enforcement of gender specific norms. white one, and Margaret strives for thi both and their race (Harned
Gray 35 to where they were. They told her so all the time, hoping, she supposed, to instill in her the kind of respect for hard work that would insure that she nev er slip back into the mysterious, underprivileged backgrounds, as does Jerene herself, which are represented especially in their occupation run ning a laundry. Sam and Margaret feel shame for this poor, existence on their daughter, reiterating and reproducing that binary by teaching her to fear it. ined relationship between Jerene (Leavitt 255). The cross generational conflict of poverty and happiness against wealth and stress sets up a situation in which the heteronormative is required; any deviation from it is unacceptable. The conjunction of inequalities and contest between race and gender regulation that intersects virtually every issue of power and gender, lines can never be drawn to circumscribe within some proper domain of Epist. mother and father define (r egulate) limits to the category of sexuality and specifically where Jerene is allowed to fall within that category. When Jerene shifts this discourse, she disrupts their perceived notions of power and gender, shifting them, and herself, into a sphere that is no longer human, as far as Margaret and Sam are concerned. In order to fulfill this heteronormativity, Margaret forces her daughter to had a photograph of herse lf that was taken just after the adoption, her hair done up with
Gray 36 adoptive daughter, including a desire to be feminine. It is through this ultimatum of femininity that M argaret attempts to control Jerene. feminine? And why do yo (Leavitt 62). Margaret shows a distinct desire for a feminine daughter and defines womanhood through a set of feminine characteristics that she believes all women should possess. These characteristics including a desire for traditionally feminine clothing and Tendencies 6). When Jerene comes out, both of her dying of Tendencies 3). Deat h is specified norms of their class and society, but this confession cannot be tolerated. d abandon her as a family effectively killing her Later, Jerene discovers that her mother lied to her grandmother, telling her that Jerene was married and moved to Africa with three children. This absolute denial of the homosexual identity is in line wit
Gray 37 exclusionary means, such that the human is not only produced over and against the inhuman, but through a set of foreclosures, radical erasures, that are, strictly speaking, refus ed the possibility of boundaries as the persistent possibility of their disruption and includes heterosexuality. ructed their genders based upon exclusion, which, when Jerene does not fit into this model, radically erases her from the realm of the human. Instantly upon revelation into her sexuality, Jerene no longer fits into their accepted model so they isolate her into the area of the inhuman, force her deeper into the background, which also allows her no room to rearticulate herself into their family. The inhuman cannot exist within a family, a strictly human behavior, so they are shunned. Jerene is the outside fro m which her heterosexual parents can define themselves and the enforcement of this boundary is what her parents use to refuse Jerene any kind of identity articulation. Race further complicates the boundary of human/inhuman with the application of very spe cific tensions. While Jerene is excluded from her family on the basis of sexuality, her parents have been through the same process because of their race in comparison to their white counterparts. Margaret has dealt with this conflict in dealing with the wi ves of the wives would politely pass makeup tips to Margaret, then suddenly grow embarrassed
Gray 38 ways separate space than the rest of the ladies, furthering a black/white binary stressed by to the performance of their social class, then maybe the fact of their race can be overlooked. creation and forces them not to acknowledge her identity, rather reaffi sense, then, the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one ler 3). Sexuality, class and race her class, which was already under pressure due to her race. It is no wonder, then, that Jerene attempts to escape this reification b y her family and society. Jerene becomes intrigued with the feminist movement and shocks her parents by a trocity and parents have tried to set up for her and they take radical actio n against it. Even in trying to explain her position, her parents deny her the space to make an argument. Her father and extends those categories to include the original
Gray 39 63). Sam not only claims that they all belong to the h uman sphere but also infers that Sam claims, then he should feel no pressure as an upper class African American, yet he clearly does. He further negates that statemen t by wishing Jerene were dying instead of gay. The paradox that Sam represents is created by the conflagration of race, class, and sexuality; in order to belong to a certain class, one needs to be of a certain race (or pretend to be so), and fulfill the he teronormative gender roles expected by that class and race. Jerene and her feminist friends do their best to negate those gender performances it had been the fashion a mong her friends to be as unornamented as possible. Simplicity was sexy, because it was a rejection of male standards of beauty; what was left was Margaret insisted on that made Jerene feel like a doll, Jerene comes to prefer a simple expression of form. However, the rejection of societal standards of beauty in favor of a which is designed to be sexually appealing to a certain group or society. The male standards of beauty are attributed solely to extra items, accessories. And Jerene and her friends do not take the male standards that apply to men into account. She had kno wn women in her first days in New York with whispers of beard, pale mustaches which they cultivated, almost as a challenge. Like the preened and oiled men who
Gray 40 wore dabs of eyeshadow and had their muscular backs waxed, these women marched shirtless and prou d on Gay Pride Sunday but of course it was a different kind of pride, one that had more to do with denying sexual attraction than flaunting it. (Leavitt 141). This fashion endorsed by Jerene and her friends is cultivation, a false front carefully in that the cultivation of beards is stereotypically a masculine practice; i nstead of denying the masculine, paradoxically, these women incorporate these still very heteronormative easy assimilation of other bodies, takes that definition to a paradoxical extreme w hen it becomes second masculine dominant terms; growing mustaches in order to counter the heteronormative. In doing so, they create an inconsistency between the natural and the unnatural. Their is the application of a fashion, something human adde counter the heterosexual standards by accepting them as standards first; rejection of these must take place after their internalization. These women attempt to distance themselves identity but really they prove that it is im possible to define sexuality in terms of
Gray 41 apply standards of beauty in the same manner (Somerville 32). Jerene uses her mothe describes as a natural instinct (Leavitt 140). The application of hete to one another: natural/unnatural against hetero sexual /homosexual. Pairing the words sense that homosexuality is a falsification and heteros exuality is natural. Leavitt discusses the disjuncture that occurs when the terms natural and unnatural are brought into play. If natural is t he absence of accessory then unnatural is any fashion attempting to influence the perception of that body. If also related back to the hetero/homosexual binary, natural cannot seem to describe any of these categories, as they all enhance their physical for m wi th makeup, clothes, or ribbons The pairing of Jerene and her mother troubles the space that the feminists are th e exclusion of males be sufficient to make a non to identify with a non masculine definition of womanhood, the feminists actually carry out a masculine gender performance. As Gallop implies, that necessarily incorporat es the feminine idyll might be understood through the notion that Mother, though female, is
Gray 42 innocent, non expelled, and so the heteronormative cannot be ignored entirely. Jerene refuses to grow her upper lip. All along, Jerene cheated in small ways. As her mother had taught her, she bleached the she would wander around her he differences falsified cover over the natural. In fact, Jerene is cheating her feminist sisters using her masculine influence. However, it is exactly this paradox, of using both her heterosexual that leads Jerene to meet her future wife. walked in, remembering her mother, the lacy dresses that had been foisted upon her as a to the store by the thought of reuniting with her family, become human again, Jerene a ttempts to fulfill the feminine ideals of her mother.
Gray 43 of beauty, even in with regards to her relationship with her mother and even when she tries to exist in op have rejected that guidance on principle, bought only what her mother would have retrospecti ve. Jerene has already been kicked out of her home when she recognized the traits her mother left deep within her personality. So it is with thoughts of the style of her mother as well as the hope of reuniting with her mother that Jerene enters the dress s tore. gray manageress stared at her as if she feared Jerene might break something one does the heterosexual standards of her mother drive Jerene to enter the store, but actually unite her with Laura, whom she eventually marries. Laura is interesting her self as an terms of anti femininity, yet Jerene act ually wears the dress she buys at that store to win over Laura The family, despite attempting to destroy any connection to the homosexual wing her sexual identity. Margaret might define herself in exclusionary terms, and therefore exclude Jerene, but Jerene does the opposite, defines herself in terms of her choosing, not limiting her identity to her
Gray 44 Of the thre said to function as her own figure. It seems as though, in order to do so, she must entirely deny any relationship to the heterosexual, including the bond between parent and child. But Jer ene never entirely excludes her parents from her life, even though they dismiss her lesbian. The fashion tips, the bleaching of her facial hairs all represent the male st andards relationship and a solid, self defined, identity. Verena cannot define herself and leaves it feminine role despite escaping her original performance. Jerene is the only one of these three women Differentiating her sexuality from theirs is what allows her to do this. Her pa rents are no longer able to control her sexuality and annex her from the family, giving her the space to grow independently. Conclusion: Sexuality and Control The primary duty of parents is to raise their children in a manner they deem appropriate. Howev er, none of the parents we see in this novel seem to demonstrate currency, a source or marker of wealth. For Verena and Julia, that wealth is quite literal; their parent s sell their voices and bodies for cash Jerene is used as a socioeconomic indicator by her parents, who feel uncomfortable as successful African Americans. The (white) performance they feel they must ascribe to demands a child to be complete. They also te ach Jerene that money is what matters and that happiness in poverty
Gray 45 parents, is only foolishness. All three women perform vocal acts that delineate them into an inhuman space, viewed as a separate space from their parents de equivalent to her body. Julia is a similar case, her voice constitute s her main sourc e of income, which is what matters most to her father. Unlike Verena, she consciously refuses to her parents, they deny her existence entirely, taking an entirely di fferent route than either Joel or Selah. Her value becomes zero, and her parents remove what they consider the dead weight literally Sexuality places a key role in all three of these texts as it is the system through which Selah, Joel, and Margaret atte mpt to maintain control of their children. All three parents ascribe to traditional heterosexual structures of society and family that place women in subservience to men. Verena and Julia also accept this heteronormative framework when figuring, or allowin g their parents to figure, their own identities. T his lack of authority, subscription to the norm allows the parents to use their daughters. The a different sexuality interferes that the child can regain her own figurehood, as in the case of Jerene. her difference, expectations that she is eliminated from the family, not merely altered like Julia or Verena. Verena is t ransferred from one source of control to another and Joel uses Julia for sex after he can no longer use her voice. Neither of them attempts to change
Gray 46 control. Because o sexuality, Jerene has the ability to deconstruct the typical features of both heterosexuality and homosexuality and remake her own identity. In these texts, c ontrol of sexuality becomes contro Selah and Joel delineate and expect a certain performance from both of their daughters that, by their very natures, cannot position the woman as figure. The absolute fact of the t they must follow along the lines of stands apart as the necessary viewpoint of the queer child because it is precisely her identification as queer and perhaps also her position as an adopted child, that prevents rid of her. Society systematically rejects those members that engender variance: anyone who denotes a change in viewpo int is at risk for alienation and abuse. From James to Baldwin to Leavitt, the history of abuses of power can be traced from the woman without rights, the sexually abused child, and the dismissal of the homosexual daughter.
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Gray 50 Wardley, Lynn "Woman's Voice, Democracy's Body, and the Bostonians." ELH 56.3 (1989): 639 65. JSTOR Web. 16 Jan. 2011. .