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Journal of Literature and Art Studies

Volume 3, Number 11, November 2013 (Serial Number 24)

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Journal of Literature and Art Studies Volume 3, Number 11, November 2013 (Serial Number 24)

Journal of Literature and Art Studies

Volume 3, Number 11, November 2013 (Serial Number 24) Journal of Literature and Art Studies Contents Literature Studies Herland —An All-female Women’s Utopia LIANG Ying

Volume 3, Number 11, November 2013 (Serial Number 24) Contents Literature Studies Herland —An All-female
Volume 3, Number 11, November 2013 (Serial Number 24) Contents Literature Studies Herland —An All-female


Literature Studies

Herland—An All-female Women’s Utopia LIANG Ying


Storytelling in a Hospital and the Self’s Homecoming—The Act of a Greek Woman Storyteller From Nafplion in Greece and the Art of Narration Aggeliki Georgiou Kompocholi


Allegory of Dominance: British Power in Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-tikki-tavi Alexandre Veloso de Abreu


An Ecocritical Reading of Ijala Chant: An Example of Ogundare Foyanmu’s Selected Ijala Chant Olaniyan Solomon O.


Queen Cleopatra in the Eyes of the Western Macho Rana Omar, Nayera El Miniawi


Art Studies

A Program of Art Education Exploring Life Issues—By Two Nudity Artworks Yu-Ching Hsieh


The Study and Practice of Theory and Composition Among Women in Ghana Joshua Alfred Amuah


A Conversation About the Sacred in Art, From Kandinsky to the Present Michelle Rae Lucchesi


Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 667-679



Herland—An All-female Women’s Utopia


Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China

Charlotte Gilman’s utopian masterpiece Herland (1915) dramatizes a confrontation between three men and an

all-female society. Gilman not only creates a political vacuum, where the whole patriarchal civilization, including

patriarchal system, superstructure, ideology, influence, and consciousness have ceased to exist, but also men are

done away with all together. Most reviews claim that Herland criticizes the patriarchal tradition and manifests

concern for humanity and some even regard Herland as the first truly feminist work in the American tradition. But

this supposedly utopian world is actually static, without possibilities of growth and even inhuman, gothic, and

nightmarish. And this is because Gilman constructs the women’s utopia out of the conviction in women’s

superiority over men. Herland is a little paradise that is designed too perfect. Women’s utopias still need to

promote social change in the real world.

Keywords: separation tactic, angels in the house, parthenogenesis, reproductive function, motherhood, selective

breeding, dystopia

If the beehive produced literature, the bee’s fiction would be rich and broad, full of the complex tasks of comb-building and filling, the care and feeding of the young, the guardian-service of the queen; and far beyond that it would spread to the blue glory of the summer sky, the fresh winds, the endless beauty and sweetness of a thousand thousand flowers. It would treat of the vast fecundity of motherhood, the educative and selective processes of the group-mothers, and the passion of loyalty, of social service, which holds the hive together. From The Man-Made World, or Our Androcentric Culture (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1914)


In American author Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s epigraph above, the image of the beehive serves as an isolated environment in which the bees live and work. Female bees are individuals, but they work together, under the leadership of a Queen. The epigraph written in 1911 predicts the society presented in Gilman’s utopian masterpiece, Herland (1915). In the book three American guys discover an all-female society, which is like a beehive without drone bees. She wrote two utopian novels: Moving the Mountain (1911), Herland (1915), and one dystopian novel, Herland’s sequel With Her in Ourland (1916). Herland is a mildly humorous or seriocomic story. It is generally agreed to be the most full-fledged of Gilman’s three utopian or dystopian novels. In Herland, three American young men Van, Jeff, and Terry, stumble onto a small hidden country in primitive jungles. This country has existed for 2,000 years without men. The country is made up of only women and girl children. Everything in this country is beauty, perfect clearness, order, and peace. It is also free from war, crime, civil unrest, disease, poverty,

LIANG Ying, Ph.D., Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation, Beijing Foreign Studies University.



pollution, and overpopulation. The men decide to stay and explore. The book thus dramatizes a confrontation between these three men and the all-female society. One of the three guys names the female land “Herland”. The Herlanders find the three men as an intriguing and possibly complementary “other”. They also want to experiment with fatherhood to round out what motherhood has been unable to accomplish (Doskow, 1999, p. 21). In other words, they want to hazard the bi-sexual procreation. So Van, Jeff, and Terry are each paired with a Herlander woman to marry: Van to Ellador; Jeff to Celis; and Terry to Alima. However, out of the three marriages, Terry and Alima’s marriage does not progress smoothly. The book ends with the banishment of Terry, when he attempts to rape Alima. The book also ends with the country of women entrusts Ellador a mission to investigate the outer two-sexed world with her man Van, for possible communication between the two-sexed world and the all-female realm in the future. Herland’s sequel is thus called With Her in Ourland, with “her” referring to Ellador. Gilman reverses the viewpoint and looks at our world through the eyes of Ellador. With Her in Ourland reinforces Gilman’s indictment against all the social evils produced by patriarchy and further illuminates the values of Herland. Disgusted by our social evils, both Ellador and Van return to Herland. By the end of the novel, convinced of the superiority of women, Van is converted to feminism.

Static Utopia

Herland is a landmark feminist utopia in American literature. The contrast between Herland and our land raises essential questions in Gilman’s mind: What would human civilization be and what women would have done if the entire world had been in women’s hands for the past 2000 years? To answer the questions, Gilman uses a radical separation tactic. She not only creates a political vacuum, where the whole patriarchal civilization, including patriarchal system, superstructure, ideology, influence, and consciousness have ceased to exist, but also men are done away with all together. Herland was little known in Gilman’s time. Since its discovery or rediscovery in the 1970s, Herland has received sustained critical attention. Most reviews claim that Herland criticizes the patriarchal tradition and manifests concern for humanity. These critics regard Herland as a classic text that depicts women’s utopian worlds. For instance, Nan Albinski (1988) recognized Gilman as “the best-known feminist utopist of the early twentieth century, largely because of the strength of Herland” (p. 68). Freibert (1983) even regarded Herland as “the first truly feminist work in the American tradition” (p. 67). Wu-Qing-yun did a very good summary of Herland’s criticism since 1977. He put the criticism into three categories: the politically positive, the politically negative, and the aesthetic. The positive group regards Herland as a classic text for its depiction of ideal utopian worlds. Within this group some critics have linked Herland with contemporary feminist utopias. Carol Pearson was the first critic to note the “surprisingly numerous areas of consensus” between contemporary feminist utopias and Herland (as cited in Wu, 1995, p. 150). Pearson listed the consensus areas including the absence of men, de-urbanized and decentralized anarchy, a nurturing ethic, relationships based on the love between mother and daughter, worship of a mother goddess and mothering as a social function (as cited in Wu, 1995, p. 150). In 1981, Joanna Russ, in her “Recent Feminist Utopias” insisted on separating contemporary feminist utopias from Herland on the ground that Herland was “responding to the women’s movement of its time” while contemporary feminist utopias are “not only contemporaneous with the



modern feminist movement but made possible by it” (p. 72). However, except for sexual permissiveness, Russ did not really demonstrate any difference in principle between Herland and its modern sisters. In 1990, Libby Jones still declared: “Sixty years later [from 1915], the thesis of Herland is still current” (p. 119). The negative group, however, points out that Herland reveals the restriction of Gilman’s age, such as, according to Wu, Victorian women’s moral superiority, a prudish attitude toward sex, and a blind optimism in the marriage of feminism with socialism (Wu, 1995, pp. 150-151). This group also criticizes the society of Herland for being, like most Western utopias, “limited incomplete, inhuman, static” (Keyser, 1983, pp. 40-45) and finds in it a potential totalitarian nightmare. The aesthetic group stresses its narrative structure and design. Most critics feel that Herland has little aesthetic value, with its monotonous structure and didacticism: “Gilman gave little attention to her writing as literature, and neither did the reader, I’m afraid. She wrote quickly, carelessly to make a point” (Lane, “Introduction to The Gilman’s Reader”, 1999, p. xvi). However, the author think Herland gives full play to satirical humor and verbal wittiness, even though this is in line with classical Western utopian traditions. And Gilman successfully creates dramatic conflicts and fully developed characters as well. The author’s contribution to the study on the book is that she would stress that Gilman creates an all-female utopian Herland that is superior to the man-made world. The author agrees with the positive critical attention and see Gilman as radically challenging the patriarchal ideology of marriage, sex, motherhood, love, work, and education. But the author argues that what is often ignored in the novel’s study is that this supposedly utopian world is actually static, without possibilities of growth and even inhuman, gothic, and nightmarish. And this is because Gilman constructs the women’s utopia out of the conviction in women’s superiority over men. In the end, to establish female superiority in a marginal utopia settled by women alone is an escape from the real world.

Sexual Love or Reproductive Function

Gilman arranged three men and three Herlanders to marry. Through their marriages, Gilman brought into question the unequal monogamy, sexual subordination, femininity, the role of a wife, and the role of a husband. Herlanders are an all-female society before the three male travelers arrive. Herlanders have no idea about sexual difference. Accordingly, before the appearance of three male travelers, the word “sex” never appears in Herland as a signifier for sexual intercourse. Herlanders have no sexual life, sexual feeling, sexual needs or desires. Herland women not only live without men, but also need no men to reproduce. The nation uses parthenogenesis, asexual reproduction, as some plants and insects do. Herland is a utopia constructed out of the aftermath of some natural disasters and social holocausts. Two thousand years ago Herland was still a polygamous, slaveholding, and heterosexual society. But the original population was reduced by war. The remaining population is driven up from their coastline to settle in hinterland. A volcanic eruption later on fills in the pass, their only outlet. Instead, a new ridge, sheer and high, stands between them and the sea they are walled in. The majority of the remaining male population is composed of slaves. In a slave revolt, these slaves kill all their male masters, boys, along with old women, mothers. The slaves seize the remaining young women and girls and turn them into their slaves. Later on, the infuriated virgins rise up to resist their oppressed fate by successively killing off all the conquerors. However, having done so, they are left without a choice: all men in the country are literally killed off, the women go on to build an exclusively female world.



At first, there is a period of despair, since no men are available for procreative processes. In spite of this, the women decide to wait for miracles. Parthenogenesis, as a divine intervention, solves the problem five or ten years later. A woman miraculously gives birth to a child. The mother bears four more children in four consecutive years. These female children (Parthenogenic births produce only girl children) in turn, at the age of twenty five are able to reproduce in the same manner their mother did, each giving birth to five baby girls. Thus Herlanders are saved from extinction. It is also worthy to note Herland becomes a nation of mothers and daughters, all of whom have descended from one ancestral mother. Just because women construct their own world, or even an all-female world, where they achieve utmost autonomy, does not mean that this supposedly improved society is a feminist one. Because Herlanders have not seen men for 2,000 years, they have no way of relating to men as romantic sexual lovers. To them, love is not sexual; love is comradely, warm, sisterly, and motherly instead. So even after the heterosexual marriages, friendship and mutual respect should come before sexual expression. The girls also demand the men to be compassionate to the female country’s values before they make the great change from parthenogenesis to bisexuality. Quite reasonably, the three men try to educate their Herlander-wives the pleasures of non-procreative sex. In their hearts, they believe that the Herland girls marry them for sexual love that the men are used to. The sexual intercourse is not romantic sex love but purely a reproductive function. Herlanders permit sex only for procreation purposes. The 1999 Penguin classis edition of Gilman’s Herland uses a front cover that highlights the reproductive functions that dominate the female country. Thus the wives mate only in the mating season. Sex for pleasure’s sake alone or for its own sake does not exist. Herlanders don’t understand why men want to have sex “in season and out of season”. Van describes Ellador at the consummation of their marriage as unmistakably aloof and cool. After marriage, Ellador refuses to give in and have sex with Van as often as he would like. Another couple, Jeff and Celis also engage in intercourse for purposes of procreation only. But not all men are patient enough to put sexual consummation second to mutual understanding and affectionate friendship. Among the three couples, one couple does not succeed. Terry, the “man’s man” (Gilman, 1992, p. 11) of the three, does not change his patriarchal attitude. Terry insists that his wife learn to be submissive. Throughout the entire text, he has been interested in only one thing—women, who are sexual objects to him. Therefore, when Terry cannot persuade his wife Alima for sexual love, he tries to rape her. He is first arrested and later expelled from the all-female country. When the three Herlanders marry the three male travelers, the men are valued initially for their reproductive capabilities. In contrast, in Huxley’s and Orwell’s worlds sex is what keeps humans from becoming machines, and women are the symbols of men’s sexuality. The Herland practice of employing sex only for reproductive purposes links utopian Herland to two famous dystopian novels: 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. George Orwell’s 1984 (1950) was written as an extrapolation of life in 1948. It imagines life of Winston Smith, an intellectual worker at the Ministry of Truth, living in a modern totalitarian government of Oceania. The novel recounts his illicit romance with Julia, his intellectual rebellion from The Party, his imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and reeducation. The story portrays the dictator government’s total domination over the individual’s family feelings, sexuality, thoughts, and emotions. In this horrifying society that is “founded on hatred”, there is no links “between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman” (Orwell, 1950, p. 267). Like in Herland, the sex instinct



has been eradicated. The Party tries to kill the sex instinct. If failed, then to distort it and dirty it.

Its real, undeclared purpose was to remove all pleasure from the sexual act. … All marriages between Party members had to be approved by a committee appointed for the purpose, and—though the principle was never clearly stated—permission was always refused if the couple concerned gave the impression of being physically attracted to one another. The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party. Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, liking having an enema. … There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes. (Orwell, 1950, pp. 65-66)

Procreation is “an animal formality like the renewal of a ration card” (Orwell, 1950, p. 267). So Winston and his estranged wife Katharine only have sex for loyalty to the party and for procreation for the nation. Winston could have endured living with Katharine if it had not been for just one thing—sex. As soon as he touches her, she seems to wince and stiffen. To embrace her is like embracing a jointed wooden image. She tells Winston that they must produce a child if they could. She reminds him of it in the morning, as something which has to be done that evening and which must not be forgotten. She has two names for it: one is “making the baby”, and the other is “our duty to the Party” (yes, she actually uses that phrase). Quite soon, he grows to have a feeling of positive dread when the appointed day comes around (Orwell, 1950, pp. 66-67). In Orwell’s world, non procreative sex is what keeps humans from becoming machines, and women are the symbols of men’s sexuality. After all, in this dystopian land, there is no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party; there is no love, except the love of Big Brother (Orwell, 1950, p. 267). Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) is set in a society called The Republic of Gilead in North America in the year of 2050. Gilead is a dystopian world for women. Women have lost their very names. Companies dismiss their female employees. Women cannot access their own bank accounts and credit cards. Moreover, the country experiences excessive use of chemicals and radiation released from an earthquake. The ecological disasters have left many women sterile. Men have also been affected. Those women who remain fertile are made property of the state. They are called “Handmaids”. They are forcibly enlisted by the totalitarian regime. And their job is to mate with male Commanders regularly and ritually for the purpose of reproducing Commanders’ lines and accordingly reversing the precipitous decline in the birthrate. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Handmaids are reduced to their biological function and their entire social identity is built upon it. The Handmaid’s Tale goes in line with most feminist writings which argue that women’s reproductive functions are seen as the basis for women’s lack of power. The Republic of Gilead is obsessed with female body and its reproductive system. Gilead defines women as “two legged wombs” (Atwood, 1986, p. 136) and judges women by their potential fertility (or its absence). Handmaids are a valuable property because of their “viable ovaries” (Atwood, 1986, p. 143). But this does not make their role superior in whatsoever way. They are “the most controlled, powerless, and demeaned members of that society” (Davidson, 1988, p. 119). They are the sexual object for male consumption. They are also marginalized, shunned, and despised by other women. They are both good and bad women, the saintly prostitutes. Atwood delineates in chilling details the virtual enslavement of Handmaids, and their reduction to mere reproductive functions. Their sexuality is naturally suppressed. Their sexual intercourse with commanders is for procreation only. The procreation activities are called ceremony, which sounds holy, but is supremely monitored, regulated, regimented, ritualized, programmed and even dehumanized. The depiction of procreation scenes in the novel has very intensely gothic touches.



The author links Herland to 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale for two reasons. First, Herland intertwines utopia and dystopia. The three works all underscore celibacy, chastity, eradication of sex instinct, sex for reproductive purposes, and collective and technological control of reproduction; Second, by making sex intercourse a ritual only for reproductive purposes, Herlanders fail to grow. Among the three explorers, Van represents the average or moderate type; Jeff is romantic, genteel, and chivalric; and Terry is a wealthy, macho, patriarchal playboy and womanizer. So through their marriages Gilman illustrated three types of male-female relationships. Her purpose was to explore men’s development as the novel progresses. These three men are an example of an ascending order of development. Terry is at the bottom of the scale because he is incorrigibly chauvinistic; Van is at the top because he is able to free himself from the prejudices. Van and Ellador are best friends as well as lovers after Van accepts the arrangement that Ellador proposes about their sexual relationship; Jeff is in the middle because he considers the wife an element of worship. Although harmonious, Jeff’s relationship with Celis seems to lack depth. But Gilman never addresses women’s development. As wives, Herlanders have not changed. They marry the three male travelers initially because they value the men for their reproductive capabilities. Men are placed in this society only on a limited scale and only to prove the author’s point. Throughout marriages, Van and Jeff begin to appreciate Herland women and their culture. But the marriages fail to aid women in developing a sense of sexual intimacy, a romantic view of marriage, a view such as couples stay together out of respect as well as love and passion, instead of out of one and a supposedly higher purpose—procreation. In fact, even after Van sees Ellador as an equal and their marriage incorporates both passion and friendship, Van discovers a new definition of home and feels about staying with Ellador is like coming home to mother. Van converts sexual love to what is called “loving up” in loving Ellador. In other words, he transforms ideas about sexuality to motherhood. He feels like a child in front of the women of Herland. Even in the field of heterosexuality, three male explorers become awestruck beneath the power of a culture that consists of superior mothers. Gilman’s belief in women’s superiority contributes to her denying sexuality in Herland. But the restrictions of her time also contribute to her denying sexuality in the novel. Mid 19th century was a time when there was not reliable or easily accessible birth control. Women got pregnant very easily. As middle class women’s social roles narrowed to childrearing, they lost the prestige and the productive role they had enjoyed in an earlier agrarian economy. They recovered their lost genteel status by promoting the angel in the house images and women’s domesticity, and purging sexual associations. In contrast, the early 1920s emphasizes sexual liberation and sexual pleasure. Herland was written in 1915. Women’s utopian representation in Herland is caught precisely between these two ideological moments or two distinct periods of feminism. It breaks with the cult of angels in the house sphere on one hand, and yet forecloses and eliminates sexual pleasure on the other.

Superior and Distinct

After all, women are superior to men, men are wanted for reproductive purposes principally, and women are first and foremost mothers in Herland. Anyone who cannot keep up with this all-female country’s supposedly superior values needs to be got rid of. In this case, Terry, In fact, eliminating the unwanted is a strategy for achieving perfection in many classical utopias. In Looking Backward (1888), Edward Bellamy eliminates poor from the dichotomy rich vs. poor while preserving the notion rich to accomplish a world of economic equality



and well-being for everyone. But female superiority has a high cost. These all-female utopias fail to satisfy women who do not want to do away with men altogether, but who would like to see a world in which women and men live together with dignity and equality. Women’s utopias need to promote social change in the real world. Overall, Gilman did not consider men and women equal. She held the idea that women are superior to men, at least with regard to the human race as a whole. Gilman belongs to those feminist utopian writers who underscore gender difference, biological determinism, and women’s superiority over men when they seek the tumultuous reform in gender issues. Gilman posited men as the main, if not the only source of women’s problems. Men also cause social ills. The absence of men from Herland therefore results in the absence of their characteristic traits. That is why Herland does not witness wars, conflicts, violence (except in Terry’s case), competition, and misery. It is a calm, rational, harmonious, peaceful world inhabited by equally pleasant women. It is too perfect a utopia that is completely isolated from outside influences. Alcohol or drugs do not exist in Herland. There are no dangerous animals. Cats are bred to destroy mice but not birds. All plants produce nutritious nuts or fruits. This utopian system seems obviously quite naïve from today’s standards. The female body is a recurrent presence throughout the productions of world culture over thousands of years and is still the focus of different and multifarious schools of criticism. Plato differentiates between the world of appearances, which is unstable and untrue, and the intelligible world which is stable and true. The physical body, as an element pertaining to the former, can and does change over time. The soul, on the other hand is an element pertaining to the latter because of its inherent permanency (McEachern, 1997, pp. 86-87). Therefore body in Plato is negatively constructed. It is gendered “female” and rendered weak, passive, silent, and self-denying. This is also generally the Western configuration of the body. More’s Utopia, however, is an exception because the utopians do not disdain the importance of physical attributes. They believe the endowments of the body makes one esteem the virtues of the mind more. Men and women see each other naked before deciding to marry (p. 110). If we look at late nineteenth and first half of twentieth century American realistic writers such as William Howells, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, they all dramatized a gross and brutal relationship between capital and the female body. These writers maintained or reproduced patriarchy through commodifying the female body. If we cast our eyes to modern mass media, in advertisements there is basically only one female body type preferred—the waif look or the waif-made-voluptuous-look. In video games, the female body is unreal as that of a Barbie doll. And she is scantily dressed as well. In action movies, female cop outfits are just like stripper costumes, except with much more fabric. Beauty in definition is supposed to be a subjective thing. But our society dictates what is beautiful and everyone falls for it. Yet societal norms also make people insecure. What if you don’t get an ideally normal or natural beauty? You need to go get change yourself. For the sake of women’s autonomy and superiority, Gilman, in contrast, evades the myths of femininity and physical attractiveness. Van realizes femininity is a creation meant to satisfy men’s wishes and pleasure:

Those feminine charms we are so fond of are not feminine at all, but are artificial and are mere reflected masculinity—developed to please us because they had to please us, and in no way essential to the real fulfillment of their great process. (Gilman, 1992, p. 60)



Readers realize, along with Van, how sex-oriented human behavior and culture are; how socially constructed the patriarchal assumptions about women are. What Gilman expounded in here is that femininity is part of our primarily cultural, not biological, package. This does not sound so new to today’s readers because social constructionism became entrenched in the 1960s and 1970s and postulates that a concept may appear to be natural, but in reality is an invention of a culture or society. Yet we also need to notice that constructionism became prominent in the U.S. with Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality, 50 years after Gilman expounded that idea in Herland. Gilman radically revamps in Herland economic structures, home organization, and gender roles and expands women’s sphere to encompass all of human endeavor. In Women and Economics, Gilman wrote about the role of economics as a crucial factor influencing male-female relationships. She contended that the way a living is earned is the most influential factor in life. Human beings are the only animal species in which women depend on men for food, the only animal species in which the sex-relation is also an economic relation (p. 5). Therefore she made Herland women not economically dependent upon men. In Plato’s Republic, the Guardians lead an ideal life away from the masses. Labor is despised as an obstacle to the higher life of the mind. Therefore the Guardians do not work and they depend on the masses’ labor. By contrast, More’s utopia espouses communism and a community of work. In this community, men and women alike have an obligation to labor. All must work on the farms and in the fields, as well as specialize in a craft. The egalitarianism of More’s communism is repeated in Herland. Herland citizens have a common duty and opportunity to work. There is no division of labor but each Herlander specializes in a particular profession according to their interest and ability. Herland portraies women as completely self sufficient and independent. Herland functions without the need for men to provide sustenance. Besides being mothers, educators, and nurses, Herlanders are largely food producers, foresters, spinners, weavers, gardeners, carpenters, masons, social workers, doctors, judges, and priestesses. It was the opportunity to work that Gilman championed, not the type of work relegated to women. She was more interested in the working opportunities. Everything in the country is clearly women’s work: the thriving farms, park-like cities, “lovely views of streets” (p. 3), “gorgeous gardens” (p. 3), “endless line of trees” (p. 45), well-built roads, as dustless as a swept floor (pp. 13, 45), “attractive architecture” (p. 13), and technological innovations such as swift moving vehicles (p. 31). The countryside and towns also reflect what Gilman saw as the female traits of order, cleanliness, and care. Their country becomes self sufficient as they adapt harmoniously to their natural habitat. Herlanders have their domestic work recognized as a contribution by society, and can “broaden the cult of domesticity to give women opportunities to move their maternal capabilities and piety outside the home” (Golden, 1996, p. 138). In Plato’s Republic, the roles of women are elevated. Because they no longer have to be the children’s primary caregivers, they are freed up to fully participate in broader societal pursuits such as protecting or even ruling the city. In chapter four, we mentioned the use of industrial-domestic utopias in Freeman, Bellamy, and Fuller and the use of work-home utopias in Jewett. Gilman shared with the contemporary era’s women’s desire to have their domestic work recognized as a contribution by society, to “broaden the cult of domesticity to give women opportunities to move their maternal capabilities and piety outside the home” (Golden, 1996, p. 138). Hausman noticed the centrality of parthenogesis in Gilman’s prescription for gender inequality. Gilman saw that women’s liberation from what we would now consider “gender expectations” was inextricably linked to their



role in biological reproduction: how much control they exerted in sexual matters, how society organized childcare, how the social world accommodated maternity and its practices. At the core of Gilman’s analysis is the female body as a product of both biological and social evolution. This is why parthenogesis is crucial to the scheme of Herland, even if it is its most fantastical element (Hausman, 1998, p. 506).


Carol Pearson identifies work and the family unit (child, mothering, marriage), sex, and community spirit as major content areas in feminist utopian literature. Issues addressed in these areas include: communal childcare, dissolution of the nuclear family, de-emphasis on biological link between mother and child, redefinition of parent-child link and retention of individual rather than family surnames (as cited in Dobris, 1989, pp. 83-84). All these traits are represented in Herland. In The Handmaid’s Tale, maternity is a wish because a Handmaid will be discarded to deadly colonies after three unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy. But maternity is also a fear because if she gives birth to a healthy baby, the baby will become the property of the Handmaid’s Commander and his wife. The Handmaid’s mothering function ceases after a brief lactation period. In contrast, Gilman’s utopian Herland has reversed the value system. In this all-female world, “women are the world and maternal activities become social norms” (Wu, 1995, p. 179). Herland’s culture is not only women oriented but also mother oriented. The society is organized around principles of motherhood and the care of children. Gilman figured women’s power and superiority chiefly in their ability to bear children. She believed that women are equal to men in intellect and ability to do work, but are superior to men in their chastity, forbearance, and their roles in the parenting process. Tie to this cultural ideal, the most important role share by Herlanders is that of being a mother. Motherhood is everything for Herlanders. It is the dominant culture. Virtually all Herland women are mothers (if not biologically, then through helping raising children). Even though Herland women specialize in different areas, their most valued specialization is the education and care of children. All individuals in society assume and share the responsibilities for the growth, development, and education of children. Children are raised by a community of women. The biological bond between mother and child is deemphasized. Most feminist utopias champion a collective motherhood. Plato believes that both men and women should live communally and share property and sexual partners. After the birth of a child, state officers (male or female) take over the raising of the child whose identity is concealed from the parents. This makes men and women to continue with their guardianship training, although Guardian women are expected to nurse the child. Mothers in Herland do live closely with their children for up to three years, where they nurse them and care for them (in conjunction with the teachers). But after the “baby years” are over, they resume their regular work duties. Blurring the biological link between mother and child leads to a redefinition of the parent-child relationship. Each Herlander has a first name, but she has no family name. Every member of the community regards every child, not just her own biological child, as her own responsibility. Gilman thus transforms the private world of mother and child into a community of mothers and children. Gilman believes that mothering should be collective to ensure that children will learn comradeship, community interest. Moreover, specialists, who are not necessarily biological mothers, take over the role of educating children. Somel tells Van that Herlanders believe



that childrearing is the highest art. So Herlanders gladly entrust it only to those who are the most skilled. But the communal care disrupts family intimacy and autonomy. Plato compares nurture to the eye which can turn to the light or obscurity. Its rightful task is to guide the eye towards the light. Education is like a nurturing eye. It can bring the best which is latent in the soul by directing the soul to the right objects. Because the soul is imitative, it will assimilate itself to its surroundings. Therefore, its surroundings should be conductive to the soul’s enhancement (Nettleship, 1962, p. 262). Thus, infant education must be undertaken through controlling the environment, by creating a healthy atmosphere and exposing children to desired objects. Likewise, Gilman’s perfect motherhood also involves “utilizing a controlled educational environment to facilitate children’s development and ensure their optimum functioning in her utopian society” (McEachern, 1997, p. 81). Plato believes that negative emotions such as anger and jealousy undermine virtue, happiness, and social harmony. Similarly Gilman does not believe that negative experiences hold potential for growth (McEachern, 1997, pp. 59, 81-82). She shelters her children from these negative emotions and feelings. Every function Herlanders perform is geared towards providing an ideal environment for their children. They make Herland as safe as possible by removing all possible dangers from nurseries and dwellings. They cultivate the forest to make it safe and attractive for the infants. Industry develops highest quality of health care and hygiene, so the raising of infants and toddlers is disease free. The Herland babies are surrounded by waterfalls, grasses, trees, sandy areas, birds, frogs, cats, and exotic flowers. By modern society’s values, this education method may be too much strict control and intervention. As Cornford has summarized, in Plato’s Republic, mating occurs during annual marriage festivals, and Philosopher Kings are in charge of pairing individuals for the sole intention of superior breeding. In other words, the best specimens are selected and put to perform their reproductive functions. The Guardians themselves are not aware of his manipulation and are led to believe the unions happen by chance. In between festivals, Guardians practice celibacy (Plato, 1945, pp. 155-167). Herlanders practice selective breeding as well. In the discussion with Somel, Van learns that any woman with bad qualities would be asked not to give birth, so that these qualities are not passed on to later generations. The quality of children becomes Herlanders’ utmost national concern. Gilman divides Herland women into two main groups or classes: mothers and non-mothers. Those who are suitable for motherhood exhibit qualities of wisdom and physical strength appropriate to life in the community. Non-mothers are “the physically, mentally, and morally weak women” (Wu, 1995, p. 180). However, non-mothers have access to communal mothering, so this role is not completely removed. Gilman’s tendency to deify motherhood is linked to her tendency to deny sexuality. And both tendencies can find resources in her middle class consciousness. Nineteenth century was a time when there was not reliable or easily accessible birth control. Women got pregnant very fast. As middle class women’s social roles narrowed to childrearing, they lost the prestige and the productive role they had enjoyed in an earlier agrarian economy. They recovered their lost genteel status by moralizing motherhood, purging its sexual associations, and promoting the conventional Mary image. Herlanders not only use selective breeding, they also commit racism by populating the country exclusively with blond, fair women of one pure genealogy. The ancestors of the Herlanders have travelled to their land “at



about the time of the Christian era” via “a free passage to the sea” (Gilman, 1992, p. 55). Van tells us, “there is no doubt in my mind that there people were of Aryan stock and were once in contact with the best civilization of the old world” (Gilman, 1992, p. 55). Van at once establishes the whiteness of the Herlanders as well as their roots within Western, Christian culture. More problematic is that Gilman deposits this nation of white women in the Amazonian rainforest surrounded by Indians, the “savages” (Gilman, 1992, p. 52). Gilman’s understanding of race involves the idea of differential development, and she opposes mixing racial groups that she perceives to be at different stages of development. “Race animates Gilman’s thinking”. Gilman’s sole purpose is not to “water down the pure national genealogy” (Weinbaum, 2001, pp. 273, 281). If in Herland, Gilman links Herland to whiteness and Christian culture, in With Her in Ourland, she makes Herland as a mother superior. In this fiction, Ellador goes to America with Herland’s narrator, Van. During her stay, she formulates her diagnosis of America’s ills and issues a prescription. The central message of the fiction is that America is compared to a bloated infant; other nations are figured as its quarreling siblings. Fortunately, the Herland mother can still manage them. Indeed, “juxtaposition of Herland and With Her in Ourland makes it strikingly apparent” that Gilman conceives Herlanders as “a separate and superior” mother-race while the outer world is her savage children (Weinbaum, 2001, p. 295). Gilman’s ideas about reproduction reflect her concerns about national building. Gilman’s belief in women’s reproductive role in crafting the proper (white) national genealogy was an enduring component of her feminism…. In Gilman’s fiction, utopian reproductive scenarios and alternative visions of maternity (selective pregnancy) are offered as blueprints for social change. Women’s work is not solely in the home, Gilman argued, but also in building a better society and ultimately reproducing a racially “pure” nation (Weinbaum, 2001, p. 272). While we charge against her genealogical thinking, we should not forget that it may have been difficult for Gilman, “writing at the turn of the century, to think about genealogy without binding it to biological notions of descent, racial purity, and pedigree” (Weinbaum, 2001, p. 297). The racism towards minorities and immigrants was rampant during 1890-1920 in America. Besides, Gilman herself asserted that motherhood is not always magnificent and may need to be transformed. Different from her depictions of motherhood in her theoretical works and her utopian fiction, Gilman’s short stories “collectively emphasize the plight of mother rather than her potential. Her short fiction offers chilling images of mothers driven to suicide, madness, illness, and at best, self reproach” (Golden, 1996, p. 144). In 1899, she published “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a short fictional piece whose autobiographical heroine undergoes the infamous rest cure of S. Weir Mitchell, a nerve specialist in the era of neurasthenia and hysteria. “With its fictional documentation of Gilman’s actual nervous breakdown after the birth of her daughter, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ might be placed in Gilman’s body of work as the inverse of the world of fulfilled and exalted motherhood portrayed in Herland” (Bartkowski, 1989, p. 25). In her short stories Gilman boldly suggests that domestic life imposes restraint on women and home is more like a prison than a private sanctuary. As Upin (1993) suggests, this devaluation of space resembles a similar assessment of space in the writings of post modern philosopher Michel Foucault (pp. 56-57). Herland ends with a feminist triumph in the expulsion of Terry, the incorrigible patriarchal tyrant. With Ellador following Van to our world to open up her horizon, Herland also ends on an optimistic note about



reestablishing a bisexual community and making social changes accordingly. The conclusion of Herland reflects Gilman’s continuing optimism, despite significant resistance to her radical ideas. She believes that Herland will progress without hindrance and has tremendous potential. Gilman’s fantastic imagination of an all-female world, parthenogenesis, isolated, happy, contented and independent working women, and a superior female collective power have proved their strength since the novel was discovered. Gilman also sows the seed for modern and more radical feminism and even lesbian separatism. In 1999, Lane claims:

No one would deny that the world has changed in regard to issues of women and gender in the last sixty to one hundred years, yet when we look at what Gilman said about her world and realize how many of those observations apply to ours, we put it in perspective the reality and significance of those changes. (Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Rights of Women, p. 4)


Yet, after all, Herland is a little paradise that is designed too perfect. Gilman basically deals with any potential areas of conflict or evil by simply getting rid of them (McEachern, 1997, p. 120). Alcohol or drugs do not exist in Herland. There are no dangerous animals. Cats are bred to destroy mice but not birds. All plants produce nutritious nuts or fruits. Johnson-Bogart observes that this eliminating the unwanted is a strategy for achieving perfection in utopias:

As in other literary utopias, the strategy for achieving perfection in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland appears to be based primarily on eliminating one partner in various pairs of terms where the excluded partner is seen to be the locus of the ills of society. In Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy eliminates “poor” from the dichotomy rich v. poor while preserving the notion “rich” to accomplish a world of economic equality and well-being for everyone. As well, in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Hank Morgan attempts to eliminate what he perceives to be superstitious and irrationality in the Arthurian world to make his notion of reason ubiquitous. (Johnson-Bogart, 1992, p. 85)

Robert C. Elliot claims in The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (1970) that because utopian projects eliminate conflict and opposition, they also eliminate the process by which history occurs, and instead achieve stasis. Feminist utopias need to intensify conflicts for a stronger contact with reality.


Albinski, N. B. (1988). Women’s utopias in British and American fiction. London: Croom Helm. Atwood, M. (1986). The Handmaid’s tale. New York: Anchor Books. Barr, M. (Ed.).(1981). Future females: A critical anthology. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Bartkowski, F. (1989). Feminist utopias. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. Cornford, F. (1945). The republic of Plato. New York: Oxford University Press. Davidson, A. E. (1988). Future tense making history. In K. VanSpanckeren & J. G. Castro (Eds.), The handmaid’s tale. Margaret Atwood: Vision and forms (pp. 113-121). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. Dobris, C. A. (1989). Weaving the utopian vision: A rhetorical analysis of feminist utopian fiction. Diss. Indiana University. Doskow, M. (1999). Introduction. In M. Doskow (Ed.), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novels: Moving the mountain, Herland, and With her in ourland (pp. 9-29). Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Elliot, R. C. (1970). The shape of utopia: Studies in a literary genre. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Freibert, L. M. (1983). World views in Utopian novels by women. In M. Barr and N. D. Smith (Eds.), Women and utopia (pp. 67-84). New York: University Press of America. Gilman, C. P. (1914). The man-made world, or our androcentric culture. New York, Charlton Co Gilman, C. P. (1966). Women and economics: A study of the economic relation between men and women as a factor in social evolution. C. N. Degler (Ed.). New York: Harper & Row.



Gilman, C. P. (1980). Introduction. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Reader (pp. Ix-2). New York: Pantheon Books. Gilman, C. P. (1992). Herland and selected stories (pp. 1-148). B. H. Solomon, (Ed.). New York: Signet Classic. Golden, C. (1996). Light of the world: The presentation of motherhood in Gilman’s short fiction. Modern Language Studies, 26(2/3), 135-147. Gough, V., & Rudd, J. (1998). A very different story: Studies on the fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Hausman, B. L. (1998). Sex before gender: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the evolutionary paradigm of utopia. Feminist Studies, 24(3), 488-510. Johnson-Bogart, K. (1992). The utopian imagination of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Reconstructing of meaning in Herland. Pacific Coast Philology, 27(1/2), 85-92. Jones, L. F. & Goodwin, S. W. (Eds.). (1990). Feminism, utopia, and narrative. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. Keyser, E. (1983). Looking backward: From Herland to Gulliver’s travels. Studies in American Fiction, 11(1), 31-46. Lane, A. J. (1999). Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the rights of women: Her legacy for the 1990s. In J. Rudd, & V. Gough (Eds.), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Optimist Reformer (pp. 3-15). Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. McEachern, M. A. (1997).The utopias of Plato, Skinner, and Perkins Gilman: A comparative analysis in theory and art (Master Thesis, University of Lethbridge). More, T. St. (1964). Utopia. S. S. J. Edward, (Ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Nettleship, R. (1962). Lectures on the republic of Plato (2nd ed.). London and New York: Macmillan and Co. Ltd Orwell, G. (1950). 1984. New York: Signet. Plato. (1945). The republic. (F. M. Cornford, Trans.). New York: Oxford University Press. Rudd, J., & Gough, V. (1999). Introduction. In J. Rudd, & V. Gough (Eds.), Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Optimist reformer. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. Rudd, J., & Gough, V. (Eds.) (1999). Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Optimist reformer. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. Russ, J. (1981). Recent Feminist Utopias. In M. Barr (Ed.), Future females: A critical anthology (pp. 71-85). Bowling Green:

Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Upin, J. S. (1993). Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Instrumentalism beyond Dewey. Hypatia, 8(2), 38-63. Weinbaum, A. E. (2001). Writing Feminist Genealogy: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, racial nationalism, and the reproduction of maternalist feminism. Feminist Studies, 27(2), 271-302. Wu, Q. Y. (1995). Female rule in Chinese and English literary utopias. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 680-686



Storytelling in a Hospital and the Self’s Homecoming—The Act of a Greek Woman Storyteller From Nafplion in Greece and the Art of Narration

Aggeliki Georgiou Kompocholi

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece

In this paper the author draws extensively upon her personal experience in witnessing storytelling in the

oncological wing of the Laiko Hospital of Athens during her hospitalization in September-October 2004. More

specifically, she concentrates on the presence of an inspired woman folk storyteller who, also a patient visited in the

same period the hospital for personal treatment. Having the ability to tell a story skillfully, the specific storyteller

ultimately tried with her narrations to ease the pain, both physical and spiritual, of patients that suffered from heavy

or light forms of cancer, regardless of the fact that she herself was facing similar health problems. This essay sheds

light on the persistence and function of tradition in our days and examines how illness and misfortune are ascribed

and how the storyteller and listeners are connected. Her purpose is to find out what and how people learn and teach

each other under special circumstances. This question has not been absent from the work of folklorists. The

fieldwork was based on qualitative research, and the ethnographic method and collecting were used.

Keywords: illness narratives, suffering and healing, feedback and response in storytelling, folklore


During the last decades the social sciences and humanities have seen an exciting intellectual development:

a “narrative reasoning in clinical practice, in search of the good”, to quote the title of an influential essay by Mattingly (1998b). The “good” is a realization among researcher’s folklore and humanistic disciplines on the interactive relationship between the healing action and narration providing us with a basis for “observing the oral transmission, but also recognizing the diachronic context in which variation and recreation take place” (Grider, 1980, p. 162). In the present announcement, the author will draw upon her experience of the narration of fairy tales in the Onkology wing of “Laiko” Hospital of Athens, during the period of September to October 2004. In particular,

the author will focus on an inspired story-teller from a small village near Nauplia in the Peloponnese who, being

a patient herself, visited the hospital for treatment in the afore-mentioned period. Her name was Nafsika Arseni. Three factors play a definitive role in the author’s choosing this subject. The first one is the relevant studies of foreign scientists who intrigue the author’s scientific interest (Krell, 1980, pp. 223-231; Kleinman 1988, pp. 67-85; Radey, 1990, p. 25; Reissman, 1990, pp. 1195-1200; Robbins, 1994; Biesele & Floyd, 1996, pp. 291-322; Elliot, 1998, pp. 36-39; Mattingly & Lawlor, 2001, pp. 35-70; Frank, 2002, pp. 14-22),

Aggeliki Georgiou Kompocholi, Ph.D., lecturer, Educational Department, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.



specifically the research of Linde Knoch (1994, pp. 13-14) and Gabrielle Rau (1994, p. 14) in Märchenspiegel Journal; The second reason concerns the story-teller herself and her personality. Endowed with unique narrative abilities, she tried through her storytelling to ease the pain, both spiritual and physical, of people suffering from a heavy or mild form of cancer, despite the fact that she herself was facing a similar health problem; Finally, the third reason reflects the author’s inevitable personal involvement in the story as it was my presence in the hospital that triggered that elder story-teller’s disposition to start narrating fairy-tales. Before the author begin her announcement, she would like to confess that with a lot of reservation and even greater modesty did she decide to refer, as you shall see, to a personal health issue and to include it in the presentation of her topic. In August 2004, the author was diagnosed with first-stage skin cancer (melanoma) that was thankfully curable. Its treatment, however, required her daily, hourly presence in the hospital. As a consequence, every day for about five weeks, the author would meet up for approximately an hour in the morning in “Laiko” Hospital of Athens with patients facing similar health problems and receiving the same kind of treatment. As you can understand, that time period was sufficient for bonds of familiarity and solidarity to be developed between us, especially, in the morning hours that the effects of the drugs had not yet taken hold of us. That was when the author met Nafnika Arseni. Her presence in the ward was indeed distinct. Her illness seemed not to have taken a toll out of her. She was in the last phase of her treatment and things were looking up for her. She was ever-moving, petit and neurotic. In reality, she had an unusual vividness for her age and illness; she was 75 years old. Her voice, vibrant and strong, would more than once be disrupted by hilarious-noisy bursts of laughter, whereas she would almost always accompany her speech with expressive gestures. As it turned out later on, the author was not surprised when she confined in the author that her father and grand-father were great story-tellers and that she herself used to narrate stories wherever and whenever she could. As it turned out later on, her repertoire was inexhaustible, her memory unfailing. When she found out that fairy tales constituted the topic of the author’s research work, she proposed narrating to the author a few worthy, rare, old fairy-tales that she knew, so that they would not get lost. the author did not object. That woman had awaked her research interest. In reality, the author eagerly accepted her proposal. The rest of the patients in the ward did not share the author’s enthusiasm and in the beginning at least they reacted with discontent. The idea that they had to be silent for quite a while so that the fairy tales could be appropriately recorded, within a space that barely fitted 12 patient stations, was for some sufficiently annoying. In addition, they didn’t have any motives to listen to fairy-tales since they were convinced that fairy-tales are only for children. It required my personal intervention to change their minds, talking about the origin of fairy-tales, about great story-tellers recording them, but mainly emphasizing the fact that fairy-tales were originally stories destined for an adult audience 1 . The zeal they saw in me played a much more important role than the author’s arguments, the zeal to deal with something that would give the author pleasure, stimulating the group reflex. The author was “one of them”, facing the same health problem, and you all know or can imagine, the solidarity people sharing a cruel experience are feeling, especially when this experience relates to difficult to cure diseases and a sense of exclusion from the joys of life. That is how the recording of fairy tales in “Laiko” hospital in the autumn of 2004 started. What followed was very interesting. The author’s narrator turned out to be a “master of speech” and that is a characterization that she herself proudly used.

1 At this point the author has to admit that Knoch’s research article was a great help for her.


Respectful of her art and her audience, she unfolded one by one her narrative skills earning the attention and admiration of a reserved, if not negative, audience. In the beginning, she was supposingly addressing only me since the author was recording her narrations with a tape-recorder; however, she had faith in her capabilities and she was confident, as she would later confess to me, that she would manage in a short while to attract the interest of the other listeners of the ward, a fact that didn’t take long to happen. Two days after she had started her story-telling, the dancing fingers of the initially indifferent audience gave way to a wide-eyed and open-mouthed audience that was literally hanging on every word she said. She followed a specific order in the narration of her fairy-tales. Endowed with an infallible intuition that allowed her to appreciate the needs of her audience, she would start her narrations with two or three short, jokes or anecdotes, to unlock the mood of even the most demanding listeners. The main topics of these narrations concerned marital relations and infidelity, the human sexuality and erotic lust, for these were the short of jokes or anecdotes that her listeners wanted to hear. It is worth noting here how the erotic instinct is activated in conditions of death and how its expression (or externalization), even if exaggerated, is in essence a disguised cry of life towards the painful fear of the inevitable end. Right after the jokes and anecdotes, the tales of magic (ATU (Aarne-Thompson-Uther), 2004, pp. 1-749) that constituted the main backbone of her narration would follow. The content of most of the fairy tales of this category would pertain to heroes that were healed from incurable diseases, died and were resurrected or re-gained body parts that had been eaten by the insatiable dragon or the evil witch (1994, pp. 1-24). The author could never understand whether this thematic choice had been conscious or unconscious, she herself had never made it clear, but the author can assure you that, for the 12 patients of that small hospital ward to whom she was addressed, it served as a welcomed support to their life conditions at the time. In her repertoire, Nafsika Arseni also included religious stories (ATU, pp. 750-849), much beloved by her and her audience, precisely because the idea of a divine entity that stood by and aided the heroes of the fairy-tales served, at that given moment, deeper psychological needs. In order to “awaken and revive” memories and personal experiences from childhood, she would choose known fairytales, classic ones that everyone knew, like Cinderella or Snow White. Some of them were in fact requested again and again by the patients; however, she would avoid repeating the fairy tale of Rapunzel (ATU, p. 310), even though it was her favorite. The golden hair of the fairy tale hero that she threw out of the window and reached the ground, becoming a ladder for her beloved to climb up the tower, was a subject that brought up painful emotions to the patients, especially women, who had in their majority lost, or were about to lose, their hair during the chemotherapies. There was absolute freedom in her choice of material. Even though the author never dictated what fairy-tale to narrate from the numerous she knew, she would often ask the author if she agreed with the content of her narrations and if she found her fairy-tales interesting, implying, of course, if they were worth being recorded. Full of zeal to transfer the oral tradition exactly as she had been taught of it, she kept the structure of the fairy-tales, their course and plot unchangeable. She narrated them exactly as she had learnt them in her childhood (Allen, 1984, pp. 1-12). The narration of fairy-tales wouldn’t last initially for more than 20 minutes; that was a mutual agreement between the narrator and myself, firstly to keep the concentration of the listeners intact, and then, to avoid any danger of physical exhaustion, especially for herself. After one week, the time would be increased—it had been increased to approximately 45 minutes, yielding to the demand of the audience themselves, a demand that Nafsika was more than eager to satisfy and without any sign of exhaustion. After the end of the narrations,



through emerging questions or memories, interesting conversations between the members of the audience would begin; more than once, each listener would take the opportunity to relay personal stories and experiences, what science characterizes as memorates (Bennett, 1989, p. 167); in fact, they were so many and so interesting that they could become the subject of a separate study in the future. You can understand that from a scientific point of view and apart from all the rest, the narration of fairy-tales in the hospital turned out to be a wonderful experience for me from which the author collected priceless hidden treasures. But for the other patients of the ward as well, it was turning out to be a welcomed change from the harsh reality of the hospital which they wanted to make more beautiful. Slowly, the idea of the daily hospitalization would begin to seem less appalling. Even after the second week of the narration of the fairy-tales, two pots with dried plants, brought by two lady patients, would decorate the ward, as “fairy tales must be told in a beautiful surrounding”; a box of candies was placed next to the narrator to “sweetly” accompany her in her narrations, whereas the entry of any outsider in the area, even the nurse, was considered an intrusion “in our own place/in our home”. It is impressive how fairy-tales can have such a catalytic effect on people, even under the most adverse conditions, even today. They do not solve problems, but they do bring a smile in the lips more frequently. For as long as Nafsika’s fairy-tales lasted, all us listeners could calmly enjoy them in our stations, breathing deeply and feeling relaxed. After that, the narrations of the story-teller would always bring about a subject that we could discuss a subject capable of tearing, even for a little while, our attention away from the imminent health issues we were facing. This is a very important parameter of what the narration of fairytales in the hospital can offer and the author can share all of these with you due to that charismatic woman. What made her such a special narrator? Undoubtedly, she was endowed with unique narrative skills. She knew how to carefully choose the material of her fairy-tales and to deliver it right. Even today, the author can easily recollect the graphic expression of her movement, the indiscernible contraction of her face when she was narrating, the special intonations of her voice, the dramatic pauses. All that beauty of the combination of the words she would choose and the rhythm she would create in her narration, introduced to us the magical world of fairy-tales with a unique way and nothing could destroy that magic, not even the careful, silent as far as possible, coming and going of the personnel, doctors and nurses, that wanted to hear too, but their busy schedule did not allow them. Nafsika knowing the art of narration well 2 , reacted creatively in the presence of her listeners, in their absorbed interest, their applause, adjusting her speech according to the receptiveness of her audience 3 . However, the skills that the author describes are skills that someone can meet in many talented narrators. So what was it that made that woman so special, for all of us that have been her audience to consider her as a uniquely fascinating narrator? the author believe it was her motive. Her motive and the reflection of that motive in her narration. She did not address an audience just to entertain and please but fellow men that were in suffer and were directly facing the threat of death. It wasn’t rare a remark or a reaction of her to trigger wonderful and unpredictable eventful moments, those that anthropologists define as healing dramas, “certain kinds of dramas in clinical settings, which are births and rebirths” (Mattingly, 1998a, p. 89; Mattingly & Lawlor, 2001, p. 31).

2 As Atkinson, Bruner, Reissman and other scholars of narrative have emphasized “a story is not merely a text, it is a performance and differences in performance contribute to differences in meaning” (Mattingly, 1998b, p. 282). See also Harvey (1989), pp. 109-128.

3 Georges, 1979, pp. 71. As Atkinson, Bruner, Reissman and other scholars of narrative have emphasized “a story is not merely a text, it is a performance and differences in performance contribute to differences in meaning” (Mattingly, 1998 b, p. 282). See also Harvey (1989), pp. 109-128.


More than to narrate a story in order to please me, the collector of her fairy-tales, or her audience, she herself found the courage with her narrations, to open roads within pain and to support the lives of people that were in the same painful position as her; that was the main motive for narrating them (Ricoeur, 1992, p. 123). Precisely this immediacy and the heightened intension were the main elements that made her narrations so uniquely fascinating in the conscience of all of us that were her audience (Schwartz, 1989, pp. 42-26). She was convinced of the importance of her effort, with the deep knowledge of elderly people being close to death who see life more clearly and become for the rest of us teachers of great lessons (Lock, 1996, pp. 575-600). Deep within us, all the members of the group recognized her motive, a motive that satisfied the immense need for affection and care that a very sick person has, in this case a cancer patient. Even if we lost her tracks, even if we never looked for her, those of us that had been her audience never stopped thinking of her as the good fairy of the tales of magic, the supernatural helper who, in the crucial moment, gave us the help that we all needed, transforming with her magical wand those medical sessions into little episodes, little stories in a bigger life story, worthy of being narrated. With such a story the author will conclude my announcement today. She was an elderly patient with liver cancer, in the second to last stage. She came for treatment to the hospital twice a week, and always, when she came to our ward, the story-tellers ward, she would sit quiet and silent in a corner and she would observe our narrations. She was always sad, even when she smiled, and we had understood that her husband and son, although they loved and took care of her, they were not able to emotionally support her. The author vividly remember that moment. Nafsika was telling us an animal tale (AT 20 A (Aarne-Thompson 20 A), 1964, p. 25) when suddenly, she stopped her narration and turned her attention to the elderly patient, making a small gesture with her hand, giving her the floor. Her watchful eye, the practiced eye of the good narrator that has the ability to detect even the most imperceptible reaction of her audience, had detected the expression in the face of the elderly listener, her hidden desire to narrate the fairy-tale herself. Nafsika gave her that opportunity. The elderly patient took the floor and continued to narrate the fairy-tale that Nafsika had started narrating, a fairy-tale of her childhood that she would often hear from her favorite grandmother. She narrated it beautifully, truly beautifully, mimicking the voices of the animals in such a funny way that caused the first and only hilarious laughter that the author would hear in that hospital ward at that time. That elderly woman died three months later. But even to this day the author cannot forget the shy blushing in her cheeks, the blushing of a small girl, and her joy when Nafsika embraced her through applauses and cheers and before all she admitted “You said it much better than I did!” (Bruner, 1990, pp. 36-38). Finishing the announcement, the author would like to note that that the duration of five weeks is too small a period to extract any safe conclusions. The questions raised are numerous and call for further research, questions that have to do for example with the personality and intentions of the narrator, his role or his functionality within a clinical setting. The blissful moments that all patients had the opportunity to experience because of the fairy tales of Nafsika, could merely be fleeting momentary bursts of life that could be only due to the random presence of that inspired woman and her humanitarian motives, and perhaps in depth of time they could not be maintained or, under different conditions, could not even be created. On the other hand, narrations in hospital may prove to be a creative activity with transformative and healing potential, a means of spiritual encouragement, a mild supportive method that could function in conjunction with any other form of scientific, psychological support. It may be in fact that the results in the case of the narration of fairy-tales may be more direct; since fairy-tales are usually associated with pleasant



memories of childhood, stimulating the memory of a person, they have the power to speed up his positive psychological response compared to other scientific methods of psychology which are based on logical parameters. All of these and many more are issues that require a thorough and in-depth approach and there is the intention in the future for them to constitute the subject of a broader inter-scientific research.


The life experiences that are orally transmitted are the very source from which all storytellers procure their material. The same thing happened in the case of this charismatic folk storyteller from Nauplion in Greece who, under extremely adverse conditions, tried to communicate with the other patients so that they could receive her stories not only as a forthcoming change in their often very cruel reality but mainly as a minimum help in their possible short lives. Hopefully, my results will have some bearing on analyzing the interaction of the storytelling event in a hospital and the roles and positions of the listeners (patients) that affect performance and interpretation, enabling us to recognize the shared experiences of the human condition.


Aarne, A., & Thompson, St. (1964). The types of the folktale: A classification and bibliography. FFC 184, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica. Allen, B. (1984). Re-creating the past: The narrator’s perspective in oral history. The Oral History Review, 12, 1-12. Bennett, G. (1989). And I turned round to her and said… a preliminary analysis of shape and structure in women’s storytelling. Folklore, 100(2), 167. Biesele, M., & Floyd, R. D. (1996). Dying as medical performance: The Oncologist as Charon. In Laderman C., & Roseman M. (Eds.), The performance of healing (pp. 291-322). New York: Routledge. Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Csordas, T. (1994). Introduction: The body as representation and being-in-the-world. In T. Csordas (Ed.), Embodiment and experience (pp. 1-24). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Elliot, C. (1998). Why can’t we go as three. The Hastings Center Report, 28(3), 36-39. Frank, A. (2002). How can they act like that?: Clinicians and patients as characters in each other’s stories. The Hastings Center Report, 32(6), 14-22. Georges, R. (1979). Feedback and response in storytelling. Western Folklore, 38(2), 104-110. Grider, S. A. (1980). The study of children’s folklore. Folklore, 39(3), 162. Harvey, C. B. (1989). Some Irish women storytellers and reflections on the role of women in the storytelling tradition. Western Folklore, 48(2), 109-128. Kleinman, A. (1988). The illness narratives: Suffering, healing, and the human condition. New York: Basic Books. Knoch, L. (1994). So war mein Leben-genau so war es. Vom Märchenzählen vor alten Menschen (This is my life). Märchenspiegel, 5(3), 13-14. Krell, R. (1980). At a children’s hospital: A folklore survey. Western Folklore, 39(3), 223-231. Lock, M. (1996). Death in techonological time: Locating the end of meaningful life. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 10(4),


Mattingly, C. (1998a). Healing dramas and clinical plots: The narrative structure of experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mattingly, C. (1998b). In search of the good: Narrative reasoning in clinical practice. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, 12(3), 273-297. Mattingly, C., & Lawlor M. (2001). The fragility of healing. Ethos, 29(1), 35-70. Radey, C. (1990). Telling stories: Creative literature and ethics. The Hastings Center Report, 20(6), 25. Rau, G. (1994). Märchenzählen im krankhaus (Narrations in hospital). Märchenspiegel, 5(3), 14. Reissman, C. (1990). Strategic uses of narrative in the presentation of self and illness. Social Science and Medicine, 30,


Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as another. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Robbins, S. J. (1994). Autobiography of a face (pp. 78-79, 152, 155-158). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Schwartz, M. (1989). Storytelling: A way to look deeper. The English Journal, 78(1), 42-26. Uther, H. J. (2004). The types of international folktales: A classification and bibliography. FFC 284-286, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica.

Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 687-691



Allegory of Dominance: British Power in Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki-tikki-tavi

Alexandre Veloso de Abreu

Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Minas Gerais, Brazil

In The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling’s first literary work, the author uses Indian spatial reference and cultural

influence to construct his narrative. The short story “Rikki-tikki-tavi” is elaborated using the structure of Western

fables, having allegory as one of its most exploited strategies. Vladmir Propp, in Morphology of the Folktale (1929),

considers that every folktale story reproduces a structure. Propp’s model demonstrates Rikki-tikki-tavi’s Western

“frame” when the authors see how clearly and efficiently the short story fits the model of Russian Folktale. This

article will analyze “Rikki-tikki-tavi” as a paradigm of this literary genre, showing how characters metaphorically

represent the British domination in India during the end of the 19th century.

Keywords: Kipling, The Jungle Book, allegory, dominance


Rudyard Kipling was born under the British Raj in Bombay, India, in 1865. As a child, he became fascinated by the Indian culture, specially literature and religion. Although Kipling spent his entire childhood in India, his upper education was in England, a common procedure done with the children of British officials in the Raj. Advocating for Queen Victoria’s expansionist kingdom, Kipling wrote a poem which illustrated his position concerning British Imperialism. “The White Man’s Burden” became a slogan, for Europeans often confronted the idea that capitalistic principles were the cause of imperialism, believing that European Imperialism was the natural way wealthier nations gained power. The nations unable to follow would be overwhelmed. In the poem, written to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the poetic voice acts as a vaticinator, claiming that the glorious British Empire was at its end and that the United States of America would take over the burden of civilizing the world: “Take up the White Man’s burden/Ye dare not stoop to less” (Kipling, 1999, p. 253).

Revisting a Writer of an Empire

Although Kipling was contemplated with the Nobel Prize in 1907, George Orwell (1985) wrote an essay analyzing certain paradoxes of the writer’s carrier. Orwell explains how aesthetically poor Kipling is, but at the same time, acknowledges his endurance in the British culture. As for Kipling’s political position, he understands that the author of The Jungle Book is genuinely conservative:

Alexandre Veloso de Abreu, Ph.D., Department of Linguistics and Literature, Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais.


Although he had no direct connexion with any political party, Kipling was a Conservative, a thing that does not exist nowadays. Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists. He identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition. In a gifted writer this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality. The ruling power is always faced with the question, “In such and such circumstances, what would you DO?”, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions. Where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly. Moreover, anyone who starts out with a pessimistic, reactionary view of life tends to be justified by events, for Utopia never arrives and “the gods of the copybook headings”, as Kipling himself put it, always return. Kipling sold out to the British governing class, not financially but emotionally. This warped his political judgement, for the British ruling class were not what he imagined, and it led him into abysses of folly and snobbery, but he gained a corresponding advantage from having at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like. It is a great thing in his favour. (Orwell, 1985, p. 83)

Kipling did believe in the good the Empire was doing to its colonies. “White man’s burden” was a very popular notion until the end of the 19th century. It was understood that it was the responsibility of white Europeans to bring “proper” European civilization to the nations of other ethnical groups. The main motif was that Europeans were correct in their beliefs and it was their duty to bring everyone in the world up as close to the European standards as possible. During European and American Imperialism, “The white man’s burden” was often used as a justification for expansion and annexation. Europeans were responsible for educating “uncivilized” or “primitive” peoples. Kimball (2008) reminded us in his article Rudyard Kipling Unburdened that:

The key word is “civilization”. Kipling was above all the laureate not of Empire, but of civilization, especially civilization under siege. Henry James once sniffed that there was only one strain absent in Kipling: that of “the civilized man”. It’s a frequent refrain. But in a deeper sense, Kipling was about almost nothing else—not the civilization of elegant drawing rooms, but something more primeval and without which those drawing rooms would soon be smashed and occupied by weeds. Kipling, Evelyn Waugh wrote toward the end of his life, “believed civilization to be something laboriously achieved which was only precariously defended. He wanted to see the defenses fully manned and he hated the liberals because he thought them gullible and feeble, believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms”. Kipling endeavored to man those defenses partly through his political oratory, but more importantly through a literary corpus that taught the explicit lessons and the implicit rhythms of emotional continence and restraint. (p. 6)

While Edward Said (2000), speaking about the novel Kim (1901), sees the fictional work of Kipling as “a master work of imperialism” as well as “rich and absolutely fascinating, but nevertheless profoundly embarrassing…” (p. 9), Alicia Mistry understands that Rudyard Kipling felt the impact of the British Empire and the “Imperial Idea” more tangibly than any other Victorian novelist. Mistry clarifies that Kipling’s Imperialism is not completely synonymous with British Imperialism, for Kipling experienced a personal involvement with India, a far-away and unfamiliar world for many of his contemporaries.

The Jungle Book: A Fable

In The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling’s first literary work, the author uses Indian spatial reference and cultural influence to construct his narrative. The short story “Rikki-tikki-tavi” is elaborated using the structure of Western fables, having allegory as one of its most exploited strategies. The author can observe that “Rikki-tikki-tavi” can be seen as a paradigm of this literary genre, showing how characters metaphorically represent the British domination in India during the end of the 19th century. Kipling uses a very common resource in fables known as anthropomorphism (when animals are characterized



with human traits). This is, in fact, the trait that mostly defines the genre fable, for all main characters are animals. The term fable is said to derive from the Latin radical fari, meaning “to speak”, or a variation of phao, from Greek, meaning “to tell something”. The narrative has a symbolic nature where the animals live a “human situation” with the objective of transmitting a moral or of giving an example of conduct, generally one belonging to a dominant ideology of the period in which the story was told. Most of the time the moral is unquestionable and the maintenance of the status quo seems to be the main issue. Generally, the values of a dominant social class are transmitted through the themes of the majority of the narratives. Fables offer a model of Manichaeism, where “good” must be reproduced and “evil” rejected. The strong presence of animals is due to the fact that human society had intense interaction and depended immensely on animal force in the past. This approached people to the story and the associations with human situations were easily assimilated. Through efabulation we receive the moral of the fable, commonly reduced to an epithimio, a type of aphorism, containing the lesson. It can be noticed in Kipling’s narrative that this rich literary genre is exploited. The writer introduces the story with a poem presenting the main character almost as in an epic invocation. A summary of events that will be given details in the narrative instigates the reader to continue. A clue of Manichaeism can be detected, when the introduction elects the mongoose as the good hero:

This is the story of the great war that Rikki-tikki-tavi fought single-handed, through the bath-rooms of the big bungalow in Segowlee cantonment. Darzee, the tailor-bird, helped him, and Chuchundra, the musk-rat, who never comes out into the middle of the floor, but always creeps round by the wall, gave him advice; but Rikki-tikki did the real fighting. He was a mongoose, rather like a little cat in his fur and his tail, but quite like a weasel in his head and his habits. His eyes and the end of his restless nose were pink; he could scratch himself anywhere he pleased, with any leg, front or back, that he chose to use; he could fluff up his tail till it looked like a bottle-brush, and his war-cry, as he scuttled through the long grass, was: “Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!”. (Kipling, 2000b, p. 30)

Notice that there is a detailed description of the physical traits of the mongoose, and the references are animals that would be recognized by Western readers. The exotic mongoose is immediately paralleled with animals of the European continent, already showing a need to translate the exotic to a “civilized” reference. From now on animals are going to feature as the main characters, each one containing Kipling’s notion of good and evil. Allegorically, the animals chosen can be seen as representations of the British colonial influence in India, some standing for the natives that resisted and the others as natives that assimilated Western ideals. Table 1 shows the allegorical associations of the main characters in Rikki-tikki-tavi:

Vladmir Propp, in Morphology of the Folktale (1929), considers that every folktale story reproduces a structure that can be defined as the following: Mark zero, the initial harmony is presented. First, every efabulation has a nuclear motivation, an aspiration or purpose, caused by a lack of some type that leads the hero or heroine to an action; Second, the condition to execute this purpose is to leave home, go on a quest. The hero travels or dislocates to a non-familiar place; Third, there are challenges and many obstacles that must be surpassed by the hero or heroine; And fourth, a mediator appears, of natural or supernatural origin, to help the hero or heroine with the obstacles; Fifth and last element, the hero conquers his objective and receives his reward. All these invariants have innumerous variants and many secondary challenges could show up. Table 2 exemplifies these structural elements in Rikki-tikki-tavi:


Table 1 Characters and Their Allegorical Descriptions


Allegorical description


Rikki-tikki-tavi The main character of the short story, the mongoose was chosen to re present the

The main character of the short story, the mongoose was chosen to represent the cordiality of the colonized. Gratitude is shown, for the English boy helps the mongoose. The retribution is the protection from the snakes.

Nag & Nagaina

Nag & Nagaina The King Cobras are the antagonists of the stor y. Symbols of resistance

The King Cobras are the antagonists of the story. Symbols of resistance of the colonization process, they carry the inscription of the Hindu god Brahm in their hood, god considered pagan in European cultures. Different from Western societies, snakes do not have an evil representation in Eastern ones. In India, for instance, they represent cunning, strength and stealth. Indian mythology recognizes nagas as mediators between gods and humans. They are generally associated with the rainbow. The Kundalini serpent is shown intertwined with the spinal cord and is known to be the symbol of life and cosmic energy. The nagas, representing evil in the Manichaeistic model of the story, show the strong Western canonic traits in Kipling’s fiction, contributing to the allegory of colonial resistance. The female Nagaina has a more intense contact with the land. In myths, it is common to associate the female figure with the earth and it would be coherent to say that Nagaina would symbolize the identity of pre-colonized India and the secular culture that will maintain its traits even after the great influence of the British Raj.


Darzee The Tailorbird interacts with Rikki-tikki-tavi in a very significant way. He alerts the mongoose of

The Tailorbird interacts with Rikki-tikki-tavi in a very significant way. He alerts the mongoose of Nagaina’s attack, showing that it agrees with the cobras being the disharmony of the yard, the menace that must be dealt with. Interesting to notice that the female tailorbird is a more efficient guide. When couples appear in the story, the female has a more complex elaboration, as can be noticed with Nagaina, the king cobra.


Chuchundra Chuchundra, the muskrat, is afraid of Rikki-tikki-tavi which, in a whole, describes his fragile state.

Chuchundra, the muskrat, is afraid of Rikki-tikki-tavi which, in a whole, describes his fragile state. It is in constant fear of Nag and Nagaina. The muskrat allegorizes the situations of most of the colonized, showing fear of the colonizer and at the same time fear of making a stand. He never shows himself, crawling close to the walls. Rikki-tikki-tavi mediates, convincing the creature the yard is safer for it belongs to Teddy and family.


Teddy British families lived in open, airy houses ca lled bungalows to protect them from the

British families lived in open, airy houses called bungalows to protect them from the hot sun. Because of the rain, bushes could grow considerably. It was not unusual for snakes and other animals to find their way into a house. This act is an allegorical representation of how the colonizer interacted with the colonized but maintained their distance nonetheless. Teddy is protected by the cordiality of Rikki-tikki-tavi, the mongoose seems to understand and assimilate the Imperialistic domination and guards the foreigners from the other fauna, viz, natives of the forest.

Table 2 Summerized Proppian Model of Narrative

Invariant elements

Variant elements

Initial harmony

Rikki-tikki is at the forest before the flood.


The mongoose receives instructions from his mother.


The flood drags Rikki-tikki to the garden.

Magical helpers/opponents

Rikki-tikki is presented to the other animals and his enemies: Nag and Nagaina.


The mongoose endures the harness of the battles with the cobras.


Rikki-tikki frees the garden from the snakes.

Propp’s model demonstrates Rikki-tikki-tavi’s Western “frame” when we see how clearly and efficiently the short story fits the model of Russian Folktale. Again, a picture of how white Kipling’s India is.


Although an emblem of Imperialism, Rudyard Kipling is acknowledged for is outstanding work as a writer and for his elaborate use of narrative elements. It is to be seen if such content is subdued by his naïveté



concerning the practice of domination. Until then we continue to witness “The White Man’s Burden” taking place, not always soothed by high quality literature.


Kimball, R. (2008). Rudyard kipling unburdened. New York: The New Yorker. Kipling, R. (1990). Something of myself, and other autobiographical writings. In T. Pinney (Ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kipling, R. (1999). Collected poems of Rudyard Kipling. London: Wordsworth Editions Ltd Kipling, R. (2000a). Kim. New York: Penguin Classics. Kipling, R. ( 2000b). The jungle book. New York: Penguin Classics. Orwell, G. ( 1985). Fifty essays. New York: Benediction Classics. Propp, V. (1968). Morphology of the folktale (2nd ed.). (L. Scott Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press. Said, E. (1989). Representing the colonized: Anthropology’s interlocutors. Critical Inquir, 15, 205-225. Said, E. (1994a). Culture and imperialism. New York: Vintage Books. Said, E. (1994b). Secular interpretation, the geographical element, and the methodology of imperialism. In G. Prakash (Ed.), After colonialism: Imperial histories and postcolonial displacements. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Said, E. (2000). Introduction. In R. Kipling (Ed.), Kim. New York: Penguin Classics. Spivak, G. C. (1999). A critique of postcolonial reason: Toward a history of the vanishing present. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 692-701



An Ecocritical Reading of Ijala Chant:

An Example of Ogundare Foyanmu’s Selected Ijala Chant

Olaniyan Solomon O.

University of Ibadan, Nigeria

African artists demonstrate social commitment and sensibility in various ways as they create works that both

sensitise and conscientise people in their milieu. Although ecocriticism itself is a relatively new theory, African

artists have been preoccupied with issues bothering around environment in order to protect and preserve it. Ijala

genre has been studied by different scholars such as Babalola S. A. (1966), Olukoju E. O. (1978) and Alagbe ‘Sayo

(2007) from diverse perspectives; however, its ecocritical relevance has not been investigated. It is in view of the

foregoing that this paper carries out an ecocritical reading of Ijala chant: an example of Ogundare Foyanmu’s

selected Ijala chant. The paper aims at establishing environmental consciousness in the work of this oral artist. It is

observed that though ecocritical theory itself is new in African literature, African artists have shown commitment

towards environmental protection in their works from time immemorial. Foyanmu conscientises the people to

desist from sneeringly underrating the effect of water hazard. The paper, therefore, has no doubt, established that

the subject of Ijala genre is not in any way limited to hunting or hunters’ life. It is also used to address other relevant

socio-political and economic issues.

Keywords: Ijala, ecocriticism, environmental hazards, Foyanmu

Criticism worthy of its name arises from commitments deeper than professionalism

—Lawrence Buell (2005, p. 97)


The history of literature is the history of the human race. This assertion is not unconnected with the general conception that literature is a microcosm of the macro-human world. Therefore, society (life) affects literature, since no literature exists in vacuum. Literature as a humanistic field of scholarship timely responds to the contemporary social happenings. Perhaps one of the social and utilitarian functions of literature is the betterment of the human society. Literary artists have a way of responding to the pressing contemporaneous issues. Globally, environmental challenges are rampant. Most times, in a bid to beautify his environment, man ends up destroying it and invariably destroying himself. When there is no problem people do not think of solution. Hence, the birth and emergence of ecocriticism presupposes the existence of ecological challenges. Ecocriticism as a literary concept emerged from the discussions and meetings of the WLA (the Western Literature Association), a body whose field of interest is the

Olaniyan Solomon O., master, Department of English, University of Ibadan.


literature of the American West (Barry, 1995).


Ecocriticism: Emergence and Meaning

The word ecocriticism is a semi-neologism. Eco is the shortened form of ecology, which is concerned with the relationships between living organisms in their natural environment as well as their relationships with that environment. By analogy, ecocriticism is concerned with the relationships between literature and environment or how man’s relationships with his physical environment are reflected in literature. These are obviously interdisciplinary studies, unusual as a combination of a natural science and a humanistic discipline. The domain of ecocriticism is very broad because it is not limited to any literary genre. The most widely known ecocritics are Lawrence Buell, Cheryll Glotfelty, Simon C. Estok, Harold Fromm, William Howarth, William Rueckert, Suellen Campbell, Michael P. Branch and Glen A. Love. Glotfelty (1996) writes: “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (p. xviii). Ecocriticism, in fact instigates a call to literature to connect to the issues of today’s environmental crisis. Thus, ecocriticism is directly preoccupied with both nature (natural landscape) and the environment (landscape both natural and urban) (Serpil Oppermann, 1999). According to Childs and Fowler (2006), the emergence of ecocriticism occurred in the half of the twentieth century, “when after centuries of systematic exploitation, many of those non-renewable resources were nearing the point of exhaustion” (p. 78). In his opinion, Barry (1995) asserts that ecocriticism is an emergent movement which began in America in the late 1980; while it emerged in Britain in the early 1990. In the same vein, Lawrence Buell (2005) expresses his surprise on the late arrival of such an important theory as ecocriticism:

At first sight, the belatedness and liminality of the recent environmental turn in literary-critical studies seems strange. For creative art and critical reflection have always taken a keen interest in how the material world is engaged, absorbed, and reshaped by theory, imagination, and techne. Humankind’s earliest stories are of earth’s creation, of its transformation by gods or by human ingenuity’s “second nature”, as Cicero first called it—tales that frame environmental ethics in varied ways. In at least one case they may have significantly influenced the course of world history. (p. 12)

Here, Buell is of the position that this literary theory ought to have been given birth to before now considering the various environmental issues literature has addressed over the years. Heise (1997) is of the opinion that the story of the institutional formation of ecocriticism has been told in detail and from several perspectives, scattered projects and publications involving the connection between literature and the en-vironment in the 1980s led to the founding of ASLE, the Association for the Study of Litera- ture and the Environment, during a conven-tion of the Western Literature Association in 1992. In the same vein, Hutchings (2007) posits:

As a field of literary inquiry, ecological criticism—or “ecocriticism”, as it is now commonly known—investigates literature in relation to the histories of ecological or environmentalist thought, ethics, and activism. One of ecocriticism’s basic premises is that literature both reflects and helps to shape human responses to the natural environment. By studying the representation of the physical world in literary texts and in the social contexts of their production, ecocriticism attempts to account for attitudes and practices that have contributed to modern-day ecological problems, while at the same time investigating alternative modes of thought and behaviour, including sustainable practices that would respect the perceived rights or values associated with non-human creatures and ecological processes. (p. 1)

Hutchings (2007), in the foregoing excerpt, foregrounds the mimetic nature of literature; this theory is a response to the transformational steps taken by man to modify the natural environment. Eco-criticism therefore,



reacts to the gamut of ecological problems ravaging the universe in the present-day world. Meanwhile, the late emergence and development of this critical theory does not indicate that writers have maintained silence over environmental issue. For instance, the British Romantic poetry is preoccupied with several issues bothering around nature. For instance, just as the Francophone negritudinist obsessively engulfed in love for African natural environment, Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth, John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, passionately emphasise the beauty, permanence, innocence, and many other thematic preoccupations revolving natural environment. Moreover, it should be noted that Africans are also on the red alert to issues affecting their physical environment. The origin of ecocriticism, therefore, should not be politicised and hegemonised by domineering colonialist discourse. This goes in line with Rob Nixon’s (2007) challenge of the exclusion of the names of the foremost ecocritics from Africa. He refers to Jay Parini, who published an essay titled “The Greening of the Humanities” as not only myopic, but also incomplete and not well-researched. The reason for this is because while Parini lists the names of the ecocritics, he consciously excludes the name of the foremost ecocritic, ecoactivist and ecological martyr, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Nixon (2007) maintains:

This unselfconscious parochialism was disturbing, not least because at that time I was active in the campaign to release Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni author held prisoner without trial from his environmental and human rights activism in Nigeria. Two weeks after Parini’s article appeared, the Abacha regime executed Saro-Wiwa, making him Africa’s most visible environmental martyr… yet, clearly, Saro-Wiwa’s writings were unlikely to find a home in the kind of environmental literary lineage outlined by Parini. (p. 715)

By and large, the point of the argument above is that it is not the Western world that taught Africans on how to respond to nature-related issues. Every normal human being must be able to respond to his natural environment. William Slaymaker (2007) posits:

Black African critics and writers have traditionally embraced nature writing, land issues, and landscape themes that are pertinent to national and local cultural claims and that also function as pastoral reminiscence or even projections of a golden age when many of the environmental evils resulting from colonialism and the exploitation of indigenous resources have been remediated. (p. 683)

For instance, African writers especially those from the East have variously addressed issues relating to land seizure. Examples of such writers are Ngugi wa Thiong’O of Kenya and Ibrahim Hussein of Tanzania. These, through the beatification of the Mau Mau and Maji Maji insurrection have decried imperialism. The reason for this is because of the high value Africans attach to land. Land represents the connection between the world of the living and that of the dead. It is like cultural birth-right that must not be taken away. As a matter of fact, therefore, African artists (whether oral or written) have devoted their art towards saving their environment from destructive tendencies even before the official inauguration of eco-criticism. For instance, Foyanmu’s selected chant for this work was performed as far back as 1980, while ecocriticism was inaugurated in America in the late 1980 and emerged in Britain in the early 1990. The point being made here is Africans were never taught by the Europeans how to preserve their eco-system.

Ogundare Foyanmu as Ijala Chanter

Born in 1936, in Ogbomoso, Nigeria, Ogundare Foyanmu learnt Ijala by imitation from his uncle, whose



passion for chanting Ijala cannot be overemphasised. Foyanmu did not have any academic certificate; he, however, learnt writing and reading through the Adult Education Literacy classes organised by Ogbomoso local government of Oyo State. Foyanmu lost his parents at the tender age, which made him stay with his uncle. Foyanmu did not hesitate to make judicious use of the opportunity he had during the time while he was with his uncle. Thus, his stay with his uncle was full of adventure as he used to accompany group of hunters to hunting safari, after which they would gather at night to entertain one another with Ijala. Foyanmu started having strange dreams, as he always found himself chanting in his dream to some group of hunters. He later informed his uncle of his dreams, who accurately interpreted the dreams to mean that he (Foyanmu) would later become a prolific Ijala chanter. He was encouraged by his uncle’s interpretation of his dreams. Thus, he started working towards fulfilling the dreams until the death of his uncle (Alagbe, 2006). Ogundare Foyanmu started his performance by attending outings though not necessarily on invitation. He was always welcomed by the celebrants of various occasions. Initially, he had to restrict his performances to Ogbomoso Township. This was peradventure due to his relatively little exposure. He received monetary and material rewards whenever he performed.

Foyanmu, today, has become a household name; this is not, however, unconnected with his creative feat in Ijala. Yoruba literature is replete with plethora of oral genres, one of which is Ijala. The art of Ijala is said to have originated from Ogun (the God of Iron) who has dualistic attribute in the sense that it is both creative and destructive (Babalola, 1966). Hence, it is represented by Iron. Ogun was said to have commanded all the hunters to sing his epideitic name (oratory) to commemorate his “big fight” (Ija nla) with Aparo whose fault was that he could not get palm wine to drink when he descended from the top of the hill where he was, to look for palm wine

in a town around Iree, a town in the present day Osun State, Nigeria. In other words, Ijala is chanted in honour of

Ogun amidst the consumption of a great volume of palm wine (Babalola, 1966). Among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Ijala is a performatory oral genre mainly by the hunters, usually after

a hunting expedition or when a prolific hunter answers divine call. Foyanmu’s Ijala art focuses on several humanistic subjects such as culture, politics, leadership, family, and environment.

An Ecocritical Reading of Foyanmu’s “Omíyalé ” ( Flood)

The poet begins this chant on a lugubrious mood as he recounts the havoc of the Ibadan historic 1980 flooding which claimed many lives and swept away unquantifiable properties. Foyanmu (1980) asks:

Ojo odun yii o paye run ni?


gboko gbeyawo


tun gbomo lo.

Will this year rain destroy the world?

It swept the husband and wife

And also swept away the child.

This attests to destructive havoc the rain has caused humans. This particular rain could be likened to the biblical account of flood through which God destroyed the world because of sin. Though rain is armless, is could



be dangerously harmful. Its effect on the family cannot even be described with words, or what can one say when a whole family is swept away through flooding. Among those affected by the life-claiming rain included pregnant women, newly married couples, nursing mothers and those at their various places of work. For rain to have carried human beings, it must have carted away several non-living things. In other words, it is not only humans that are carried away; even properties worth huge sum of money are lost to the flooding. According to Foyanmu (1980):

Ojo odun yii o paye run ni?


gbesu gbelubo


wole wa.

Will this year rain destroy the world?


carted away yam and yam flour


demolished our house.

Adedeji, Odufuwa, and Adebayo (2012), lend credence to the fact that flood disasters have led to economic losses and loss of lives:

In the past four decades, economic losses due to natural hazards such as, floods disasters have increased in folds and

have also resulted in major loss of human lives and livelihoods, the destruction of economic and social infrastructure, as well as environmental damages during this period. (p. 45)

Although flooding is a natural disaster, man cannot be completely exonerated from its occurrence. Human actions or inactions contribute immensely to the management and damage of the environment. One major cause of environmental disaster is man’s contemptuous (mal)treatment of nature. In other words, human beings usually underrate the effect of ecological degradation. Foyanmu (1980) chants:

Eniyan to ba foju agbara wo Kudeti Yoo gboluwa re lo Omi gege lo se dori orukun Omi Ogunpa bo sokoto Eyin eniyan wa, e dake

E ma se je ki a fi oju agbara wo Kudeti mo.

He who sees Kudeti as mere erosion Such a person would be wiped away by Kudeti The water was full beyond the knee Ogunpa River removed trousers from people Please, our people keep calm Don’t let us fleer Kudeti again thinking it is just erosion.

As portrayed in the foregoing, the artist-chanter sensitises and consceintises the people to stop underrating the consequential effect of erosion. The reason for this admonition is because little erosion, if not timely checked and controlled, can escalate to disastrous flood. Both Kudeti and Ogunpa are popular rivers in Ibadan. According to Nfah-Abbenyi (2007, p. 711), projects should be “planned in such a way that the ecology is taken into consideration every step of the way”. Without prevarication, the planlessness of some building constructions in the contemporary society is responsible for incessant flooding which has become the order of the day lately.



Foyanmu (1980) goes further to enumerate salient human haphazard (in)actions that snowball into environmental hazards:

Afojudi naa la n se somi odo, t’odo fi n binu ba a ti n ko panti da sinu odo bee la n kole di oju odo loju.

It is because we treat river water with contempt That makes it angry We pour refuse inside river We block river with refuse.

Ibadan city is historically known for its notoriety in dirtiness. The above excerpt foregrounds why the city remains dirty. Whenever rain falls, people bring out their dustbins to pour inside the flowing water. This would eventually lead to the blockage of drainage and consequently prevent free flow of water. Niyi Osundare (1986), a renowned eco-activist-poet, writes in favour of earth:

Ours to work not to waste Ours to man not to maim This earth is ours to plough, not to plunder. (The Eye of the Earth, p. 49)

Man’s activities in Foyanmu’s chant are nothing but that of wasting, maiming and plundering of earth which is supposed to be prosperously worked, properly manned and protectively ploughed. Despite the fact that human beings have repeatedly experienced flood disasters through their unconscious and thoughtless abuse of flora and fauna, their stubbornness has not been curtailed just like that of a goat. While various governmental and non-governmental agencies have created awareness to sensitise people on the need to protect and preserve their environment, all these awareness campaigns seem to fall on deaf ears. Though it is often said that experience is the best teacher, the veracity of this universal assertion and aphorism is not without doubt. This position is not unconnected with people’s persistent downgrading, damaging and maltreating of ecosystem. The same people that lost relations through flood in the previous year would still be seen pouring refuse inside drainage. Even the most stubborn goat does remember the pain it sustained as a result of its wanton disobedience. Man, therefore, has not learnt from all his ugly experiences. This Ijala chanter compares water with fire so as to establish the reason for man’s sneering of water:

Gbogbo afojudi ta n se sodo yii To ba se ina ni ko ni i gba Gbogbo wa la mo pe ara ina ko gba arifin Ara odo lo gbegbin Ara ina ko awada, o ko arifin Omi odo lo gba gbere. (Foyanmu, 1980)

All our contempt for river If it were to be fire, it would not condone it All of us know that fire does not tolerate sneer It is only the river that can bear contempt Fire abnegates disdain, it disapproves fleer It is the river water that can be scorned.



This lends credence to the fact that human beings naturally fear fire and so, do away with anything that may cause its accident/disaster. However, water is sneeringly treated. Contrary to what Foyanmu says, river water cannot be eternally abused as it would “fight back” one day. Although fire “retaliates” immediately, water may delay its own effect; this does not, however, mean that the consequence of man’s unwholesome activities would not be felt sooner or later. Foyanmu (1980) specifically makes a historical allusion to the flood which plagued the largest city in Africa, Ibadan, on Sunday, the 31st August, 1980. This historic flood disaster affected many lives and unquantifiable amount of properties:

Eni ojo yii ka mo ode Ko je ko sare wole Eni o ka mo inu ile Ko le sare jade

O gbe eni to ba nile tiletile

Gbogbo eniyan to ba ninu moto

Lo gbe tokotoko

Those whom the rain met in the passage Could not enter their room Those whom it met inside Could not go out to escape

It swept away those in the house including the whole house

All those it met in the vehicle Were carried away with the vehicles.

Although water does not have hands, it is capable of carrying away objects that are even heavier than it does. The above shows the painful and lugubrious effects of flood on man and his environment, which are characterised by loss of life and property. Moreover, the poet pinpoints various categories of people that were affected by Ibadan flood of 1980:

Bi ti n gbolowo towo-towo

Bee ni n gbe eni ti n sowo ajapa teru teru Obinrin to gbe toyun-toyun ko kere Alabiamo to gbe tomotomo ko lonka Atawon egbe bi ore

Bi i gbajumo bi i iyekan

Atokunirn atobinrin Atewe atagba, atonile atalejo. (Foyanmu, 1980)

As it carried the rich with their riches So it carried those who sell tortoise with their loads Pregnant women that it carried away were without number Nursing mothers that it carried away with children could not be counted Including clubs of friends Like important dignitaries and relations Both male and female Young, old, natives and foreigners.

What this means is that environmental disaster does not recognise sex, race, tribe, social class, and status. No



one is exempted from the painful pangs of hazards caused by man’s mistreatment of his God-given environment. Also, it is not only the poor that are fond of polluting the surrounding by dumping refuse inside drainages. Both the rich and the poor play negative roles in ecological degradation. For instance, the rich use their affluence in constructing companies and industries which later result into deforestation and pollution (land, air, and water). Thus, neither the rich nor the poor can be exonerated in sneering (under)use of natural resources. Foyanmu has been able to respond to the global ecological crisis and address important environmental issues, specifically by examining values, in literary texts, with deep ecological implications. Ecocriticism, then, takes an earth-centered approach to literature, and an ecological approach to literary criticism. Ecocriticism mainly concentrates on how literature interacts with and participates in the entire ecosphere (Oppermann, 1999). In addition, the grievous repercussion of flood disaster is beyond description as it severs familial relationship when many people such as children, mothers, fathers, and even newly wedded couples are swept away through the flood. No doubt, “flood is a rain of sorrow” as Foyanmu chants; although the “sorrow” is not without a cause. In the same vein, the flood disaster rendered many people homeless and property-less as landlords become tenants in camps. To forestall future occurrence, Foyanmu (1980), among other things, advocates prayer, since “there is no situation that is too big that cannot be surmounted by prayer”. Although nothing is wrong with prayer itself, man should learn to stop destroying himself through the abuse of environment. No amount of praying can prevent environmental hazards if people keep on preying on the ecosystem. When human beings engage in acts that are capable of destroying their natural surroundings, they can be likened to the proverbial hen that defecates inside the pot—its own grave. Foyanmu (1980), a conscience of his people, is not unaware of the politics of corruption and red-tapism which has ravaged the polity. Following the Ibadan 1980 flood, many humanitarian donors contributed both pecuniary and material resources towards alleviating the sufferings of the victims. The poet notices unnecessary delay in the disbursement of the funds:

Gbogbo owo oju ni i roju saanu

Gbogbo owo ti n be nile, e yanju re Nitori pe ireti pipe a maa sokan laisan Ooto ni, bee naa ni

N ba pe mo damoran pe

Gbogbo eni to ti nile lori ti o nile mo

Ti gbogbo won n wo awosun

Bee ba fun won nile Ki e si tun fun lowo Wi pe ki won o fi ko ile Ki e wa fi owo ti o ba ku tun Ogunpa se.

All the money donated Ensure that it is spent Because delay makes the mind sick

It is true, yes it is

I would advise that All who had had house and no longer have That is now leaving in camps



If they are given land They should also be given money That they would use to build And use the remaining money to construct Ogunpa.

The foregoing is an indication of unnecessary bureaucracy in the execution and proper utilisation of donors’ contribution. It is unfortunate that on several occasions when it is planned perhaps by the government to alleviate masses’ suffering, it ends up aggravating it by non-visionary, myopic, corrupt, irresponsible, and kleptomaniac people that are saddled with the responsibility of disbursing such resources. For instance, it is widely reported in the national dailies that when in 2012 flood disaster bedevilled some states, people wailed and cried out for assistance that would cushion their sufferings. It was not, however, long when government and some philanthropists positively responded by releasing and donating funds. Nevertheless, the story has changed today as the funds have been diverted into the personal pockets of those put in charge of the disbursement. The suffering people, therefore, become victims of natural disaster and leadership failure. Hence, they are left in a state of perennial disillusionment. Osundare (1986), in his poem titled “They Too Are the Earth”, advocates the need for justice:

They too are the earth the swan songs of Beggars sprawled out in brimming gutters … the distance groans of thousand Buried alive in hand, unfathomable mine…. (The Eye of the Earth, p. 48)

Instead of cushioning the groaning of the poor victims of ecological problems, leaders only aggravate their pains by siphoning the funds meant for their relief. Foyanmu, through this chant has no doubt lent his voice to environmental consciousness. Slaymaker (2001) posits that black African critics, writers and even oral artists:

Have traditionally embraced nature writing, land issues and landscape themes that are pertinent to national and local cultural claims and that also function as pastoral reminiscences or even projections of a golden age when many of the environmental evils resulting from colonialism and exploitation of indigenous resources have been remediated. (p. 684)

In other words, African artists do not need to be sensitised and taught by Euro-ecocritics before they create ecological awareness through the weaponry of their literary creations. However, despite the fact that African artists are “traditionally” ecocentric, conscientising the society to preserve environment, the people are persistently non-sensitive to environmental disasters. Ecocritics like Foyanmu have relentlessly sermonised the mission statement of ecocriticism which is to preserve nature everywhere man finds himself.


Foyanmu rises to the challenge to awaken the ecological consciousness of the populace to environmental-related contemporary problems and charge them to maintain cleanliness. The quintessence of artist’s conscientisation is to save mankind from natural disasters which may be prevented and also to rescue human environment from wanton degradation, pollution and abuse.




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Harvard University Press. Childs, P., & Fowler, R. (2006). The Routledge dictionary of literary terms. London and New York: Routledge. Foyanmu, O. (1980). Omiyale Vol.7. ORCLP 120 [Audio CD]. Ibadan: Olatunbosun Records Company. Glotfelty, C., & Fromm, H. (Eds.). (1996). The ecocriticism reader: Landmarks in literary ecology. Athens, Georgia and London:

The University of Georgia Press. Heise, U. (1997). Science and ecocriticism. American Book Review, 18(August), 4-6. Hutchings, K. (2007). Ecocriticism in British romantic studies. Literature Compass, 4(1), 172-202. Nfah-Abbenyi, J. M. (2007). Ecological postcolonialism in African women’s literature. In T. Olaniyan, & A. Quayson (Eds.), African literature: An anthology of criticism and theory (pp. 707-714). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Nixon, R. (2007). Environmentalism and poscolonialism. In T. Olaniyan, & A. Quayson (Eds.), African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory (pp. 715-723). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Oppermann, S. (1999). Ecocriticism: Natural world in the literary viewfinder. Journal of Faculty of Letters, 16(2), 29-46. Osundare, N. (1986). The eye of the earth. Nigeria: Heinemann Educational Books. Slaymaker, W. (2007). Ecoing the other(s): The call of global green and black African responses. In T. Olaniyan, & A. Quayson (Eds.), African literature: An anthology of criticism and theory (pp. 683-697). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 702-707



Queen Cleopatra in the Eyes of the Western Macho

Rana Omar

Middle East University, Amman, Jordan

Nayera El Miniawi

Al Balqa Applied University, Salt, Jordan

Princess Alia University College, Amman, Jordan

This research involves discovering the male western perspective toward the female oriental character Cleopatra the

Queen of Egypt by comparing two literary works Antony & Cleopatra by Shakespeare verses Caesar and Cleopatra

by Bernard Shaw. Also this research gives a glimpse of the history of how Cleopatra was viewed from Roman point

of view. The goal is to show how the western masculine frame of mind looked at the oriental femininity depicted by

Cleopatra also; the research will discuss the way both authors displayed the oriental Queen of Egypt Cleopatra in

their literary works. Cleopatra was presented as a mystery to all the male figures who wrote about her. In Caesar and

Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw uses his legendary wit to turn ancient history on its head—and to challenge

Shakespeare’s view of his two famous protagonists. Political drama meets sparkling comedy as veteran strategist

Julius Caesar becomes mentor to the enchanting teenage queen of Roman-occupied Egypt. To conclude, Bernard

Show portrayed the character of Caeser and Cleopatra unlike Shakespeare's weak representation of Julius Caeser.

Keywords: gender identity, feminism, masculinity


Cleopatra (Isis) is a name that is known all over the world. Many authors, scholars and movie markers were fascinated by her life. Her life was enchanting as a queen, as lover and as a woman from the orient. She ruled Egypt in the golden age of the Roman Empire. She consummated a liaison with Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne and made him fall in love with her. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, she aligned with Mark Antony whom also remarkably fell in love with her. Their passion was the cause of their iconic death. A lot of literary works and movies displayed Cleopatra as an exotic, witty, seductive, sinful, charming queen who used her body and wits to rule Egypt. This research will discuss how Cleopatra was represented from a Roman and masculine point of view, the two works that were the pillars the research area are: Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, Caesar and Cleopatra by Bernard Shaw.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is a play filled with political intrigue, power struggles, war and its consequences, and the plight of two desperately impassioned lovers. Although the play’s action is slightly

Rana Omar, instructor, Department of Arts and Literature, Middle East University. Nayera El Miniawi, associate professor, Department of Arts and Literature, Al Balqa Applied University; Department of English language, Princess Alia University College.



more complicated than Shakespeare’s other tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra provides an excellent means for students to study the multiple levels of subject matter contained in historical dramas. Teachers of English, history, political science, social studies, geography, mythology, and drama may all benefit from the themes explored in this play. The play, therefore, provides many opportunities for cross-curricular study. The very mention of the two title characters, Antony and Cleopatra, conjures images of love and the desperate measures taken in pursuit of love. Some have subtitled this play “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told”. Others argue that the play does not depict love, but rather presents a desperate infatuation that destroys a great Roman leader and a noble Egyptian queen. With either interpretation, the play offers a compelling love story that will intrigue students of any age or skill level. Additional themes of divided power, battles with formidable forces, and manipulative enemies and subordinates provide suspense and action. The juxtaposition of love and war is neatly wrapped in Shakespeare’s poetic language, thereby providing a literary work that is compelling and eloquent (Facciponti, 2004, pp. 15, 23, 116).

Caesar and Cleopatra by Bernard Shaw Political comedy at its best, Caesar and Cleopatra takes on the themes of imperialism and leadership as only George Bernard Shaw can. Set amidst the Roman conquest of Egypt, the play pits the mature statesmanship of Julius Caesar against the nave ambition of Cleopatra. It imagines Caesar’s first meeting with Clepatra and their subsequent plotting as Caesar attempts to subdue Egypt and Cleopatra tries to eliminate her brother and rival claimant for the throne. Assassination and intrigue, romance and betrayal, all are dealt with in Shaw’s inimitable comic style. Caesar and Cleopatra represent a mature Shaw, who revolutionized the British theatre by combining exceptionally entertaining comedy with incisive and relevant themes (Bernard ,1913, p. 205). Caesar and Cleopatra is an attempt at the portraiture of a truly great man. It is Shaw’s ninth play, but it is here, in the character of Caesar, that we get for the first time a clear idea of his conception of a great man. Caesar is Shaw’s greatest character thus far. He is a man of rare magnanimity and power; he is a master not only of his mind but also of his environments; he has a purpose of his own and he is endowed with a tremendous will which enable him to manipulate things and beings for the accomplishment of his purpose; he is possessed of wonderful restraint and clemency; he is immune from the weakness which flesh is heir to; he is, says Shaw, naturally great. “Shakespeare’s Caesar might have been a successful importer of bananas; Shaw’s is a genius whose every speech has the sound of a genius”. Shaw’s Caesar is a very great man but is he the real Julius Caesar? Shaw’s says, “Shakespeare’s Caesar is the reduction ad absurdum of the real Julius Caesar. My Caesar is a simple return to nature and history”. Shaw’s Caesar is in many respects a different man from the Caesar of history. He has represented Caesar as too great to find any joy and peace in this world. Shaw has attributed to Caesar the qualities of absolute disinterestedness in worldly affairs, freedom from worldly ambition and aversion to political and military glory (Sarathi, 2012, p. 194).

Cleopatra Through Eyes of History

As a queen and a public figure, her life in general and her death in specific were reported by historians with anxiety during that period. It is known that history is reported by men of power so lets a peak of how the Roman historians Plutarch and Dio reported Cleopatra’s beauty, life and death. For she was a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was


most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one. Being brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate every one, even a love-sated man already past his prime, she though that it would be in keeping with her role to meet Caesar, and she reposed in her beauty all her claims to the throne. She asked therefore for admission to his presence, and on obtaining permission adorned and beautified herself so as to appear before him in the most majestic and at the same time pity-inspiring guise. When she had perfected her schemes she entered the city (for she had been living outside of it), and by night without Ptolemy’s knowledge went into the palace (Dio, 2011, pp. XLIL, 4-6, 34). … Cleopatra sent to Caesar a letter which she had written and sealed; and, putting everybody out of the monument but her two women, she shut the door. Caesar, opening her letter and finding pathetic prayers and entreaties that she might be buried in the same tomb with Antony, soon guessed what was doing. At first he was going himself in all haste, but, changing his mind, he sent others to see. The thing had been quickly done. The messengers came at full speed, and found the guards apprehensive of nothing; but on opening the doors, they saw her stone-dead, lying upon a bed of gold, set out in all her royal ornaments. Iras, one of her women, lay dying at her feet, and Charmion, just ready to fall, scarce able to hold up her head, was adjusting her mistress’s diadem. And when one that came in said angrily, “was this well done of your lady, Charmion?” Extremely well, “she answered, and as became the descendant of so many kings’; and as she said this, she fell down dead by the bedside (Plutarch, 1920, pp. LXXXV, 2-3).

Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare portrayed Cleopatra a smart women who can make a man do whatever she wants in a way that is not imaginable. His characters words are the living proof of his projection of her personality. Antony: She is cunning past man’s though (Shakespeare, 1971, p. 13). Enobarbus: This cannot be cunning of her; if it be, she makes a shower of rain as well as Jove (Shakespeare, 1971, p. 13). In other sections of the play Shakespeare drew an image of her as a week, helpless woman and queen without the masculine figure of the play Antony. Enobarbus: And the business you have broached here cannot be without you; especially that of Cleopatra, which wholly depends on your adobe (Shakespeare, 1971, p. 15). Cleopatra was seen as a witch and as a lustful figure that used her charms and body to spell Antony and control him as she controlled Caesar before him. Pompey: But all the charms of love, salt Cleopatra, soften thy lip! Let witchcraft join with beauty, lust with both! Tie up the libertine in a field of feasts, keep his brain fuming (Shakespeare,1971, p. 35). Agrippa: Royal wench! She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed:

He plough’d her, and she corpp’d. Cleopatra was known throughout history and literary works as an image of lust. Pompay: Can form the lap of Egypt’s widow pluck the ne’er lust-wearied Antony (Shakespeare, 1971, p. 37). Orient was known to the west as an exotic place inhabited by exotic people the image of Cleopatra sailing from Egypt to the city of Tarsus to meet Antony shows how the west was fascinated by the way she presented herself.



Enobarbus: I will tell you. The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, Burn’d on the water: the poop was beaten gold; Purple the sails, and so perfumed that The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver, Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made The water which they beat to follow faster, As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, It beggar'd all description: she did lie In her pavilion—cloth-of-gold of tissue— O’er-picturing that Venus where we see The fancy outwork nature: on each side her Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool, And what they undid did (Shakespeare,1971, p. 49). Even in the minds of Antony’s soldiers Cleopatra was different from the rest of the women on earth. She was an icon of lust. Although at this point she got older and age didn't pull his wrinkly strings on her. Enobarbus: I saw her once Hop forty paces through the public street; And having lost her breath, she spoke, and panted, That she did make defect perfection, And, breathless, power breathe forth. Enobarbus: Never; he will not:

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety: other women cloy The appetites they feed: but she makes hungry Where most she satisfies; for vilest things. Become themselves in her: that the holy priests Bless her when she is riggish (Shakespeare,1971, p. 71). Cleopatra was seen as a goddess. Her image wearing Isis dress was charming that the soldiers talked about it. Everything around her was holy and interesting. Caesar: She in the habiliments of the goddess Isis (Shakespeare,1971, p. 120). Roman masculine point of view towards Cleopatra was a fallen woman; they judged her because of her relations with the most remarkable Roman leaders Caesar & Antony. Caesar: Cleopatra hath nodded him to her. He hath given his empire up to a whore (Shakespeare,1971, p. 101). Although she was misjudged by the Roman masculine characters in the play put her death was respected and honored even by her worst enemy Octavius Caesar. Who was fascinated by the way she looked although she was dead. Caesar: Bravest at the last,


She level I’d at our purposes, and, being royal, Took her own way. The manner of their deaths? I do not see them bleed (Shakespeare,1971, p. 203). Caesar: O noble weakness! If they had swallow’d poison, twould appear By external swelling: but she looks like sleep, As she would catch another Antony In her strong toil of grace (Shakespeare,1971, p. 205).

Caesar and Cleopatra

Although the play Caesar and Cleopatra is considered a comedy, it shows a great deal of how the masculine characters viewed women of Egypt inferior beings, especially Cleopatra their queen. BEL AFFRIS. What shall we do to save the women from the Romans? BELZANOR. Why not kill them? PERSIAN. Because we should have to pay blood money for some of them. Better let the Romans kill them: it is cheaper. Cleopatra in this play was a young girl 16 years old; she was not viewed as a child. She was looked at as a women and a slave that selling her will be an advantage. Cleopatra was viewed in a degrading manner by the characters in the play. THE PERSIAN. Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy is at war with her. Let us sell her to him. BELZANOR. We dare not. We are descended from the gods; but Cleopatra is descended from the river Nile. Although the play was written 275 years after Antony and Cleopatra and although she was only 16 years old, it was pointed that she is a witch. CAESAR (with conviction). Yes I am. I live in a tent; and I am now in that tent, fast asleep and dreaming. Do you suppose that I believe you are real, you impossible little dream witch? The western perspective towards Egyptians was considered a recessed one. Especially that Cleopatra was their queen which also shows how she was seen as the queen of gypsies. CAESAR. Queen of the Gypsies, you mean By all means she was young, she was portrayed as a puzzle to men that they cannot figure out how to handle or treat her she was charming since she was a young girl. PERSIAN. Cleopatra is not yet a woman: neither is she wise. But she already troubles men’s wisdom.


History means his story. This research spotted light on how the masculine vista, reported Cleopatra’s life from a mannish point of view. Cleopatra was presented as a mystery to all the male figures who wrote about her. It never occurred to them to repot how a brave woman she was who had used all the means she could think of to rule and protect her country. She was not displayed as a mother who was trying to protect her children and keep them safe from all the enemies their mother had to be aware of.She was not viewed as a politician who is capable to rule a country and live in prosperity. On the contrary, she was presented as a witch, seductive,


illusive and lustful woman.



Bernard Shaw. G. (1913). Caeser and Cleopatra: A history. London, Constable: Hathi Trust digital library. Bernard Shaw. G. (1945). Caeser and Cleopatra. Retrieved from http://www.fullbooks.com/Caesar-and-Cleopatra3.html Dio, C. (2011). The Roman History. New York: Loeb Classical Library. Facciponti, L. (2004). A teacher’s guide to the signet classic edition of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Retrieved from http://www.us.penguingroup.com/static/pdf/teachersguides/antony.pdf Plutarch. (1920). The Parallel Lives. published in Vol. IX of the Loeb Classical Library edition. Sarathi Kar. P. (2012). New ideas generated by George Bernard show to the plays of Caeser and Cleopatra of Shakespeare. Retrieved from http://www.caesjournals.org/spluploads/IJCAES-BASS-2012-194.pdf Shakespeare, W. (1971). Antony and Cleopatra. London: Longman. Skakespeare, W. (1623). The tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra. Retrieved from http://www.shmoop.com/antony-cleopatra/gender-theme.html

Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 708-717



A Program of Art Education Exploring Life Issues —By Two Nudity Artworks

Yu-Ching Hsieh

National Chin-Yi University of Technology, Taichung, Taiwan

The purpose of this essay is to design an art education program based on post-modernist concepts to lead students

to contemplate the meaning of life and build their insight about visual imagery of artworks, by looking at two

nudity artworks—Edward Munch’s “Puberty” and Frida Kahlo’s “The Broken Column”. The program will look at

metaphors and the significance of life in these two artworks. Over and above exploring relative philosophical,

aesthetic, historical, hermeneutic, and semiotic domains, the program will be designed in such a way that the

intrinsic quality of art will be emphasized. The research method is a visual narrative approach, including image

interpretation. Its purpose is to encourage students to consider how they experience life, the emotional elements of

life, as well as the spiritual progression, physiological development, anxiety and suffering of life, etc

The program

will also provide students with diverse information and potential ways of thinking about and discussing the issues

of life and art by using questions in a learning list. This program will be employed and executed over two hours of

class time. It could become the general education teaching material or art curriculum.

Keywords: interpretation, art curriculum, life issue, metaphor, narrative


In this essay, two nudity artworks, Edward Munch’s (1863-1944) “Puberty” and Frida Kahlo’s (1907-1954) “The Broken Column” are chosen for study in an art program to emphasize the significance about life. The purpose of this art program is to build the students’ insight about visual imagery of artworks, and influence individual students to rearrange his or her attitude to be more contemplative, perceptive and healthy. This program will be employed and executed over two hours of class time. It could become the teaching material for the general education curriculum in the university. The basic epistemology integrates the theory of some post-modernist concepts, Gadamer’s (Hans-Georg Gadamer, 1900-2002) hermeneutics theory, and is inspired by other relative theories to contribute to the design of the art curriculum program. There are two questions that must be settled in this essay. The first is, what kind of content should be considered and included when teachers teach these artworks? The second is, what method of interpretation will be used to lead students to think about these two artworks? For the first question, this essay will probe into what the vital life issues in art are. What could the contents of the art program focus on? It will look at the inspiration of artistic feeling and critical thought about life, metaphors of life and our critical attitude about images. The program will contain the details of these two artists’ life experience, to show how artists connect their experiences with images in their art, and also contain multiple

Yu-Ching Hsieh, associate professor, Fundamental General Education Center, National Chin-Yi University of Technology.



messages and diverse questions, which could lead students to contemplate life issues philosophically. For the second question, the essay will probe how these approaches could lead students to philosophically examine life issues in artworks. On the one hand, the author will give some framework to help students to seek the multiple meanings within artworks; on the other hand, the author believes students’ free self-interpretation is also important, and this method of personal interpretation can grow students’ ability to feel, and think creatively. The following part of this essay will start to explore the relative theory more deeply for the above two questions. And it will offer some principles for designing art curriculum to develop a practical art program. The purpose is to help students build a powerful sense, a positive attitude towards life, and image insight about art through their appreciation of these two works.

The Background Theory

Contents—Life Issue in the Artworks The significance of life issue. German hermeneutics philosopher Gadamer reminds us to think about the inspiring ideas of life in works of art. He claims that experiencing art could stimulate our soul to think about our life. Works of art are not just formed with aesthetic quality. Art has meaning and content, and it can’t be isolated from its real-life inspiration (Gadamer, 1989). Roberts (2005), says “the history of art was replete with individuals, like myself, who experienced their lives intensely, thought deeply about all manner of things” (p. 2). What might be the appropriate approach of an art program for inspiring our life value and attitude? Gadamer believes that if art had no social significance, religions meanings, moral implication, or any humanities purpose, it would become something that has no meaning, and something that cannot be understood (Chan, 2011). He indicated further that “art as a religion of culture” or “art as a provocation” has its background in Western history. In the 19th century, great artists proclaimed that they were only artists for the sake of art, and trying to solve the problems they experienced and observed (Gadamer, 1986, pp. 7-10). As for Michel Foucault (1926-1984), he also commented that a real artist would fight with the represented system that was already established within a society. Also, artists will not just follow and copy the rule of image, but include social symbols in their artwork (Chalumeau, 1996). Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1908-1961) philosophy has similar comments about art as well. Merleau-Ponty recognized the connection between artists and their work. He believes that the life of an artist “follows” the life of his art. He noted that modern arts in painting does not invalidate the old, but challenges the past and the tradition (Adam, 1996, pp. 141-142). Consequently, all of these perspectives conclude that features of worthy art can evoke philosophical thinking about life. Even in Barthes’ (Roland Barthes, 1915-1980) Post-Structuralism, his thinking is different from his opinion in earlier structualism. His values become more directed towards caring about human life when talking about art (Adam, 1996, pp. 157-160). People do not necessarily just adore the great artists and their work. In fact, many great creative achievements of art really affect our thoughts and life. Gadamer (1986) suggested us to see art with the concept that “the arts of language may well play a special part in solving the problems that we have set ourselves” (p. 17). Although every individual has his or her own problems in their lives, they could search for some potential inspiration in the infinite possibility of artistic imagery by the life issue of artists to think about their lives more profoundly. Thus, three dimensions should be considered for the contents of an art program: (1) It should examine

artists’ life experience, that has influenced artists’ imagery of pleasure, anger, lament, sublime, splendor, love,



sympathy, beauty, suffering, fear, etc.; (2) It should examine artists’ critical view against traditional image or

thought; and (3) From the opposite aspect of spectator, it should leads participants to examine the ideology,

which may exist within the artwork itself. Under the considerations the author mentioned above, the chosen

images must have some moving inspiration, which can contribute to students’ thought, insight, and ability of

visual interpretation of art.

Metaphor of life. How artists use their images to express meaning in life is another vital content of an

art course. The communicative model of image metaphors possesses incalculable power that is different

from language.

Adams (2006) illustrates that “most attempts to define the origins of art emphasize visual metaphor as a

significant source of creative thinking” (p. 20). To Sullivan, Macleod and Holdridge, “artists are theorists; they

question, observe, analyze, synthesize, and hypothesize as scientists do and shape thought into conceptual

images, which are often metaphorical” (Marshall, 2007, p. 32).

Stewart and Walker suggest that art curricula must foster students’ ability of “metaphorical understanding”

and “link academic subject matter with life-focused issues” (Stewart & Walker, 2005, pp. 25, 111).

Adams (2006) demonstrates that “In visual metaphor, form rather than words inspire imagery and

associations are made between one image and another” (p. 20). Consequently, an art program’s curriculum

must lead students to seek how artists create association or similarity between image and their intended

message to imply meanings. Thus, learning how to catch intended messages and metaphors about life is vital

content in the art program as well.

When the art program focuses on the inspiration of artistic feeling and critical view about life, metaphors

of life and our critical attitude about images, the author believes it will contribute to students’ insight about life.

Interpretation Barrett (2000) points out that “works of art present us with views of the world and experience that can provide us with insights, information, and knowledge, but we can only access these through interpretation” (p. 7). And interpretation can come from many approaches or activities for understanding the artworks. In this essay, the art program will interpret two artworks by a visual narrative approach, using a group of

ways to help students to consider the life issues in artworks. These methods include images descriptions, story

narratives, exploration of metaphors, direct questions, discussing, writing activities, art creation, and

researching information, which could lead students to think about the topic. Below are basic descriptions of the

approaches suggested and theories used.

Using questions. Gadamer suggested that using questions can deepen our experience of artworks and he

called the process of experiencing art “fusion of horizons” (Chan, 2011, p. 219). When people experience art, they

should try their best to use the cognitive thought, plunge their sensation, and open their minds to catch the true

meaning in art itself for procuring inspiration. However, people are still affected by their “prejudices” and can

only achieve the limited realization, and when people change their perception, their understanding will change

again. This idea denotes that there is no standard experience from art. Thus, “fusion of horizon” is a mental act of

exploring meaning in an artwork. Gadamer suggested that in the process of experiencing art is asking questions

about the art and we answering them by ourselves through art itself (Chan, 2011; Gadamer, 1989).

By this way, the approach of using question to interpret the artwork will make art program be more



effective by giving students cues for imaginative thinking, feeling, and creative interpretation using their personal perceptions. Seeking the meaning in artworks and respect the experience of audiences (students). Barthes (1981) conceived the notion of “stadium” and “punctum” in his book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Lin, 2006, p. 4). It could be used to explain the process of experiencing art and culture activity. Barthes claimed that although “stadium” encompasses our knowledge and nature which causes our interest in art creation, it is not the pivotal factor that evokes love of artwork. When we are touched by an artwork, “Punctum” is the real reason that causes us to be emotionally moved by that art. “Punctum” is built by different viewer’s basic life experience. This opinion reflects Barthes’ concept of “death of the Author” (Lin, 2006, pp. 4-5). “Death of the author” means individuals will have various reactions when they face an artwork, because of their different life backgrounds. Also, “punctum” corresponds to Gadamer’s point about “fusion of horizons”, that viewers have inherent “prejudices”. They both claim that the audiences’ background life experience is the crucial factor when experience art. Although Barthes and Gadamer give dissimilar theories of the progress of viewing art, they still propose the same ultimate goal behind seeing art, i.e., to search for an inspirational meaning in artwork. According to above opinions, this is the direction for interpretation. On the one hand, art interpretation must include revealing how to discover the marvel and fascinating side in art, to lead students to catch the sense and perspective in art with enthusiasm. On the other hand, art interpretation should consider students’ self-identifying as well. Terry Barrett (2000) suggests that “We can think of acts of interpreting as having two poles, one personal and individual, and the other communal and shared” (p. 8). Communal interpretation could guide students to seek the historical past and meaning of artwork itself. Individual interpretation could help students to identify themselves. So the principle of interpretation is “seeking balance between the personal and communal” (Barrett, 2000, p. 11). In other words, interpretation should be seeking the meaning of artworks together and respecting the experience of individual students. Story narrative. Using story narrative is another important concept for designing art curricula. Post-modernist remind us to concern individual phenomena instead of seeing things with grand principle. Pearse (1997) recommend us to look at the features that belong to every single thing and individual, which cannot be simplified by the formula of “one-size-fits-all”. Under this idea, two notions are created: (1) Every matter, and everyone has its story that cannot be fully analyzed by broad categories. Relating to art and artist, the art curricula should be designed on a specific issue, and discussed deeply; and (2) When art curricula leads students to seek the sense in artworks, keep in mind that helping students to raise awareness is the goal, so every single student’s self-experience must be considered. Many educative scholars regard narrative as a valuable way for “helping students understand different perspectives and complexities involved in problem-solving and social relationships” (Zander, 2007, p. 192). According to Zander (2007), narrative could include students’ own art, teachers’ experiences with art, the stories of artists, and interpretations of art works. Through storytelling, narratives could lead students to consider meanings, messages, and various values about life. Narrative also can help students to identify themselves. So, this is why this art curriculum has just chosen two pictures and focuses on the topic of life



issues. And this is one of the approaches to use stories narrative to provide students some basic messages about

artists and the artworks. Therefore, the approach of interpretation should include historical information, stories, student narrative about artworks and artists, giving questions, and supplying direction to encourage students to think, discuss, write, or paint encouraging students to think about themselves.

The Art Program Exploring Life Issues—By Two Nudity Artworks

To sum up the idea we discuss above, this art program here will give image description, communal stories, discussing questions and exploring metaphors of life about these two artworks first. Then synthesize these to go to the developing potential instruction and activities. It will include sense of significance about life, critical thinking about naked figure image, and self-identifying by activities.

Edward Munch’s “Puberty” Original interpretation—Image description with no judgment. A naked, long hair, young girl seated on the edge of a bed. Her body doesn’t relax. With eyes opening wide, seeing the spectator outside the artwork directly, but her eyesight doesn’t focus on us, and her two arms cross before her body and firmly fastened legs seem longer than normal. There’s a strange shadow like another giant girl’s long hair on the back. The shadow and the body seem connected tight. The colors of sheet and pillow are white, and others places are all bleak and dark. The texture and lines are dynamic (see Figure 1).

and dark. The texture and lines are dynamic (see Figure 1). Figure 1 . “Puberty” (Munch,

Figure 1. “Puberty” (Munch, 1895), oil on canvas, 150 × 110 cm, Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery), Oslo.

Communal story about artwork (1) Munch’s story. “Any biographical account of Munch cannot fail to mention the incidences of illness and death in his immediate family” (Cordulack, 2002, p. 23). Munch’s (Edward Munch, 1863-1944) Families’ sickness and death affect him deeply. Munch was born in Norway. His father was a doctor, but his family was poor, because his father worked for poor people, and usually worked with no payment. More than that, when Munch was five years old, his mother died due to transmission of a patient’s pulmonary tuberculosis. Nine years later, his sister died from the same illness. And



his father was so sad and became violent. These factors in his life brought him a lot of suffering experiences (Ho, 1996; Hu, 2005). Munch said:

My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm, jumping from stone to stone. Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back towards the chasm’s edge, and there I shall walk until the day I finally fall into the abyss. (Edvard Munch Art Quotes, 2013)

(2) Story of Munch’s art. Munch’s artworks reflect the anxiety and emotion inside his heart. He insisted on exploring the suffering in life for the sake of seeking the reason of life existence. His artworks examine the systematic themes about life, such as life, death, love, sex, illness, pain, suffering, isolation, and finally expiation (Gariff, Denker, & Weller, 2009). Munch talk about his art by himself:

In my art I have tried to explain to myself life and its meaning. I have also tried to help others to clarify their lives. Just as Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy and dissected corpses, so I try to dissect souls. The way one sees is also dependent upon one's emotional state of mind. This is why a motif can be looked at in so many ways, and this is what makes art so interesting. (Edvard Munch Art Quotes, 2013)

Munch’s exuberant brushstrokes and his interest in conveying mood were inspired the Expressionists. From the effects of industry, which led to a new urban iconography, Munch like many other early-twentieth-century artists would find a new way to subvert the classical tradition. His dynamic lines and colors express “a new depth in conveying states of mind. Affected by a series of personal tragedies, Munch’s art has an overtly autobiographical flavor” (Adams, 2006, p. 507). Furthermore, Munch gave a lot attention to the subject of physiology. He developed an awareness of physiology in his artworks. Physiology is the branch of biology that deals with the function of the vital processes of living, including reproduction, growth, circulation, respiration, and metabolism (Cordulack, 2002, p. 97). For Munch, he wanted to recognize the real significance of life through physiology in his art. For example, “Puberty” is such a theme to concern humans’ process of life. Discussing questions. (1) What imagery does Munch express in the work? Is there any metaphor or symbol about life? Please describe in detail; (2) What kind of feeling or reason may have lead Munch to draw this image? What could be the relevant story? (3) How is the use of nudity related to life? (4) How does Munch use expressionism? Could this art work express the agonizing feeling of life? How are the functions of texture, colors, and lines used in this case? and (5) Do you have any agonizing experiences? Imagine a situation and describe how you faced it? Metaphor of life. The goal is to lead students to understand how artists use metaphors to express their abstract feelings about life, encourage students to seek the diverse possibility of metaphors in this artwork by themselves first, and give appropriate help such as following:

(1) The posture of sitting on the edge of bed with naked body: the position of pubescent physical and mental features, the period of development in life; (2) Opening wide eyes, not focusing her eyesight: being perplexed and anxious; (3) Seeing the spectator outside the artwork directly: self-consciousness, feeling of existence; (4) Not relax: the position of anxiety, misgiving; (5) White sheet and pillow, the ambiance of light:

pure, innocent, future; (6) Dark backward and the strange showdown: dark side in heart, desire; (7) The shadow and the body seem connected tight: An situation in heart of agonizing between desire and morality.



Frida Kahlo’s “The Broken Column” Original interpretation—Image description with no judgement. Kahlo stands before a desolate and cracked plain that is arid and lifeless. Kahol’s countenance sees a spectator outside the artwork with no focus. Her body is broken and tied tight with steel strip. An artificial Column made of steel penetrates through her body from her jaw to the waist, and a lot pins are piercing her body (see Figure 2).

waist, and a lot pins are piercing her body (see Figure 2). Figure 2 . “The

Figure 2. “The Broken Column” (Kahlo, 1944), oil on canvas, 40 × 30.5cm, Museo Dolores OlmedoPatiño, Mexico City.

Commual story about artwork.

(1) Kahlo’s story. Kahlo (Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954) was born in Mexico, her father was a photographer of Hungarian Jewish descent, and her mother was Spanish and Native American. She was bright and well educated. In 1925, due to a bus accident that nearly killed her, Kahlo suffered serious injuries, and was never again free of pain. After that Frida began to take up painting and expressed her suffering that comprised 32 operations in 29 years (Esaak, 2013; Lucie-Smith, 1999). She said, “My painting carries with it the message of pain” (Kahlo Art Quotes, 2013). The pain in Kahlo’s life is not only the results of the injuries but also the experiences between her and her husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957). She adored Rivera, and said, “His capacity for work breaks clocks and calendars” (Kahlo Art Quotes, 2013). She met Rivera when she was in the Preparatoria (National Preparatory School), the most prestigious educational institution in Mexico, when Rivera had just returned home from France and had been commissioned to paint a mural there. Rivera was a communist militant and his artistic reputation was expanding in the United States in 1930 (Lucie-Smith, 1999). However Rivera didn’t really fulfill his duty as a husband, and Kahlo was hurt and said, “I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband” (Kahlo Art Quotes, 2013). (2) Story of Kahlo’s art. A critic of Kahlo’s exhibition wrote: “It is impossible to separate the life and work of this extraordinary person. Her paintings are her biography”. Some critics categorized Kahlo with surrealists, and she was invited to participate in some activities with them, but she said, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I was not. I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality” (Lucie-Smith, 1999). “I paint self-portraits because I am so



often alone, because I am the person I know best” (Kahlo Art Quotes, 2013). For Kahlo, she painted her life as she saw it, none were surreal (Watt, 2012). “Kahlo’s themes were almost exclusively about women: women’s bodies, birth, death and survival”. Originally, Kahlo was known as Diego’s wife, but now she has her own “iconic status in feminist and Hispanic culture” (Esaak, 2013). Discussing questions. (1) What imagery does Khalo express in the work? Is there any metaphor or symbol about life? Please describe in detail. (2) What kind of feeling or pain may lead Kahlo to draw this image? What is the relevant story? (3) Why does Kahlo express her using nudity? How is it related to life? (4) How does Khalo express her own life? Can art express the anguish of life? Describe the functions of texture, colors, and lines in this case. (5) Do you have any experience of anguish in your life? Imagine a situation and think about how you faced it? Metaphors of life. Let students seek the diverse possibilities of metaphors of life in this artwork by themselves first, and give appropriate help like: (1) Broken body: broken heart, pain of body, aguish in life; (2) Pierced with pins: tears, pain, and suffering in life; (3) Desolate and cracked plain: alone, bleak feeling; (4) Steel column and strip that ties her body: limitation, being constrained; and (5) Calm countenance: artist’s self-consciousness, feeling of existence.

Developing Potential Instruction and Activities Sense of significance of life. Existentialist philosopher Heidegger (Martin Heidegger, 1889-1976) reminded us to think about our existence. He tried to find an authentic mode of our being that facilitates the experience of “concern” when we face some difficulty and pain in life. In other words, the consciousness of life existence comes from our reflection. And concern comes from some kind of difficult experience (Magee, 1998).These essay’s two art examples were both created by artists who had experiences of anguish in their life and both wanted to express their life and make meanings about life by their art. This fact supports the theory of Heidegger. Munch’s art “Puberty”, though inspired by physiology, is not about science of biology, it’s about the consciousness of life. “The Broken column” also has the same focus. We can examine the colors, lines, texture, metaphors and symbols etc. and how they are used in these artworks to see how they reflect the theme of life. Critical thinking about naked figure image. Maurice Merleau-Ponty recognized the relationship between our body, perception, and art expression. He theorizes, “The experience of our own body, reveals to us an ambiguous mode of existing”. It is “always sexuality and at the same time freedom, rooted in nature at the very moment when it is transformed by cultural influences, never hermetically sealed and never left behind”. Our “body is substantial, how is it possible for us to experience in ourselves a pure soul from which to accede to an absolute Spirit?” (Adam, 1996, pp. 141-142). When leading students to think about the issue of naked images, and its relation with life, there are some questions that could be considered. Do these two artworks properly use naked figures to express their intended meaning, and do they express some critical provocation in the images?



How do these two artists express the existence of life by using images of the naked figure? Do they really express a more profound sense about life? Everybody owns their bodies. Do you recognize the physiological phenomena of your body, accept your body, and have enough confidence to express yourself like a dancer or performance artist? Is there a difference between expressing yourself confidently and pleasuring others but losing yourself? What is the concept of self-consciousness of existence? Do these two artworks differ from the sexual images in media? If they are distinguishable, how different are they? Self-identifying by activities. Every student’s individual body goes through different physiological phases during various periods of life development. There are some inevitable phenomena, suffering, and emotions that happen to each of us during our lives. Here are two activities for students:

(1) Write a 1,000-words report: please ask a question about this two pictures, and answer it by yourself; (2) Draw a picture about your painful experience in life, using two metaphors of life at least, and talk about it to share with others.


The purpose of this art curriculum program is to allow students to consider how these two artworks express experiences and imagery about life, how students could identify themselves by examining these two artworks. It includes some possible approaches to help students think deeply, creatively, and diversely to help each student establish a diverse and profound insight about life issues. According to the post-modernist, people need not only adore the authority of art, but also need some critical views. However, this art program can always lead students to feel, think, and develop the open mind by examining art. The author also says that the powerful magic of art shouldn’t be denied, and the life issues embedded in art, these are all important elements to include in approaches to teaching art.


Adams, L. S. (1996). The methodologies of art: An introduction. Boulder, C.O.: Westview Press. Adams, L. S. (2006). The making and meaning of art. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd Barrett, T. (2000). About art interpretation for art education. Studies in Art Education, 42(1), 5-19. Barthes, R. (1981). Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. NY: Hill and Wang. Chalumeau, J. L. (1996). Lectures de L’ art (Interpretation of Art). (Y. L. Wang & H. M. Huang, Trans.). Taipei: Yuan-Liou Publishing Co., Ltd Chan, W. W. (2011). Introduction to Gadamer’s hermeneutics: “Truth and method”. Taipei: San Min Book Co., Ltd Cordulack, S. W. (2002). Edvard Munch and the physiology of symbolism. London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Edvard Munch Art Quotes. (2013, November 19). The painter’s keys. Retrieved from


Esaak, S. (November 19, 2013). Artists in 60 seconds: Frida Kahlo. [About com. art history]. Retrieved from http://arthistory.about.com/cs/nameskk/p/kahlo.htm Gadamer, H. G. (1986). The relevance of the beautiful and other essays. (N. Walker, Trans.). New York: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1977). Gadamer, H. G. (1989). Truth and method. (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, Trans.). New York: Seabury Press. (Original work published 1960). Gariff, D., Denker, E., & Weller, D. P. (2009). The world’s most influential painters and the artists they inspired. (L. Q. Jiang & M. X. Chen, Trans.). Taipei: New generation.



Ho, C. K. (1996). Munch: The pioneer of scandinavia expressionism. Taipei: Artist. Hu, Y. F. (Ed.). (2005). The scream of life: Munch. Art Gallery, 47, Taipei: Greenland International Book Co., Ltd Kahlo Art Quotes. (November 19, 2013). The painter’s keys. Retrieved from http://quote.robertgenn.com/auth_search.php?name=Kahlo Kahlo, F. (1944). The broken column. Retrieved from: http://www.all-art.org/art_20th_century/kahlo4.html Lin, P. H. (2006). Foundation of art appreciation ( ): Structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. Art Appreciation, 2(11), 22-27. Lucie-Smith, E. (1999). Lives of the great 20th-century artists. London: Thames and Hudson. Magee, B. (1998). The story of philosophy. New York: DK Publishing, Inc. Marshall, J. (2007). Image as insight: Visual image in practice-based research. Studies in Art Education, 49(1), 23-41. Munch, E. (1895). Puperty. Retrieved from http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/munch/ Pearse, H. (1997). Doing otherwise: Art education praxis in a postpadigmatic world. In J. W. Hutchens, & M. S. Suggs (Eds.), Art education: content and practice in a postmodern era (pp. 31-39). Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association. Roberts, T. (2005). Teaching real art making. Art Education, 58(2), 40-46. Stewar, M., & Walker, S. (2005). Rethinking curriculum in art. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications. Watt, G. (2012). Frida Kahlo. [The British Journal of General Practice]. Retrieved from


Zander, M. J. (2007). Tell me a story: The power of narrative in the practice of teaching art. Studies in Art Education, 48(2),


Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 718-728



The Study and Practice of Theory and Composition Among Women in Ghana

Joshua Alfred Amuah

University of Ghana, Legon-Accra, Ghana

The performance and composition of traditional choral music were championed and dominated by women.

Unfortunately, the involvement of women in the practice of art music, specifically theory and composition in

Ghana has been observed to be absent or very minimal, the cause of which is problematic to identify. This paper

examines why women have been passive in the performance and composition of this musical genre, and suggests

avenues for improvement in the situation. Fifteen women across various musical genres: Traditional, Art and

Popular were interviewed to ascertain this fact. The results will serve as an aid for an improvement of this

unfortunate situation in Ghana.

Keywords: theory, composition, traditional, popular, art


It has been observed that Music, unlike the visual arts, is not given prominence in the keeping of records from the ancient times. In this respect, the history of Western music does not really get rolling until the middle Ages—and one of the most dominant musical figures of that era is a woman, the German abbess St. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1176 C.E.). This paper provides three sections: The first section explains the expressions such as theory, composition, traditional, popular and art to readers for assimilation in the context of present study; Whilst the second section examines the extent of women’s participation in Art Music (theory and composition); In the third section, the paper reports the responses from interviewees, draws conclusions and builds recommendations.

Explanation of Keywords

Terminology and concepts might sometimes lend to polysemy. Therefore, from the beginning of this paper, an exegesis of keywords on the topic will better offer an understanding of the precise perspective of the study. In this regard, five concepts the author use deserve definitions: theory, composition, traditional, popular and art.

Theory According to Randel (1986):

Theory is the abstract, principles embodied in music and the sounds of which it consists. With respect to Western music, theory has traditionally encompassed the properties of single sound-pitch, duration, timbre, and those of collections of sounds: acoustics, tuning and temperaments, intervals, consonance and dissonance, scale, modes, melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, meter, form, and analysis. He concludes that “today, the term also refers specifically to the teaching

Joshua Alfred Amuah, Ph.D., lecturer, Department of Music School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana.


of the fundamentals or rudiments of music. (pp. 844-845)


Composition The Encyclopedia Britannica (2010) defines composition as:

The act of conceiving a piece of music, the art of creating music, or the finished product. These meanings are interdependent and presume a tradition in which musical works exist as repeatable entities. In this sense, composition is necessarily distinct from improvisation. At its most fundamental level the act of composition involves the ordering of pitched sounds in musical time and space. (p. 294)

Theory and composition is being used in the context of the two definitions above. In a nut shell, conceiving and applying the properties of theory into an art of creating music constitute the reference point of this paper.

Traditional Music Traditional music has been used here to indicate that there are other concurrent types of music in the same society. Nketia (1974), Agawu (1984), and Middleton (1990), argue that three distinct practices of music-making may be distinguished in most societies: the traditional, popular and art (or classical music, elite music). Fiagbedzi (2010) states: The dictionary gives us a definition for tradition “an old habit of a group of people” and for “traditional” the definition “according to old habits”. In the case of traditional music, this would mean that it is a music that belongs to a certain group of people and they have been practicing this music for a long time. By lack of any better term to define the music of homogenous groups in Ghana that is associated with old institutions, the author will use the term “traditional music” in the way Nketia (1963) uses it:

The musical scene in Africa today is a very complex one, for it reflects not only the diverse ethnic composition of the continent, but also the duality of old and new. Indigenous and foreign that characterizes modern Africa. Accordingly, one must distinguish between traditional music—music which utilizes the resources and modes of expression cultivated in the period before active colonization, and new modes of expression in the idioms of popular and the fine art music which are cultivated by Africa’s population exposed to the impact of colonialism, the mass media, and western institutions. (p. 1)

At another instance Nketia (1978) posits:

In Ghana, traditional music is the music of indigenous institutions which developed in the pre-colonial period. It represents the artistic expression of Ghanaians in response to the needs and pressures of their own environment. Examples of this music are work songs such as those sung by the fishermen and craftsmen and farmers. They also include dirges, lullabies and the music that accompanies the celebration of such rites as circumcision, puberty and marriage. (p. 1)

Popular Music The popular tradition was initially fashioned in contradistinction to the elitist tradition of art or classical music and the so-called “sublime, innocent” genre of traditional music (Omojola, 2006, p. 1). The term popular music reflected a class-oriented use that was concomitant with the stratified social structure of the Western world. It is a generic term for music throughout the age which appeals to popular tastes because of the means of dissemination (for example being aired on the radio). However, this has become a challenge because “all sorts of music, from folk to art, are subject to mass mediation” (Omojola, 2006, p. 1). In other words, it is a type of music that forms part of popular culture. The term “popular culture” here is defined in the traditional sense to mean the day-to-day culture of the people. According to Adjaye (2004), such popular culture in the traditional sense “finds expression in the way we live, the things we think about, the people around us, and their activities” (p. 3). And the major components of this popular culture, he continues, “are objects, persons and events, but it is through the use of symbols that popular culture is mostly constructed” (p. 3).



Few scholars in the humanities have proposed varied definitions of Popular Music. For example, Birrer (1985) presents four definitions of popular music: the normative; the negative; the sociological; and the technologico-economic. In the Normative dimension, he claims that popular music is an inferior type of music. With the Negative he says that popular music is usually “folk” or “art”. He also asserts that popular music is closely associated with a particular social group on the face of the Sociological definition, and finally he states it is the music which is disseminated by mass media and/or in a mass market on the side of the Technologico-economic. Middleton (1990) on the other hand claims that all these definitions are interest-bound, and none therefore is satisfactory. He concludes that popular music must be realized in relation to the musical field. Barber (1987) argues that:

This is of course, a caricature of the prevalent view. Few would now accept the implication that so-called traditional society is represented by a static, closed, consensus village community, let alone the idea that the popular artist is a happy-go-lucky child—like innocent. (p. 10)

Thus, whilst traditional arts, of which music is a constituent, are recognized as an object of study in its own right, popular ones can only be established by reference to their distinction from the traditional forms. In effect while the traditional is realized as the point of beginning, the popular is ascertained by the extent to which it diverges from the traditional. Therefore definitions of these types are dependent on the situation of performance. Other authors claim it is not possible to differentiate between traditional and popular music in some communities in Africa because the characteristics that have been assigned by other authors interweave the two types. This has been asserted by Waterman (2000):

To draw a sharp boundary between “traditional” and “popular” music in Yoruba society is impossible. The criteria most commonly invoked in attempts to formulate a cross-cultural definition of popular music-openness to change, syncretism, intertextuality, urban provenience, commodification—are characteristic even of those Yoruba musicians and audiences identify as deep Yoruba. (p. 214)

This quotation implies that in the Yoruba society there is no distinction between traditional and popular music. They share common characteristics. Therefore, to offer distinctive features to the two music genres depends on the context of performance. Notwithstanding, Popular Music is created by professional, semi-professional and informally trained musicians to be enjoyed by the masses, often in an urban setting. It is the most popular of all types of music and the most commercially accepted and promoted. It is made up almost entirely of songs that cover a wide range of socio-cultural subjects, with instrumental accompaniments by groups of performers. The songs have melodies and lyrics or words that are easy to remember, however, many of these easily become popular, quickly then fade out just rapidly. In most cases, the music has not been written down or notated and thus its performance differs from performers to performers. Popular Music is for dancing, singing and listening, and is mostly heard on phonograph records, on radio, and television. It is mostly performed for entertainment. The instruments used are mostly a combination of Electronic Guitars and Percussion, Woodwind, Brass, and keyboard instruments with occasionally, traditional instruments for special effects. The popular music includes such divers styles as the Jazz, Rock, Reggae, Calypso, Juju, Highlife, Congo, Samba, Soul, Afro-beat and Gospel.


Art Music According to Agawu (1984):


For lack of a better term, what he has called the “classical” tradition refers to the music of educated composers. Because their works are directed towards a nonparticipating, rather than a participating, audience, classical composers stand apart from their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, classical music belongs to a written tradition, not an orally transmitted one. Composers such as Akin Euba, Fela Sowande and Sam Akpabot of Nigeria, Ephraim Amu and Kwabena Nketia of Ghana belong to this tradition. (p. 38)

In general, art music is seen as separate from both popular and traditional music though there are elements that cross boundaries depending on the level of absorption of pre-compositional materials. These notwithstanding, the three classes cannot be offered distinctive definitions because they are limitless in concept. Barber (1987) therefore states:

Traditional, popular, and elite (art) must not be taken as empirical classes of products; they represent expressive fields with their own centers of gravity, characteristic tendencies, pulls of influence, and modes of orientation. They are concentrations of certain styles of expression at different locations in the social map, rather than hard-and-fast categories. Treated in their manner the distinctions are valuable, indeed crucial, if we are to understand what is happening in African culture today and what the practitioners of the arts themselves conceive themselves to be doing. (p. 19)

Barber thus indicates that definitions of the types cannot be decided in isolation as some authors indicate. The types rather are related to each other, and the performance situation determines the definition given to each of them.

Women’s Involvement in Traditional Music Composition and Performance

The involvement of women in traditional activities such as music and dance has been posited by Fiagbedzi (2010) as: In African societies, cultural norms have given women the opportunity to involve themselves in traditional music performances. He concludes that the African women’s involvement in music performances dates back to centuries (p. 17). Collins (2005) makes references to Frisbie (1971, p. 274) and Turnbull (1962, p. 206) that “the hunter-gather societies of Kung ‘Bushmen’ of South African and the Mbuti pygmies of Zaire were completely egalitarian in their music making”. Roberts (1974) claims “there is a wide spread African tendency to regard certain sorts of music and musical instruments as being of women” (pp. 50-51). The performance and composition of women in the forefront in traditional choral music have been substantiated by Nketia (1963), Dor (2005), Agawu (1995), Ampene (1999), and Turkson (1975). It is rather unfortunate that women who took the center stage in traditional music performances and composition are currently not found in the field of Art music, specifically, in theory and composition in Ghana. Amuah (2012) posits that:

The efforts of women in performance of traditional choral styles are highly appreciated. This has attracted research interest including Ampene (1999) on EfuaAbasa (a prolific Akan 1 /Adowa composer). Moreover, a few African women composers have reached international heights in the class of popular music. This has not been the situation with art choral music composition. (p. 203)

the situation with art choral music composition. (p. 203) According to Dor (2005): 1 A female

According to Dor (2005):

1 A female song tradition confined to adult women in Ghana.



The use of the term “art” to describe choral music implies the existence of another type of choral music. Ghanaian ethnic groups have traditional choral styles quite distinct from the art choral idiom which exists in oral traditions, often with precise vocabulary that distinguishes them as song sub-genres. For example, Ewedome (Northern Ghanaian Ewe) women sing Avihawo part songs of lament, accompanying themselves with rattles. Similarly, the early female Christian converts in the Fanteland of coastal Ghana developed and performed Ebibindwom, a traditional choral genre in the Methodist Church. (p. 447)

Before the arrival of the missionaries in Ho, all societies in the Volta Region practiced traditional religion; therefore all women in the region performed avihawo. Agawu explains that Avihawo is a traditional dirge which formed the backbone of musical performance at funerals in the pre-Christian era, and was sung by adult women. According to Ampene (1999):

and was sung by adult women. According to Ampene (1999): is a female song tradition confined

is a female song tradition confined to adult women in Ghana who in the past sang to entertain themselves in the night when the moon shone bright in the sky. Today, the tradition has been brought out into broad daylight to celebrate festive occasions publicly in both secular and sacred contexts. (p. 1)

publicly in both secular and sacred contexts. (p. 1) Ampene (2005) establishes that in Ghana today:

Ampene (2005) establishes that in Ghana today:

The adowa ensemble, generally regarded by the Akans as the classic funeral dance, takes center stage in providing songs. Right away, one time-traveller would observe that adowa ensembles featured both sexes, with men playing the atumpan 2 , the apentema drummer drums in addition to the adawura 3 while the women constituted the chorus. (p. 18)

Turkson on another instance declares that the lyric as a musical type owes its development during the office of Rev. Thomas B. Freeman, by non-literate members of the church in Cape Coast in 1838. When Freeman realized that the non-literate members of the church did not participate in singing of the English Hymns he encouraged older women to sing biblical text to traditional tunes. Haydon (1985) and Marks (1985) also proclaim that people of the Volta Region of Ghana perform a musical type called gbolowhich is reserved for women. The Ga people of Ghana also have a recreational music type for only females known as adaawe. The people of Akuapem Mamfe also have a musical type for

females called

the women call tora. Essandoh (1998) making an input in the argument that women championed and dominated in the study and practice of traditional music states: “Even though there is no tradition of female profession musicianship in Ghana such as the djelemouso or griot of Mali and Senegambia, traditional communities all over Ghana provided opportunities for women in music making” (p. 102). Nketia (1963) substantiates this: Music associated with the rites of puberty among all tribes involved women (pp. 52-56). Singing of funeral dirges has also been an all-female affair (Nketia, 1955, p. 16). Recreational or popular bands that have been organized as exclusive women bands include the Fante Adenkum (Anning, 1965, p. 64), and Adzewa and the Asante . There also were the mixed groups such as Asante Adowa, Fante Ahyewa and Apatampa, Ewe

such as Asante Adowa , Fante Ahyewa and Apatampa , Ewe 4 . In Northern Ghana,

4 . In Northern Ghana, there is a twirling dance for Dagomba men called takai and one for

twirling dance for Dagomba men called takai and one for Agbadza and 5 (Nketia, 1963, p.

Agbadza and 5 (Nketia, 1963, p. 71; Mensah, 1971, p. 22; Opoku, 1970, pp. 35-36). Essandoh (1998) concludes that in all of these ensembles, women sing, dance, and play their roles were all socially approved (p. 104). Sasu (2006) validating these assertions advance that:





A pair of bottled-shaped drums, played by the lead drummer.

Boat-shaped, hand-held iron idiophone.

Female musical type found in Akuapem Mamfe.

Female musical type of the people in the Volta Region in Ghana.



Even in the musical types/forms which both men and women perform, women are usually the singers and dancers. Also, in some dance ensembles like of the Ashantis and Adzewa and Apatampa of the Fantis which are traditionally performed by women, the musical instruments are usually played by men. (p. 7)

the musical in struments are usually pl ayed by men. (p. 7) Women in the Performance

Women in the Performance and Composition of Popular Music In the Popular musical genre it is evident that lot of women have excelled as indicated earlier by Amuah (2012) in his submission. December edition of People and Places (P&P, 1986), Arts and Entertainment page extracts this statement: “The gospel music industry has yet another fresh artiste added to its long list of new entrants. Increasing the percentage of female gospel artiste to about 80% comes Mrs. Gifty Agyemang Prempeh…” (p. 4). In affirmation of this statement Essandoh (1998) informs that:

Regardless of the exactitude of the figure 80%, of the gospel-highlife recording scene of the late 1990s is undoubtedly dominated by women as soloists, duets, and trios. To put it differently, the most visible faces and the most audible voices in the contemporary gospel-highlife arena are women. Naana Gyamfi, Juliana Acheampong, Diana Hopson, Helena Rabbles, Mary Ghansah-Newman, Stella Dugan, Naana Frimpong, Army Newman, Georgina Juliet Antwi, Naana and Dan, Tagoe Sisters, Suzy and Matt, Gertie and Friends, and Daughters of Glorious Jesus are all household names from the gospel-highlife establishment. (p. 98)

In the church, especially in the Methodist Churches, women played pivotal roles. Essandoh (1998) once again declares that Christianity, specifically Methodism, provided a grand avenue for the exposition of female musical talent by permitting the development of the Ebibindwom which has mostly been led by elderly female members of the congregation (Turkson, 1972, p. 139). He also indicated that the Singing Bands 6 were constituted almost entirely by women. The Singing Bands sung anthems of a different kind, native anthems, one might call them, were in the vernacular (p. 99).

Women in Art Music (Theory and Composition) Amuah (2012) suggests four generations of choral music composition. The prominent composers among each generation are as follows: The first generation consists of Ephraim Amu, Isaac Daniel Riverson, and their contemporaries. The second generation comprises J. H. Kwabena Nketia, Atta Annan Mensah, AldophusAto Turkson and their contemporaries, while the third generation includes Kenn Kafui, George W. K. Dor and contemporaries. The fourth generation has Samuel Asare Bediako, Newlove Annan and their contemporaries (Amuah, 2012, p. 3). From the full list of the generational map, not a single woman has been listed as a composer in any of the generations. In the field of Art music in general, few women have made impact but have made no contribution to the field of composition. Okwan (2013) informs that “we have some women who have also ventured into music education and are out there performing marvelously” (p. 56). She concludes by documenting very brief profiles on some of them. (1) Dinah Reindolf: She is the first female Director and successor to Philip Gbeho7. She directes the orchestra from 1972 to 1984 (a period of twelve years). She has a strong attachment to Ghanaian choral works, in part due to the training she has in choral conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in the United Kingdom (Dortey & Arhine, 2010). (2) Grace Adjei: She is in charge of voice as an instrument and helps to shape the tone quality of the

6 An indigenous version of the church choirs which led the congregation in hymns, and also rendered the anthems that were extracted from the western classical repertoire.

7 He was the second director of the National Symphony Orchestra. He took over after Robert Kwami’s death.



instrument of many students trained in the National Academy of Music which is now the Music Department of the University of Education, Winneba. (3) Mary Dzansi Mc Palm: She is a beacon of hope for many females in the area of music. As a Professor of music, she continues to nurture many students at the University of Education, Winneba. She is one of the few who rub shoulders with males in the academic enterprise; she is currently the Dean of the School of Creative Arts. (4) Augusta Addo: She is an up and doing music educator currently lecturing at the University of Education, Winneba. A prolific alto singer who keeps audience spell bound with her solo performance. She is indeed an inspiration to many students in the field of music. (5) Theodora Entsua-Mensah: She is one of the few females who demonstrate great competence in the playing of the keyboard at the University and in public performances. She is academically excellent and versatile in the various aspects of music. She has melodious voice. She is still making it great in real life situation at the Methodist University College as lecturer. (6) Comfort Akosah: She is another prolific singer who has a captivating soprano voice. She is currently the Vice Principal of the Saint Louis College of Education, Kumasi and has for several years served as the Director of Music for the Association of Methodist Church Choirs in Ghana8. (7) Salome Odeng: She is a very quiet and unassuming at post as music educator and a delight to watch at the soprano saxophone. She is a Music and Dance tutor at Abetifi Presbyterian College of Education, Kwawu. (8) Gladys Offei: She is a daughter of a musician who shows immense proficiency at the keyboard. Inspired early to be in music by her father, she has never looked back. She is now the Music and Dance tutor at the Presbyterian Women’s College of Education, Agogo, Asante-Akyem. Gladys also handles a lot of the choirs in the Presbyterian Church and has been adjudicating in several music competitions. (9) Elizabeth Sasu: She is very good at traditional music and has a great flare for singing. She also continues to encourage many as a music educator and a positive role model. Currently, she is the headmistress of St Francis Senior High Technical School Akim Oda. (10) Margaret Ferguson: She has been one of the few females who have shown great competence in singing. Her trilling voice takes her to several places. She is academically sound in the various dimensions of music. She currently resides in United Kingdom and performs solo works of great composers. After a careful examination of the brief profiles of a few women in the field of Art music, there is the evident that none is into theory and composition sector. Sasu (2006) informs that:

In art music, few women have come up to national recognition. Although there are now some women composers of choral music, very little is known about them. Most of the choral music groups are directed by men who do not feel comfortable to teach and conduct music composed by women. (p. 7)

The author argues that none of these has any choral works. Sasu would have mentioned titles of their

works. It could be true that they made an attempt at choral composition but the author seemingly do not agree

that any of them is a habitual choral music composer like men do. The attempt they have made at composition

might be at the time they were completing either their Diploma programme or Bachelor of Education

programme, which obliged them to compose as a requirement in partial fulfillment of the course of study.

8 A Union of all Methodist Church choirs in Ghana.



Responses From Interviewees

In all, fifteen musicians were sampled for interviews, five from each musical genre; traditional, art and popular. Interviews conducted gave the following responses.

Traditional Musicians Women in the performance and composition of traditional music indicated that they have learned informally to sing from their mothers from an early stage in their lives, and since they did not experience any formal education, there was no way possible for them to compose by “pen and paper”. This is confirmed by Mokwunyei (1998) as:

Children get involved in various forms of musical experiences at an early stage in Ghana as in other parts of Africa. In fact, music making and learning begin right from birth, where women as mothers, are the main agents and facilitators. (p.


Popular Musicians Women in popular music gave similar responses. They indicated that they had little formal music education at the basic and secondary schools which did not equip them with the necessary skills and competence to put music on paper. They therefore delighted to learn by rote, so when the opportunity came for their involvement in singing and performing on other instruments with church bands, they made that a golden opportunity to end their compositional and performance skills there, since they felt they have already gained popularity in the church. (Makore, 2004, & Collins, 1991) confirm as “most of the women in the popular music like their counterparts in Zimbabwe are enjoying some popularity because their works are based on the Christian faith and the ‘Goodness of God’” (2003, p. 8).

Art Musicians The author had the opportunity to interview five from among the ten women art musicians whose brief profiles have been provided in the preceding paragraphs. The responses which were varied, and yet boil down to the same point indicate that none of them practices theory and the art of music composition. Only three out of the eight identified women in the academia are performers, either as voice soloist or pianists. Three out of the eight teach in the universities, three teach in the Colleges of Education and two are heads of institutions in the Senior High Schools. Firstly, it has been a worry, why a single female music scholar cannot be identified among the male theorist/composer counterparts. The responses from the interviews conducted to ascertain the fact indicate that after their diploma in music education at Winneba, they are posted to the basic schools to teach. Unfortunately, music has been clustered with a number of subjects and tagged Cultural studies, Music and Dance and Creative Arts. The course content is such that you cannot teach theory and composition. There is no way they could practice the theory and compositional techniques acquired during their formal school days. This therefore discourages them from involving themselves in the art of composing. The author argues that women could still compose irrespective of the course content of what they teach. This argument stems from the fact that they have already been equipped with the rudiments for composition and they do not need to learn any compositional techniques from what they teach at the basic level. More so, their male counterparts face the same challenge in their schools though.



Secondly, when one is posted to the Colleges of Education the content of the curriculum is tilted towards teaching of African Music and Dance and the focus is just to help students pass their examinations and to go out and impart what the teacher has taught them. Becoming a theorist or a composer cannot be achieved at the level. At the Senior High School where one can practice alongside teaching, the work load is very huge and does not permit that. The author still argues that women could still have composed in the vein of African Music, so the excuse that they teach African Music in the Colleges of Education does not “hold water”. At another instance, respondents indicated that some people are born teachers, others are born theorists and composers. So they feel women are born to teach so that they could bring up their children in the best way and not to seriously learn about theories of music and to compose which will always take their time and deprive them from taking good care of their children. Other respondents also said they learn to play keyboard and learn to sing at an early age from their parents, so they grow up with those skills. All along they seem to be polishing what they have been taught at home and that is why they are stuck with performances. The last respondent indicated that before one calls him/her self a composer or a theorist, he/she must be skillful and naturally talented in the art. The person must be brilliant and must have adequate time to devote to the art. Obviously, women like and love to perform for admiration. They do not have the time to learn conventions towards writing compositions, and that is why they have restricted their musical activities to teaching and performing. The respondents finally indicated they are naturally not comfortable with music theory and composition because it is a difficult area.


The practice of music with regard to performance and composition has been patronized by women from the traditional epoch. A lot of women have also shown interest in the popular musical genre. Though few women have excelled in the field of art music, they are confined to performing, either on the keyboard or singing. The investigation conducted has shown that no single woman can be seen with serious participation in Music Theory and Composition, just as Mathematics, Physics etc. are areas which scare most people, especially women. It has been observed from the responses offered by the women interviewees that, women are palpably teachers and performers. The time to care for their children does not suffice committing part of it into learning and practicing theory and composition. The practice of theory and composition is rather difficult and therefore makes it irritating for them to engage themselves in.


It is recommended that women should be nurtured through the practice of theory and composition from an early age since those who find themselves in performance declare that they have loved to perform because they inherited performance from their parents at an early age. In the educational set up, teaching of music and for that matter theory and composition must be done at an early stage. Amuah (2012) confirms this as he says:

The making of a brilliant composer therefore begins at an early age. An advancement and experience therefore is sought in formal music institutions. It is therefore anticipated that a composer will be exposed to his traditional music at an early age. (p. 203)

Women in popular music who had informal music education and have experienced zero formal music education should be tutored to be able to compose simple melodies and its accompanying harmonization. The



curriculum of the Ghana Education Service (GES) should be enriched in all levels; Junior High, Senior High and the Colleges of Education to incorporate theory and composition so that musical behaviour of products from these institutions will depict having gone through a rigorous course of study in all inclusive music learning. This will not only produce better music personnel but also help teachers to learn theory and the art of composition which will put women at par with men when it comes to Music Theory and Composition.


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women in the develo pment of popular music in Ghan a. (Unpublished M. Phil Thesis, University
women in the develo pment of popular music in Ghan a. (Unpublished M. Phil Thesis, University



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Journal of Literature and Art Studies, ISSN 2159-5836 November 2013, Vol. 3, No. 11, 729-737



A Conversation About the Sacred in Art, From Kandinsky to the Present

Michelle Rae Lucchesi

Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, United States

The relationship between art and spiritual are explored by reviewing the published conversation, beginning with

Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art, then viewing highlights from the classic text Art, Creativity and the Sacred

and ending with excerpts from the journal Image. The ways in which art is similar to religion are discussed.

Pertinent concepts are explored, with awareness of shifting definitions and application of these concepts. This

conversation seems to present a consensus that there are aspects of art that overlap with the spiritual or religious.

There is not, however, consensus on what these aspects are or their significance to society, as perspectives and

understanding continue to change with growing complexities and multiple viewpoints within this interdisciplinary

field. It does seem to bring into question the distinction between the spiritual and the secular.

Keywords: art, religion, sacred, secular


For hundreds of years, throughout the Western world, the production of art was sponsored and controlled by the Holy Catholic Church for the use of Biblical storytelling for the illiterate masses and as visual documentation of church leadership. For these many years essentially all fine art focused on religious subject matter. The production of “secular art” began gradually during and after the Renaissance. After the Reformation, with a rise in the utilitarianism of Protestantism, over time, art was largely handed over to the secular world, save the traditional pieces still belonging to the Catholic Church. The idea however that art was ever truly secular has been challenged by many artists, historians, and theologians. While there may have been less of a focus on overtly religious content and subject matter in the past couple hundred years, early in the 20th century, artist and theologians began to document the discussion about the sacred and spiritual in the very nature of art. This conversation has been complicated by distinction of the religious from the spiritual or sacred. The concepts of art, religion, spiritual and sacred are interwoven throughout this ongoing conversation with unclear and evolving language as the scholars and participants have worked out the meanings and relationships of the nature and function of these two vital aspects of every culture. This paper will begin the review by looking at the apparent first articulation of the modern conversation in the work of Wassily Kandinsky (1911). Then the paper will review some of the key thoughts on this interdisciplinary area as contained in a classic text, Art

Michelle Rae Lucchesi, master, Humanities Department, Central Michigan University.


Creativity and the Sacred (Apostolos-Capodona, 1984). Then the paper will examine the ongoing conversation as seen in a recent issue of journal addressing this topic, Image (2012).