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GENDER NARRATIVES IN

ANTHONY DOERR’S ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE:


WOMEN IN AN AMERICAN WAR LITERATURE

Written by : Egie Danarko


First Advisor : Dr. Widyastuti Purbani, M.A.
Second Advisor : Nandy Intan Kurnia, M. Hum.

English Literature Study Program


Faculty of Languages and Arts
Yogyakarta State University

egiedanarko@yahoo.com

Abstract

This research is aimed to prove and explain how (1) female subordination
and (2) male domination in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See are
narrated by identifying the novel’s gender narratives. The theory of
poststructuralist narratology and feminist criticism on gender and war are
employed to analyze the problem.
It is a qualitative research. It employed textual analysis which focused on
the narrative of the text. The main source of data was Doerr’s All the Light We
Cannot See. The data were in the forms of words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and
paragraphs depicting or implying gender narratives. The researcher used five steps
in analyzing the data. The data were gathered from reading and re-reading the
text, identifying those which embody gender narratives, categorizing them based
on the research’s objectives, comparing them to the analytical constructs, and
lastly interpreting them by using feminist narratology. The researcher used
triangulation and peer debriefing to obtain trustworthiness.
The results show that female subordination and male domination are found
in the narratives of gender. Females are narrated as figures embodying
vulnerability, fear, irrationality, emotional instability and submissive
characteristic. Meanwhile, males are narrated as figures embodying power,
bravery, rationality, intellectuality and heroic behavior. Those qualities embody
the polarized gender narratives of men and women that endorse a patriarchal order
and hierarchy. Females are seen as inferiors from the beginning of their gender
creation. The construction of this dualistic gender shows the binary thought of
patriarchal society. These findings conclude that gender subordination is
embedded in the novel.

Key word: narratives, poststructuralist narratology, gender, feminism, war,


American literature

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INTRODUCTION in the creation of roles of the sexes.


This creation of roles is the initiation
Conflict in the name of
of patriarchal embodiment which
sexual identity is one of many
then constructs the ideology of
conflicts defining the history of
patriarchy.
human. The world consists of two
Patriarchy is closely related
sexes. Yet, the relationship among
to male domination and female
them is not always smooth. Each of
subordination. These domination and
them prejudges each other. This
subordination can be found in many
makes a society can have so many
forms. The continuous narrations
judgments or stories regarding them
from generation to generation which
because a society is a collection of
submit to the traditionalist
people. However, the dominant
convention of patriarchal ideology
actors always have more power to
have cultured the norms. Females are
define the stories.
likely to be sealed into these norms.
Females are commonly
Their spirit of independency is killed
subordinated in these stories because
by the notion of preservation of
of the power gap. Females are
values. Lerner (1987:6) argues that if
bounded in the story of “women”.
patriarchy is a system caused by
This story is the construction of their
historical process, then it can be
gender. The notion of “women”,
changed by historical process too.
then, is culturally constructed.
The problem is actually about
Meanwhile, gender is actually
narratives. The male centered
dynamic since it differs from culture
narrative or androcentrism as a result
to culture. . Inferring to Teresa de
of patriarchy is the culprit of
Lauretis’ definition of gender, gender
domination and subordination.
refers to the social construction of
Counterbalancing the established
what male and female are (Lieske in
narratives with the ones that portray
Wallace, 2009:252). However, the
females fairly is certainly needed.
rigid construction of females as
Simone de Beauvoir’s call that says
“women” in the society has resulted
“One is not born, but rather becomes These narrations of females in war
a woman”, summarized by Postal in are important to challenge the
Wallace (2009: 57) as the liberation historical process of generalization
of women from any determinant on and stereotyping. The narrations of
what defines women in society is female subordination and male
necessary to educate a society on domination are managed to be
issues regarding females’ proved and explained under this
independency. research. The theory of
Literature can act as a poststructuralist narratology and
curative text to the problem of feminist criticism on gender and war
patriarchy. However, war literature is are employed for those purposes.
susceptible to this problem. It is
caused by the fact that war literature FEMINIST CRITICISM ON
exploits war in making its story. War GENDER AND WAR
is a significant constructor of Feminism arises as
patriarchy. Thus, the story in war dissatisfaction to patriarchal culture
literature is prone to embody and acts as a reminder to people
patriarchy as well.. The creation of regarding the problem of patriarchy.
gender in war literature can be so It is done in order to improve the
patriarchal in nature. condition of women so that they can
Anthony Doerr’s All the Light get what they deserve. In the
We Cannot See is an example of war narrative discourse, feminist
literature that is going to be analyzed narratology works for this problem.
in this research. It is an American It tries to criticize the available
literary artwork about World War II. narrations of females or women as
War is always associated to male well as generates fair narratives
field. Thus, females are commonly about them.
leaved from the discourse. In this 1. Gender
research, the gender narratives in the The current gender
mentioned novel are scrutinized in establishment is in the culture of
demands of equal gender narratives. patriarchal tradition. Gender is

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perceived as socially constructed by seed of generalization and


society. Yet, this definition is stereotyping of gender in society.
actually problematic since it does not Moreover, people are always
give space to individual autonomy. habituated with patriarchal tradition.
It is true that the social Therefore, their perspectives of
embodiment of women has endorsed gender are more likely to be
cultural attachment to females. patriarchal too.
However, it does not mean this Aside from that explanation,
construction should be taken for gender is also narrated. It is proved
granted. This perspective of cultural by the creation of those
attachment will only dismiss generalizations or stereotypes
individual creation. This idea is in regarding gender. Thus, to cut the
line with a notion that states gender vicious cycle of the problem means
is actually performed (Butler, 1990: to cut the misleading narratives. This
34). If ones perceive gender as researched is aimed to do so.
having performative qualities, then, 2. War
they will not be bounded by the War is still assumed as the
continual dictation of patriarchal field of males. In fact, it is not. War
values. is sadly rarely addressed in
This idea is important feminism. This gesture, then,
because, according to the researcher, perpetuates the polarization and
the problem is there is no exact and gendering of war. The consequence
same point of departure in thinking is fatal.
to signify in mind and direct every The traditional paradigm
individual’s mind when somebody often posts war as merely a physical
refers to what gender is. This makes war. Yet, this narrow definition
ones will always assume when they affects a lot in the creation of gender
address gender. This idea also can be in society. The females’ gender is,
used to any notion which is doomed then, attached to its biological
as socially constructed. This deterministic justification. Power gap
assumption made by the people is the between males and females are
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created because of this assumption. branch of method in this textual


Male domination and female mode of study. Vanderstoep and
subordination cannot be evaded. Johnston (2009: 213) explain that
The binary opposition of narrative analysis focuses the
males and females which reflects the analysis on how a story is told and
superiority and inferiority of them how it functions as a constructive
continues into the creation of binary material to society.
gender. The consequences are The data were taken from
misleading. Women are perceived as Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
creatures embodying peace and The novel was published in 2014 by
tenderness. Meanwhile, men are Fouth Estate. It has 178 chapters and
perceived as creatures embodying 544 pages. The type of data acquired
conflict and violence. This is caused was in the form of words, phrases,
by defining war simplistically. There clauses, sentences, as well as
are almost no or few heroines in paragraphs which embody the story.
society because of this. The data were only those which
depicting or implying gender
RESEARCH METHOD narratives.
This research is qualitative. To obtain the data for this
Logical approach was used as research, there were at least four
guidance in conducting the research. fundamental steps. Those steps were
This was based on Goertz and reading, taking notes, categorizing,
Mahoney’s definition on qualitative and interpreting the data. The
research as being determined by research instrument of this research
logic (2012: 2). Textual analysis was was the researcher himself.
specifically employed under this Narrative analysis was used
research. According to Vanderstoep to analyze the data from this
and Johnston (2009: 210), textual research. Literature is closely
analysis is an analysis which connected with narratology. Herman
identifies and interprets signs. He and Vervaeck (2005: 109) assert that
also regards narrative analysis as a the methodology of postmodern
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narrative analysis is dependent on the 4. The fourth was examining those


researcher’s thoughts in criticizing categorized data by comparing
the text. This was caused by the fact them to major theoretical
that the study of postmodern or narratives of feminism.
postructuralist narrative is no longer 5. The fifth was interpreting those
centralized to the study of structure. comparisons by relating them to
It tends to emphasize the contextual feminist narratology on how
study of text which relates to many women should be represented.
theoretical narrative discourses. In this research, the
Thus, the data analysis on this researcher employed analytical
research started from the researcher’s constructs in order to examine the
point of view on feminist collected data logically. The
narratology. Feminism was used as researcher also used Cresswell’s
the central point of guidance in theory of peer debriefing and
analyzing the text or the data. triangulation to check the validity.
There were at least five steps
in analyzing the data under this FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
research. The steps are as follow; This chapter consists of three
1. The first was reading the novel of main parts. The two parts are the
Doerr, All the Light We Cannot answers of the questions in this
See, as part of collecting the data. research regarding the gender
2. The second was identifying narratives in Anthony Doerr’s All the
which text (words, phrases, Light We Cannot See. The last part is
clauses, sentences, and the synthesized framework of binary
paragraphs) belongs to the gender construction attained from the
narratives of gender in the novel. findings. The first part of this chapter
3. The third was categorizing those discusses how females in Doerr’s All
identified data into thematic the Light We Cannot See are being
based in accordance with the subordinated through the
objectives of this research. construction of their gender. The
second part of this chapter discusses
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how contrastively theengulfing thin feet. On the above statements, Marie


domination of males is narrated also Laure’ father is depicted as carrying her
through the construction of their when they search for protection during
gender. Meanwhile, the last part the invasion. Her father treats her very
shows the map of the gender gently. He sees her as a merely fragile
narratives found in the novel and child who knows nothing. Yet, her head is
how they create the phenomena of full of questions regarding the chaotic
binary gender in society. Gender world they are in. He, then, inspects his
narratives are key elements to the daughter feet if it gets hurt.
establishment of a patriarchal b. Fear
society. Female subordination and Females are subordinated in the
male domination are usually narration of fear. An example below
practiced as the manifestation of shows the excessive fear of Frau
gender hierarchy. Elena in welcoming the arrival of a
1. The Narrations of Female corporal in their house. Meanwhile,
Subordination Werner is depicted as a calm
a. Vulnerability individual in responding to the call.
Anthony Doerr in his All the Light Frau Elena folds her hands over
her apron, and Werner can see
We Cannot See portrays a number of
she has done so to keep them
narrations which depicts the fragility from shaking. “Werner,” she
of women. These narrations were calls in a slow, dreamlike voice,
found sporadically. An example of without taking her eyes from the
corporal. “This man says he has a
the narrations is this phrase below. wireless in need of—” (Doerr,
He pulls off her stockings to 2014: 80)
inspect her heels. In his hands, c. Irrationality and Emotional
her feet are as light as birds.
(Doerr, 2014: 88) Instability
This narration below shows Marie
That statement above shows how
Laure’s attachment to her father as
fragile a female body is by
well as her persistent irrationality.
comparing the feet of a girl with the
lightness of birds. Birds are generally
creatures with very light body and
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A woman prays in a Norman uncle said that they would need to


accent; someone shares pâté; watch out for looters, and the air
everything smells of rain. No stirs with phantom blurs and
Stukas swoop over them, machine rustles, and Marie- Laure
guns blazing. No one in the truck imagines charging past the
has even seen a German. For half bathroom into the cobwebbed
the morning, Marie-Laure tries sewing room here on the third
to convince herself that the floor and hurling herself out the
previous days have been some window. Boots in the hall. The
elaborate test concocted by her slide of a dish across the floor as it
father, that the truck is moving is kicked. A fireman, a neighbor,
not away from Paris but toward some German soldier hunting
it, that tonight they’ll return food? A rescuer would be calling
home. (Doerr, 2014: 117) for survivors, ma chérie. You have
d. Submission to move. (Doerr, 2014: 303)
This passage below narrates the The passage shows the
submission of Marie Laure’s subordination of Marie Laure’s
reasoning to his father. capability to think and reason. The
In her head, her father reasons: narration of her father’s thoughts
The gate closed before the door,
not after. Which means, whoever and voices dismisses Marie
it is, he closed the gate first, then Laure’s self reasoning. Marie
pulled the door shut. He’s inside.
All the hairs on the back of her Laure is narrated as a girl who is
neck stand up. Etienne knows he unable to think by herself. She is
would have triggered the bell,
Marie. Etienne would be calling very reliant to the thoughts of her
for you already. Boots in the
father.
foyer. Fragments of dishes
crunching underfoot. It is not 2. The Narrations of Male
Etienne. The distress is so acute, it
Domination
is almost unbearable. She tries to
settle her mind, tries to focus on a. Power
an image of a candle flame This passage below is an example
burning at the center of her rib
cage, a snail drawn up into the of narrations of power owned by the
coils of its shell, but her heart German’s soldiers in the novel.
bangs in her chest and pulses of
fear cycle up her spine, and she is The Germans, a gardener claims,
suddenly uncertain whether a have sixty thousand troop gliders;
sighted person in the foyer can they can march for days without
look up the curves of the stairwell eating; they impregnate every
and see all the way to the third schoolgirl they meet. A woman
floor. She remembers her great- behind the ticket counter says the
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Germans carry fog pills and This paragraph shows the bravery
wear rocket belts; their
of Werner and the Austrians in
uniforms, she whispers, are
made of a special cloth stronger facing the allies. Both of them are
than steel. (Doerr, 2014: 59)
depicted as having bravery to fight
The passage tells how powerful their enemy. They are also depicted
German soldiers are. They are as having no fear to die.
depicted as having capacity to c. Rationality and Intellectuality
march for days even without eating. The most crystal clear narration of
This narration shows all of those male’s rationality and intellectuality
three qualities mentioned previously is from Werner. This paragraph
namely strength, toughness and below may give an initial example of
durability exist in males. his intellectuality even as a kid.
b. Bravery Werner is eight years old and
ferreting about in the refuse
This narration below is an
behind a storage shed when he
example of bravery embedded in the discovers what looks like a large
male figures. It is the narration of spool of thread. It consists of a
wire-wrapped cylinder
Werner and other soldiers during the sandwiched between two discs
time of which they are having a of pinewood. Three frayed
electrical leads sprout from the
frontal attack in the war. top. One has a small earphone
dangling from its end. Jutta, six
Werner can hear the Austrians
years old, with a round face and a
two floors up scrambling, mashed cumulus of white hair,
reloading, and the receding crouches beside her brother.
screams of both shells as they “What is that?” “I think,” Werner
hurtle above the ocean, already says, feeling as though some
two or three miles away. One of cupboard in the sky has just
the soldiers, he realizes, is opened, “we just found a radio.”
(Doerr, 2014: 32)
singing. Or maybe it is more
than one. Maybe they are all It is told above that Werner is still
singing. Eight Luftwaffe men,
eight years old. However, he is
none of whom will survive the
hour, singing a love song to their narrated as observant and clever in
queen. (Doerr, 2014: 8) analyzing electronic components. He
is narrated as successfully identifying
the components that belong to the
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internal organs ofa radio. The paragraph tells Werner’s


Meanwhile, Jutta as somebody two imagination after he has found out
years younger than him has no idea the location of the assumed terrorist
about what they have found out. radio. This job to locate the radio is
Both of them do not have a long gap the mission of Werner and his team.
in age. Yet, the brilliance of Werner By revealing the transmitter or radio,
is obvious in the passage. His he will be praised for completing his
brilliance is narrated continuously mission successfully. However,
later on in the story. Werner does not reveal the location
d. Heroism of the radio. He prefers to keep silent
The narrations on the following and save the information for himself.
paragraphs are the example of how
male heroism is so strong in 3. The Framework of Binary
embodying the story of the novel. An Gender Construction Attained
example of the narrations can be seen from the Gender Narratives in
below. Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot
The morning fog is so dense that See
he cannot see the roofline. He
The framework shows that
entertains pipe dreams: the
Frenchman will invite him in. females are narrated as figures
They’ll drink coffee, discuss his
embodying vulnerability, fear,
long-ago broadcasts. Maybe
they’ll investigate some important irrationality, emotional instability
empirical problem that has been
and submissive characteristic.
troubling him for years. Maybe
he’ll show Werner the Meanwhile, males are narrated as
transmitter. Laughable. If
figures embodying power, bravery,
Werner rings the bell, the old
man will assume he’s being rationality, intellectuality and heroic
arrested as a terrorist. That he
behavior.
might be shot where he stands.
The antenna on the chimney in It was found out that the
itself is cause for execution.
constructed gender exist in the text is
Werner could bang on the door,
march the old man away. He in binary. Those narratives regarding
would be a hero. (Doerr, 2014:
males and females above were found
411)
as the components which construct
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the binary gender. The discovery of gender in Doerr’ All the Light We
this binary gender is the proof of a Cannot See is a result of a patriarchal
patriarchal gender’s manifestation in society which is influenced by the
society. It reflects patriarchy because conventional values about war.
the male’s gender is superior
compared to the female’s gender. CONCLUSION
The superiority is indicated through The researcher found that the
the construction of superior qualities constructed gender in Doerr’s All the
that constitute the male’s gender. Light We Cannot See is patriarchal
Doerr narrates this construction based. This is proved by the
consciously or unconsciously narratives of gender embedded in it.
through his characters. The Through those gender narratives,
embodiment of the characters’ female’s and male’s gender are
gender reflects the common or constructed. Females are found to be
established presumption or subordinated through the
stereotype of binary gender in construction of binary gender in the
society. This idea is shown through novel. Meanwhile, males are found
the narration of his characters in the to be top rated through it. This
context and setting of war. War dualism of gender reflects the
shapes how people behave and construction of opposite of qualities
response to it. Goldstein (2005: 403) between those males and females in
extends that war impacts on people’s the novel.
everyday life, not to mention gender, The narratives of the gender can
in significant ways. It means the be identified from how characters are
construction of gender is affected by built. These characters embody
the initiation of war. The conceptual domination and subordination to
meaning of war constructs the female viewed from feminist
people’ thought. Thus, the meaning narratology. The narrations of female
of war is needed to be addressed. The subordination are depicted by the
concluding remark from this research creation of female figures as figures
is, then, the embodiment of binary which embody vulnerability, fear,
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irrationality and emotional instability narratives that endorse a patriarchal


as well as submissive behavior. On order and hierarchy by revealing the
the contrary, the narrations of male process and creation of gender
domination are depicted by the subordination. The construction of
creation of male figures as figures this dualistic gender reflects the
which embody power, bravery, binary thought of patriarchal society.
rationality and intellectuality as well Furthermore, this research may also
as heroic behavior. give a new reading on gender.
These attached qualities are the Without the approachdeveloped
pattern which constructs the notion under this research that focuses on
of men and women in Doerr’s All the gender narratives, this conclusion
Light We Cannot See. This pattern would possibly never be gained.
may also possibly be found in Contextually, this research also
society. Men and women are not shows that a modern American war

biological distinguishers rather both literature is unexceptionally also prone


to patriarchal ideology. This research
of them are the cultural constructs of
has uncovered an example of how
gender. This creation of binary
American war literature is still in
gender which is attached or
question regarding its power to bring
inseparable to the sexes is the source
social changes. Literature of war should
of patriarchal embodiment in society. essentially have a tangible effect to the
It continually becomes the modes to problem of wars which are still
sustain patriarchal values and happening today. However, the
ideology in society. researcher also does not deny that it is
Those phenomena above are possible that the story is intended to be
started from narratives. Thus, they this way to probably test the sensitivity

can also be changed through of the readers about feminism and its
progress. Gender subordination was
narratives. It is important to present
found to be a crucial problem under this
the counter narratives in order to
research. Feminism and war will be
prevent those narratives to become
likely to be still a domain which is
myths in society. This research has
lucrative for research purposes.
uncovered the polarized gender
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REFERENCES
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York: Routledge.
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We Cannot See. London:
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Goertz, Gary. & James Mahoney.
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Goldstein, Joshua S. 2005. Gender
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Herman, Luc. & Bart Vervaeck.
2005. Handbook of Narrative
Analysis. Lincoln and London:
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Lerner, Gerda. 1987. The Creation of
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Lieske, Pam. 2009. “Gender,” in
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Encyclopedia of Feminist
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Vanderstoep, Scott W. & Dierdre D.
Johnston. 2009. Research
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Qualitative Approaches. New
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