Writing Samples for Katerina Hirschfeld
Dismantling Gendered Dichotomies to Reclaim Female Histories within Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie and Monique Mojica’s Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots
According to Judith Butler, gender is a performance that is “constrained by historical conventions” (Butler, 520). “To be a woman”, Butler explains, is to “induce the body…to conform to a historical idea of ‘woman’”” (521). The “historical idea” of female identity dictates not only female appearance but acceptable behaviour as well. The female role is governed according to gendered dichotomies. Such dichotomies, “discrete and binary categories of men and women” (Butler, 521), are deeply engrained in Canadian culture. As Trinh T. Minh-ha explains, the realm of “subjectivity understood as sentimental, personal, and individual” (Minh-ha, 416) is deemed the woman’s realm. Man, on the opposite side of the binary, claims “objective, universal, societal knowledge” (416-417). Women, then, are knowledgeable in “matters of the heart” (417), but not of the mind.
But women are not the only marginalized community that is relegated to a subordinate position within these dichotomies. Anyone who does not identify as a white male is demoted to the less knowledgeable, less authoritative realm that consists of stereotypically feminine traits. Trin T. Minh-ha explains that “hegemony works at leveling out differences and standardizing contexts” according to the dominant culture. The realm of the female, then, is inexorably linked with the “nonwhite” “other of the West” (Minh-ha, 417). In line with these longstanding binaries, women and Indigenous peoples – “the other of man” and “the other of the West” (417), respectively – become the “primitive” (417) Other in historical dialogues. “Primitive” (417), connotes “uncivilized, [and] unintelligent” (Oxford English Dictionary). Both female and Indigenous populations, with their presumed “primitive mentality” (417), are thereby seen as “enem[ies] of intellect” (417). Silencing the “primitive” is then justifiable; anything they have to say lacks the appropriate knowledge that the dominant hegemonic group – the white male – can put forward. So, there is no need to allow them to speak when someone better can speak for them.
Such gendered and racial logic shapes history. The white male’s perspective frequently dictates historical accounts. As a consequence, socially marginalized groups are absent in the canon of Canadian history. Contemporary adaptations, however, offer the opportunity to bring the marginalized voices of women and Indigenous peoples “to the ‘center’” of history (Bordo, 41). Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie and Monique Mojica’s Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots resurface “the discarded, the taboo” female voice (Atwood, 1509). Women in both Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots by Monique Mojica and The Journals of Susanna Moodie by Margaret Atwood challenge and dismantle gendered dichotomies. But, while Susanna Moodie achieves an authoritative voice by transcending her physical self, the women in Princess Pocahontas insert their female voices within Canadian history by reclaiming their bodies.
Gendered dichotomies are represented by a variety of symbols. Mind and body dualism, as Susan Bordo explains, is one such set of symbols that represents “Western ideologies of gender” (Bordo, 3). With respect to this duality, man is the mind: “the highest, the noblest, the closest to God” (5). Women, on the other hand, are “cast in the role of the body” (5), “dumbly respond[ing] to impressions, emotions, [and] passions” (11). Man, as the mind, is rational and objective. Women’s enemy, as “the other of man”, is therefore the intellect (Min-ha, 417). These gendered “categories” (Butler, 521) are exclusive from one another, enforcing dualities that are yet to be reconciled. While men inhabit “the limitless horizon” (Minh-ha, 417) of the intellect, women are confined to their personal bodily experiences. Her knowledge as “sentimental, personal, and individual” (416), is altogether unfit as the voice of history.
Bordo argues that the mind and body dichotomy is the most prominent symbol of the gender binary. The mind and body are discrete, exclusive ends of the binary, with other symbols falling in line along either end of this longstanding dichotomy. Such symbols are prevalent in literature to reinforce male and female behaviour in relation to this binary. Stereotypical “male activity and female passivity” is enforced through “an analogy with animals and plants” (Bordo, 12). The woman is consigned to the body in the mind and body dichotomy, but that does not mean she has bodily agency. “Men correspond to animals” (12) with presumably more agency and autonomy than their female counterparts. Women, then, “correspond to plants” (12); they are “passive, vegetative, primitive matter” (12). The female’s identity as “primitive” (Minh-ha, 417) undeniably ties their subordinate position in the gendered binary to marginalized races as well. All “nonwhite[s]”, then, are relegated to the same subordinated female realm that women face in the male/female, mind/body, plant/animal dichotomy.
It is not surprising, then, that both female and Indigenous voices are largely absent as a historical source. History, with an overwhelmingly male authorship, “conflate[s] the universal with the masculine” (Butler, 527). Although these historical accounts cannot be rewritten, they can be challenged. Contemporary adaptations offer the opportunity for women to retell history under their terms. The Journals of Susanna Moodie, by Margaret Atwood, depicts Susanna Moodie’s developing identity as she breaks from rigid Victorian conventions of femininity. As Diana M. A. Relke explains, though, there is a tendency to read Atwood’s work as solely about reconciling her nationality and not gendered identity. Relke, in her work “Double Voice, Single Vision: A Feminist Reading of Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie”, claims that Atwood’s poetry collection is replete with references to doubleness that highlight Atwood’s and Moodie’s identities as both a woman and a poet. Moodie begins her journey as a woman who is “ignore[d]” (Atwood, 11) by her environment. Margaret Atwood, through Moodie, emphasizes the struggles that women writers face in a patriarchal environment; female authors are either ignored or repressed in a predominately male field.
Susanna Moodie begins her journey in the Canadian wilderness by being “ignore[d]” (11) by her surrounding environment. Her initial interactions with the wilderness are depicted as violent invasions of her body. She is “surrounded, stormed, broken / in upon my branches, roots, [and] tendrils” (17). The invasion of plants is initially forceful, as she is “stormed” and “broken” into (17). The environment partakes in an unwarranted, unwelcome, hostile overtaking of her physical self. Her relationship with the environment, however, changes from a violent, hostile takeover to a more contemplative fusion between herself and the wilderness. But this only occurs when the aspect of her identity that prevents such a fusion is erased: the material symbols of her Victorian sense of selfhood.
Moodie initially experiences violent toils against the natural world. Once the wilderness eliminates the part of Moodie’s selfhood that is dictated according to Victorian convention, however, fusion between herself and the environment becomes more meditative. After the house fire Moodie states that there is an “I who had been erased by fire” (26). The “I” here suggests that it is one aspect of herself that was erased. The “I” (26) that is gone, then, is the one that is “entrapped in ironclad Victorian convention variously represented by a photograph, a mirror, [and] a burning house” (Relke, 44). That sense of selfhood, then, is “erased” (Atwood, 26) just as those physical tokens of herself are consumed by the fire. The fire becomes less horrific and more opportunistic. It carves out a space in her identity where she now “tr[ies] to grow” (26). Her identity therefore develops once her Victorian conventions are physically removed.
Moodie’s progressive “grow[th]” (26) into an authoritative voice, however, begins with the physical invasion of seemingly exclusive and opposing gender dualities. Her “adapt[ation]” (14) occurs through her bodily transformation into both animal and plant. Susanna Moodie is not only invaded with the “vegetative…matter” around her (Bordo, 12). She is invaded by animals as well. Indeed, she is initially “crept in / upon by green” (Atwood, 26). “In time”, however, “the animals / arrived to inhabit [her]” as well (26). “Year by year” (26) they progressively invade her identity. A woman described as being invasion plant life is in line with gendered dichotomous thinking. The notion that her identity is moulded by inhabiting both male and female symbols of identity demonstrates that she is moving fluidly between both ends of the dichotomy.
But the invasion does not last; Moodie leaves for “the city” before permanent habitation can occur. Although she is “frightened” (27) by the animals, Moodie acknowledges that they are attempting to teach her “something” (27). Her interactions with both male and female ends of the plant and animal dichotomy – and potential lessons of selfhood that can arise from it – is interrupted by her journey back into “the city” (27). As a result, she is “not completed” (27). Moodie’s incomplete sense of identity as a result of her reintroduction to the urban space suggests that it is indeed the Victorian environment that prevents her from successful manipulation of the gendered binary. The city, just like the “photograph”, “mirror”, and “house” (Relke, 44), represents Victorian convention that prevents her from achieving a sense of self that “this space [can] hear” (Atwood, 11).
Although her “learn[ing]” (27) is interrupted by returning to traditional Western civilization, Moodie’s manipulation of the gender dichotomy continues in her subconscious thought. She is removed from the wilderness, but psychologically continues to manipulate the gender dichotomy. Her time in the wilderness allows Moodie to recognize the power that comes with abandoning her female body and achieving animal and plant hybridity. In “Wish: Metamorphosis to Heraldic Emblem”, Moodie’s rhetoric transitions from simile to metaphor. Her body is initially described as a physical encasing that is “deceptive as cat’s fur” (49). The wrinkles on her skin, additionally, are “overlapping like hair or feathers” (49). While the poem describes her current state “as” and “like” “feathers” and “fur”, she also alludes to an eventual metamorphosis into an entity that resists human – and gender – categorization. She claims that she “will prowl and slink…with new formed plumage and scaled” fingers eventually (49). While the beginning of the poem describes her body and mind in comparison to animals, Moodie suggests that eventually she will fully transform into a being that can no longer be categorized according to either end of the gender binary.
The transition from simile to metaphor within “Wish: Metamorphosis into Heraldic Emblem” demonstrates her desire to fully transform into a non-gendered state. Although she “will” transform, and has not fully done so yet, she already feels disconnect from her female body. As she states in “Wish: Metamorphosis into Heraldic Emblem”, she “balance[s] [herself] carefully / inside [her] shrinking body” (49). Her identity, then, is not tied to her physical body; it is nothing more than an encasing. Furthermore, the notion that it is “shrinking” (49) suggests a progressive insignificance towards it. While her female body is “shrinking” (49), however, her notion of selfhood that is anchored between both ends of the gendered plant and animal dichotomy is growing in agency. Moodie predicts that she will eventually “prowl and slink” (49), with “plumage / uncorroded” (49). While her current female body is corroding, her sense of identity outside of her body is reaching a notion of immortality.
The title of this poem itself suggests Moodie’s sense of authority that rises out of her dissociation from her female body. Her “Wish” is to become a “Heraldic Emblem” (49). A herald is one who “bear[s] ceremonial messages between…sovereign powers” (Oxford English Dictionary). An emblem is a fable or allegory such as might be expressed pictorially” (Oxford English Dictionary) or, in Moodie’s case, physically. The title of the poem suggests that Moodie desires to embody the “messages” of the “sovereign” natural world (Oxford English Dictionary). She desires to transform into an “emblem” with a particular “moral…allegory”. That “allegory”, with respect to gender symbolism, is an androgynous self that achieves an identity free from the confines of the oppressive Western female ideology. Her desired metamorphosis, then, expresses that power is achieved through breaking away from the rigid notion of feminine identity that women’s bodies are relegated to.
Susanna Moodie not only exhibits fluidity between animal and plant binary symbolisms, but effectively fuses the mind and body dichotomy into one entity as well. As Susan Bordo states, man is the mind and woman is “cast in the role of the body” (Bordo, 5). Moodie, however, claims that her “body buries itself / joins itself / to the loosened mind” (Atwood, 41). While Diana M. A. Relke also reflects upon this passage, her conclusion does not reflect a “join[ing]” (41) of two ends of gender stereotypes. Instead, Relke claims that Moodie unifies with the natural world in general and, as a result, finds an authorial voice. But, she does not acknowledge the gendered symbolism of the mind and body and the symbolic significance that occurs when Moodie fuses them together. Moodie is indeed searching for an authorial voice. She achieves this, however, through challenging the supposed exclusivity between the gendered mind and body. While women are historically “cast in the role of the body” (Bordo, 5). Moodie’s joining of these seemingly exclusive opposites dismantles the binary altogether.
Susanna Moodie challenges the supposed rigidity of gender binaries by her own fluidity in and out of both female and male symbols of gender. Her final act of defiance against her gendered place, however, occurs when she transcends her body as a ghost. Margaret Atwood’s poetry collection concludes with “A Bus Along St. Clair: December”, where Moodie exhibits both physical and temporal fluidity. As a ghost, she is a figure from the past who returns to the present, unhindered by temporal restraints. Additionally, shifts in narrative voice demonstrate her fluidity in and out of physical forms. She states, “I am the old woman…on the bus” (61), possessing a physical body. The line immediately following, however, shifts into third person narration, identifying the woman “on the bus” as “her” (61). The shifting narrative voice, then, demonstrates her shifting between body and spirit. Her physical and temporal parallels a greater degree of authority. She states that the lack of “familiar[ity]” the reader feels towards the snow is “[her] doing”. She takes ownership of our feelings of incongruity and displacement, which are the same feelings Moodie felt when she initially arrived in Canada (11). The natural world is still violently rejecting people, but now Moodie is connected to that violence. She is no longer encapsulated within a female body, resulting in a greater sense of agency.
Once a ghost, Moodie achieves a strong sense of authority over others as well as a unity with the violent power of the natural world. Her previous silence as a woman, followed by experiencing an empowering transcendence out of her body, emphasizes the oppressive treatment of the female body within patriarchal contexts. Therefore, the nature of the ghost provides women with an opportunity for greater agency. Jenkins argues that authors hold the potential to “explore the authority provided by ghosts and spirits to articulate an alternative story from those endorsed by patriarchal cultures” (61-62). The “appropriation of ghosts” (61) is utilized “to authorize female voice[s]” (63) when “patriarchal cultures” (62) repress the female body too much to do so with “formal realism” (61). Ghosts can exist “outside linear, patriarchal histiography” (70). Free from their oppressed bodies, female characters can “challenge monolithic histories” (70). Such findings can be attributed to Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie. As a ghost, Moodie finds an authoritative voice that her female body previously inhibited.
But while the formlessness of the ghost provides Moodie with greater voice than her physical female body can allow, such an ending does not offer much of a solution to persistently marginalized and silenced female voices. It is true that, as Jenkins argues, the female ghost avoids repression due to “patriarchal cultures” (Jenkins, 62). But the only solution to inserting the female voice into history cannot be through giving up on their bodies. Instead, women must reclaim them and, in doing so, reclaim their voices. Monique Mojica’s play Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots portrays women who, like Atwood’s Susanna Moodie, are “hardly see[n]” in their current environment (Mojica, 23). Their identities are dictated according to patriarchal and colonial contexts. As a result, their own story of history is overshadowed by those told by the Western male, the “Captain Whiteman” (26). Indeed, although one woman’s name is “Matoaka”, she is “the little Indian Princess Pocahontas” (27) according to Canada’s historical canon.
Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots is an adaptation that demonstrates the political power unleashed by retelling history through the voices of marginalized communities. Linda Hutcheon, in her book Theory of Adaptation, explains that adapted works are “always framed in a context – a time and place, a society, and a culture” (Hutcheon, 142), and the context surrounding a story can carry political messages. Hutcheon uses a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park as an example of adaptation’s potential to add “both a feminist and a postcolonial critique of slavery” (152). The “critique” (152) she draws our attention to, however, is also located in Monique Mojica’s Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots. Hutcheon’s argument emphasizes the potential for adaptation to serve as a “rereading of the past” (152). The source-text Mojica targets in her play is the Western canon of Canadian history. Like Hutcheon’s example, Mansfield Park (1814), Mojica’s play is indeed “a feminist and a postcolonial” (152) critique of Canada’s documented history.
One of the ways Mojica critiques the Western Canadian historical canon within Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots is through emphasizing the lack of agency the Indigenous women have with respect to their own bodies. Physical presence is important; it influences one’s identity. The importance of the women’s physical identities is emphasized, with Matoaka claiming that she must “wait until [she] know[s]” how she wants to paint her face for the deer dance “because it will be…[her] face forever” (32). There is great weight to one’s physical identity, because it determines how they appear “forever” (32). Although physical image is deemed imperative, these women have no agency regarding their identities. Instead, they are forced “to wear the clothes of an Englishwoman” to “disturb [the Western community] less when [she] walks” (30). Their identities are reduced to “Princess” or “Lady” (30). Their Indigenous identities are stripped from them as a consequence of their oppressed bodies.
Mojica’s play includes Indigenous women that are indeed recognized within Western history. The stories of these women, however, include violent overtones that emphasize the inhumane nature of colonization that is often excluded in the history books. The Virgin – representing the Indigenous women forced to convert to Christianity – states that her refigured identity occurred through being “draped in ribbons, lace and flowers” (37), and through being “encased in plaster, painted white” (37). Their physical bodies are Westernized, as are their stories. Margaret – whose original name (Wapithee’oo) is taken away from her – voices a “huge, tearing moan; as if being skinned alive” (45) when Western women “take away [her] deerskin clothes” and make her wear “clothing…with little flowers” (45). Taking away her native clothing is as violently dehumanizing as though they are “skinn[ing]” her alive. Relke claims that Atwood’s Moodie is “entrapped in ironclad Victorian convention variously represented by a photograph, a mirror, a burning house, a Victorian parlour and finally, a grave” (Relke, 44). The women in Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots also demonstrate that their authoritative voices are stifled “ironclad Victorian convention” (44).
The female body in Monique Mojica’s work is “entombed…in patriarchal gender conventions” (44). As a result, the Indigenous women are objectified, marginalized, and their history is reduced to a hyper-sexualisation of Indigenous women as presented by “Princess Buttered-on-Both-Sides” (18, Mojica). Indigenous women are historically portrayed as “uncivilized, [and] unintelligent” (Oxford English Dictionary), a “primitive” Other that does not deserve an authoritative voice (Minh-ha, 417). Maria Lyytinen states that “the storylines and the messages of other early Pocahontas plays…[tell] their white audiences the legend…the way they liked to hear it” (Lyytinen, 81). As a consequence, the widely accepted tale of Pocahontas is of an “Indian Princess” (81) who decides to forsake “her own people in favour of “the more civilized” invaders” (81). “Female playwrights” such as Mojica, however, use the stage to “deconstruct [the] colonial imagery” (85) that allows little room for “Native American women, or Pocahontas’s people” (85) to tell their own history on their own terms.
Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots emphasizes the persistent objectification and stereotyping that occurs to Native American women. Similar to Susanna Moodie within The Journals of Susanna Moodie, women within Monique Mojica’s play challenge the notion of a rigid feminine, silent space by morphing into gendered symbols on both ends of the male and female dichotomy. Malinche, in retelling her history, exhibits a powerful earthly identity as a volcano. She “picks up [a] volcano”, shouting ““You say it was me betrayed my people, but it was they betrayed me!” (Mojica, 24). After challenging the colonizer’s version of her history, she does not simply hold a volcano but is “a volcano, this woman” (25). Her words “spit, burn, and char the earth” (24). Her retelling of history, then, irreversibly “char[s]” the earth, thereby “char[ing]” our notion of history (24). Both Malinche and Contemporary Woman #1 are played by Monique Mojica. Contemporary Woman #1 is described predator-like towards the end of the play, resulting in Mojica appearing as both empowered earth and animal. Contemporary Woman #1 is “low to the ground” (55), with “muscles ripple[ing] from shoulder to haunch, now running – now stopping to sniff the air” (55). Monique Mojica, throughout the retelling of the Indigenous women’s histories, shifts into both a predatory animal and a powerful volcano. Through transforming into various, presumably opposing, symbols of gendered dichotomies, gender binaries are challenged.
Mojica not only portrays Indigenous women as fluidly moving in and out of gendered symbols, but explicitly challenges the emotional differences of gender roles. Women are historically the “emotional” and “sentimental” (Minh-ha, 416), and yet “the sisters…refuse to weep” (Mojica, 36). Their “refus[al] to weep” (36) challenges Western gender conventions. Alternatively, the Indigenous men are presented as uncontrollably emotional. When “one of [the men] would start to cry – a high-pitched wail” (Mojica, 39), “the others would tease and laugh” but cannot help “join[ing] his cry” (39). The men are “mourning their lost home” (39), therefore this emotional scene does not serve to ridicule them. It does, however, challenge the extreme notions of masculinity and femininity that are enforced through gender binaries. The women’s refusal to cry and the men’s uncontrollable “wail” (39) superficially appears to invert rather than dismantle the gendered binary. This scene does not simply invert gender binaries but challenges and ultimately dismantles Western ideologies of gender.
But Mojica’s work does more than challenge gendered dichotomies. Unlike Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots is a play, which is an embodied medium. The female actresses in Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots utilize the “public ceremony” (Scott, 125) of theatre “to reclaim [their] own bod[ies]” (124). As a result, the “healing” (125) that occurs through her performance not only “reclaims” (124) their bodies, but the bodies and stories of all Indigenous women. Monique Mojica states that the motivation behind her work is to “pass…on” stories as well as “inherit…them” (“Blood Memory”, 95). “Blood memory”, as she calls is, “is where [her] work comes from” (109). An embodied medium such as a play allows Mojica to tell “stories from [her] body” (109), passing on the stories of past generations of Indigenous women to “live in [our] memory” as well (109).
“Blood memory” (109) – embodied stories about oneself or one’s ancestors – is identified as “autobiographical” (Scott, 124) theatre by Shelley Scott. As Scott explains, it has a “heightened importance in work by Aboriginal women” (123). Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots is one such example she draws upon to emphasize that “the importance of healing and the manifestation of that mission” (123) is physically demonstrated “in the body of the performer” (123). The embodied nature of the play medium allows the memories of past generations of Indigenous women are “remembered again” (“Blood Memory”, 109). In a play, the women hold their “physical presence as a self-identified Aboriginal woman” (Scott, 134). Their identities are “self-identified” (134), meaning they are finally in control of their own literary representation. The women in Mojica’s play lay claim to their bodies, their identities, and their stories, as well as transfer them into the collective “memory” of history (“Blood Memory”, 109).
Mojica harnesses her ancestors’ stories and retells them in order to insert their voices, and her own voice, within the Canadian historical canon. The Deity within her play claims that her story is “reborn into flight as / Grandmother Spiderwoman / spins the threads of stories / as [she] tell[s] them” (Mojica, 35). In “Stories from the Body: Blood Memory and Organic Texts”, Mojica identifies “[her] mother and her two sisters” as “Spiderwoman” (“Blood Memory”, 109). Spiderwomen, then, are her female ancestors. The embodied nature of the play medium enables Mojica to physically connect with the “Spiderwom[e]n” (109) of her heritage. There are only two women – Monique Mojica and Alejandra Nuñez – who play all of the characters in Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots. The embodied nature of the play emphasizes that the various stories they tell are as much a part of their identities as their own individual stories. As a result of their physical interconnectedness, Mojica and Nuñez have the ability to reclaim not only their own bodies and stories, but their ancestors’ as well. Matoaka, once her identity is stripped from her and replaced with “Lady Rebecca” (Mojica, 29), admits defeat when she claims that “[her] heart is on the ground” (29). Mojica, the same actress who plays Lady Rebecca, shouts that “a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground” (60). Her exclamation emphasizes that the Indigenous women are not yet “conquered” (60). The play retells the Princess Pocahontas myth, thereby picking up her previously trampled heart as well. Mojica’s play retells and reshapes their stories.
Performative utterances, explains J. L. Austin, are “not utterances which could be [simply] ‘true’ or ‘false’” (Austin, 13). Instead, such words not only describe an act but are the act themselves; “to say something is to do something” (12). J. L. Austin uses the example of a marriage ceremony, explaining that in saying “I do” one is not “reporting” a marriage but actually going through “the act of marrying” (13). When it comes to history, “to say something” can also result in “do[ing]” (12) and “report[ing]” (13) history itself. Mojica’s play, then, inserts itself into a recording of history and thereby shapes it. As Ric Knowles states, Mojica “quite literally and visibly” embodies “her own rewritings of…histories” (Knowles, 262). Spiderwomen – Mojica’s ancestors – “and their histories are, in fact, embodied in her” (262-263). Her play “becomes [a] genuinely performative” (263) reconnection and reassertion of Indigenous history.
Theatre itself is described by Shelley Scott as a “public ceremony of sorts” (Scott, 124). Just as the words – “I do” (Austin, 13) – in the marriage ceremony do marriage, the words uttered in the “public ceremony” of theatre also do something; they satisfy “a longing to tell one’s story” (Shelley, 123), effectively challenging and dismantling the one that was told for Indigenous women by the colonizing party. Contemporary Woman #1, in the final Transformation, “throw[s] [her] words in [our] faces!!!!” (60). Retelling the history of Indigenous women does not just “say history”, but results in a physical manifestation of words as weaponry that she uses to thrust into the faces of the audiences. Her words become a physical tool to challenge historically celebrated stories perpetuated by Western colonizers.
The stage, although Shelley Scott calls it a place of “public ceremony” (124), is historically a place for privileged bourgeois members of society. As Jürgen Habermas explains in his work titled The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, “the “great” public that formed in the theatres…was bourgeois in its social origin” (43). This “bourgeois public sphere” (43) “exist[s] largely behind closed doors”, isolating itself from lower-class communities. “It did not equate itself with the public”, Habermas explains, yet “claimed to act as its mouthpiece” (37). Theatre is used to “read and debate” societal issues, but the privileged group in charge of what it represents “read and debate…about [themselves]” (43). Moijca harnesses the power of theatre as a societal “representation” (37). But, instead of using it as a “form of bourgeois representation” (37), she uses performance to critique and retell history from the perpetually silenced Indigenous female voices. The theatre is one of the “master’s tools” (Springs, 420), perpetuating knowledge that hegemonic structures deem acceptable. Mojica, however, uses “the master’s tools” (421) to “disassemble and genuinely transform “the master’s house”” (421). The theatre – a historically bourgeois medium – is then used to critique the very society it is meant to celebrate.
Although we understand identity through “dualisitic oppositions” (Minh-ha, 416), they do not reflect realistic concepts of selfhood. Instead, hybridity occurs between the binaries of self and other, masculine and feminine, white and “nonwhite” (417). These hybrid individuals move between supposedly rigid binaries, challenging their existence. The women in The Journals of Susanna Moodie by Margaret Atwood and Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots by Monique Mojica also challenge the binaries that their societies hold against them by demonstrating their own fluidity between their presumably exclusive poles. But, while Moodie abandons her body to insert her voice within history, the women in Princess Pocahontas fight for the right to reclaim their bodies and their stories. Mojica uses the theatre, a medium historically used to perpetuate aristocratic notions of reality, to bring the marginalized voices of Indigenous women “to the "center"” of the stage and retell their history (Bordo, 41). Contemporary Woman #1 claims that she “want[s] the freedom to carve and chisel [her] own face” (Mojica, 59). Retelling history through an embodied medium brings Indigenous women one step closer to “carv[ing]” their faces and harnessing their own historical voice.
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Mojica, Monique. Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots. Women’s Press, 1991.
Atwood, Margaret. “In Search of Alias Grace: On Writing Canadian Historical Fiction.” The American Historical Review, vol. 103, no. 5, 1998, pp. 1503-1516.
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. University of California Press, 1993.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts of Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 1988, pp. 519-531.
Hutcheon, Linda, and Siobhan O’Flynn. “Chapter 5: Where? When? (Contexts).” A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2013.
Jenkins, Ruth Y. “Authorizing Female Voice and Experience: Ghosts and Spirits in Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Allende’s The House of the Spirits.” Oxford University Press, vol. 19, no. 3, 1994, pp. 61-73.
Knowles, Ric. “Translators, Traitors, Mistresses, and Whores: Monique Mojica and the Mother of the Metis Nations.” Siting the Other: Re-Visions of Marginality in Australian and English-Canadian Drama, edited by Franca Bellarsi and Marc Maufort, 2001, pp. 247-263.
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