Jacqueline Doyle California State University, Fresno "Books continue each other," Virginia Woolf told an audience of young women some sixty years ago, "in spite of our habit of judging them separately" (Room 84). Books such as Ellen Moers's Literary Women, Elaine Showalter's A Literature of Their Own, Patricia Meyer Spacks's The Female Imagination, Tillie Olsen's Silences, and Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens continue Virginia Woolf's own book, A Room of One's Own, extending her fertile meditations on the effects of economic deprivation on women's literature, and her pioneering efforts to reconstruct a female literary tradition. Tillie Olsen has uncovered a rich vein of writing by American working class women, and has offered poignant personal testimony to the obstacles to writing posed by gender and class. Alice Walker has explored the silences created by gender and race in America: "What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers' time? In our great-grandmothers' day? It is a question with an answer cru- el enough to stop the blood" (233).
While feminists following Woolf's advice to "think back through our mothers" have expanded the literary canon in the past two decades, too many have ignored the questions of race, ethnicity, and class in women's literature. Adrienne Rich laments the "white solip- sism" of white feminists-"not the consciously held belief that one race is inherently superior to all others, but a tunnel-vision which simply does not see nonwhite experience or existence as precious or significant" ("Disloyal" 306). Barbara Smith, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison have angrily denounced the canon implicit in early studies of women's literature such as Moers's and Spacks's.1 To Spacks's tepid defense that she preferred to dwell on authors depicting "familiar experience" and a "familiar cultural setting" (5), Walker counters: "Why only these? Because they are white, and middle class, and because to Spacks, female imagination is only that-a limitation that even white women must find restrictive"
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In critical readings of literary works, it is a desirable but difficult goal to academic reader of U. S. literature moves into less familiar territories such as so-called "ethnic minority" literatures. Approaches to non-traditional literatures within more traditional academic programs will probably be unsatisfactory if these writings are contextualized simply as being "other" than the "regular" literary works in whose midst they appear. The self-conscious and ironic reality of much minority literature is far more complex, as may be demonstrated through a particular example. When one considers how expectations of oppositional "otherness" affect and infiltrate the main themes of Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street (1984), which foregrounds issues of ethnic minority identity, the thematic complexity of the work can be seen to problematize and finally to refute the kinds of oppositionality that a traditional reader may expect. This short book comprised of 44 lyrical chapters has been popular among teachers because it offers an engaging introduction to Chicana literature. Its protagonist, Esperanza, a girl of Mexican-American heritage growing up in Chicago, is portrayed over the course of a few years as she moves from late childhood into young adulthood. As -Esperanza becomes more aware of the meanings of her surroundings, she learns to recognize discrimination based on her gender, ethnicity, and class standing, the three most crucial complicators in her development. Cisneros's artistic treatment of Esperanza's responses to issues of otherness or difference provokes reconsideration of the ways that these factors have been constructed in terms of literary theory. This paper will first argue against theoretical presumptions of otherness as essentialism and then move into comments about Cisneros's novel
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