Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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STRAUS / IDEOLOGICAL AGENDAS AND IMAGES OF WOMEN
3 9
like that o f the women in Roth’s novels, a reduction o f the pos­
sibility o f heterosexual happiness to b rief encounters o r a few
rare marriages. Undoubtedly in keeping with the n a rra to r ’s
warning o f the need to “expose the sins o f ou r forefathers,
[to] prevent their recurrence among contemporaries,” there are
few decent men in the novel: the two men who marry women
at its end, Sholomo Sassoon, and Hava’s unnam ed father, and
Shula’s Polish lover Jerzy. In
Her Mothers,
neither decent men
nor the possibility o f heterosexual happiness is depicted. Despite
their achievements then, B roner’s novels run up against the
same constraints o f the structuration o f masculinity and fem­
ininity as Roth’s. The search for images o f women or for images
o f men occurs at the expense o f a notion o f its possibility for
an emancipatory co-constitution o f masculinity and femininity.
The re are indeed exciting changes currently underway in the
social status o f women, and novels such as B roner’s certainly
reflect these changes, while perhaps being harbingers o f fu r the r
progress to come. No one doubts that it is important that women
be given voice and that Jewish women in particular articulate
and express the conditions o f their lives th rough their art. How­
ever, as I hope this article suggests, recent developments in the
critical theory o f literature and o f social relations caution us
against imagining that the
conditions
o f their oppression can be
changed simply by m em bers o f opp re ssed g roup s se lf­
consciously writing about their identity, and about the re fo r­
mations o f their identity to which they aspire. Women writers
may strive to articulate new and progressive images o f wom­
anhood, bu t they cannot thereby alter the way in which the
conditions o f womanhood are always already established by the
sociocultural system o f representations, which regulates the pos­
sible formation o f genuinely new meaning-practices.