Mothers, men and mind control : an analysis of Sheri S. Tepper's novels : Grass and The fresco

Muller, Martina (2011-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Sheri S. Tepper, one of the most prolific feminist science fiction writers, uses her novels to address humanity‟s ignorance about, and indifference towards, various social, gender and environmental issues, and in so doing, she attempts to rectify these issues by creating an awareness of them. Her novels generally focus on four main issues: motherhood, both as ideology and experience; the essentialized nature and acceptance of the superiority of masculinity; the influence of religions, traditions and ideologies; and an ever-increasing concern for environmental preservation. These issues are all interlinked in her novels. Though some of her works have received critical attention, most notably The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1996), most have received little. I will present a critical analysis of Tepper‟s Grass (1989) – a novel which has received some critical attention – and The Fresco (2000) – a novel which has received very little critical attention. Although these novels deal with the same issues, they do so in different ways: Grass is a much more layered critique of modern society, whereas The Fresco is a rather blatant critique and the passionate voice of its author filters through more prominently than in Grass. I will be examining Tepper‟s portrayal of motherhood, masculinity and the influence of ideologies, religions and traditions in both of these novels. Although there will not be a section devoted to Tepper‟s environmental views, these will be highlighted within the other sections. Tepper ultimately stands for women‟s rights to opt for motherhood as a free choice. She also insists that ideologies, religions and traditions – society‟s oppressive straitjackets – should adapt to modernity, and that the acceptance of masculinity as the dominant gender be destabilized. Rectifying these problems, in Tepper‟s view, would also lead to the preservation of the environment for future generations. In my conclusion I address the most frequent critique directed against Tepper‟s work, namely that her novels are repetitive with regard to thematic content, by suggesting that her work is repetitive because she feels the need to reiterate the same issues in her novels, to indicate that the same societal problems of the past are still prevalent.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Sheri S. Teper, een van die vernaamste feminis-wetenskapfisksie skryfsters, gebruik haar romans om die mensdom se onkunde oor, en onverskilligheid teenoor, verskeie sosiale-, geslags- en omgewingskwessies aan te spreek in „n poging om hierdie kwessies op te los deur mense meer bewus te maak van die kwessies. Haar romans fokus gewoonlik op vier hoof kwessies wat aan mekaar verbind is: moederskap, beide as ideologiese en fisiese ervaring; die genoodsaakte aanvaarding van manlikheid as die dominante geslag; die invloed van gelowe, tradisies, en ideologieë op die samelewing; en „n toenemende besorgheid oor die bewaring van die omgewing. Alhoewel sommige van haar romans kritiese aandag ontvang het, in besonder The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) en Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1996), het die meeste baie min kritiese aandag ontvang. Ek beoog dus om twee van Tepper se romans, Grass (1989) en The Fresco (2000), krities te ontleed. Alhoewel Grass ietwat meer kritiese aandag ontvang het, het The Fresco byna geen kritiese aandag ontvang nie. Beide die romans spreek dieselfde kwessies aan, maar in verskillende maniere: Grass is a baie meer subtiele kritiek van die moderne samelewing, terwyl The Fresco „n baie meer flagrante kritiek is en die passievolle stem van die outeur is baie meer opmerklik in diè roman. Ek beoog om Tepper se uitbeelding van moederskap, manlikheid en die invloed van ideologieë, gelowe en tradisies in beide hierdie romans ondersoek. Hoewel daar nie „n spesifieke seksie gaan wees wat opgedra is aan die ondersoek van Tepper se omgewingsboodskap nie, sal dit tog uitgelig word in ander seksies. Daar sal gewys word dat Tepper vir die regte van vroue staan om moederskap vrylik te kan kies. Sy beveel ook aan dat dat ideologieë, gelowe en tradisies moet aan pas by die vereistes van moderne samelewing, en dat die aanvaarding van manlikheid as die dominante geslag omgekeer moet word. Deur hierdie probleme reg te maak, in Tepper se opinie, sal dit lei tot die bewaring van die omgewing vir toekomstige generasies. In my gevolgtrekking spreek ek een van die algemeenste kritieke teen Tepper se romans aan, naamlik dat die tematiese inhoud herhalend is. Ek voel dat die werklike probleem is dat Tepper dit nodig ag om dieselfde kwessies uit te beeld, aangesien dit aan dui dat probleme van die verlede steeds voorkom in die huidige samelewing.

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