'You shall hear the nightingale sing on as if in pain': The Philomena myth as metaphor of transformation and resistance in the works of Susan Glaspell and Alice Walker
Morris, Wesley A.
Doctor of Philosophy
The story of Philomela and Procne has long been a figure of violence in literature. However, male mythologizers write Philomela out of existence, whereas women writers use the myth as a metaphor for female oppression and silencing. This paper examines the mutually exclusive strategies of Philomela's male and female mythographers. Chapters one through three explore how classical and medieval poets rewrote the myth to sublimate their fear which the story's themes represent. Rendered speechless, hence powerless within a masculine construct, Philomela creates a new idiom and reconstitutes her identity in weaving. Recognizing the immanent consequence of this feminine poetic, male mythologizers, epitomized by Coleridge in the nineteenth century, seek to silence Philomela once and for all. Nevertheless, the Philomela/Procne myth resonates throughout the texts of women. Chapter four analyzes Trifles and "A Jury of Her Peers", by Susan Glaspell, revealing the life of a frontier woman domineered by an unyielding husband she finally kills. The male investigators overlook evidence they deem "trifles" because it lies in woman's work. The neighbor women, on the other hand, deduce the truth of Minnie's existence, and unite to subvert the law and establish a new form of justice based on the caring and connectedness of women, not the abstract principles of men. Chapter five illustrates Alice Walker's utilization of the myth to expose the worldwide oppression of women. In The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy, Celie and Tashi find meaning for their existence in a confederacy of women who bond to repudiate the tyranny of culture and redefine themselves as worthy and whole. Philomela raped, mutilated and silenced is a familiar image for women. The strength in an otherwise horrific tale lies in Philomela's ability to subvert the patriarchy that would subjugate her by usurping the power of language into a call to sisterhood and an affirmation of such power in that bond.
Women's studies; American literature; Comparative literature; Classical literature; Medieval literature