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What is feminism? Was Anne Tyler, the novelist a feminist?

De Tocqueville once made a remark on the unusual tendency of Americans to give Political and Social controversies a legal cast. This observation made more than a century and  a half ago, still is true, perhaps more so than ever, and is confirmed by the peculiar American engagement with feminism.

Feminism is the set of beliefs and ideas that belong to the broad social and political movement to achieve greater equality for women. As its governing ideology, feminism gives shape and direction to the women’s movement and, of course, is shaped by it. Women seek equality in all spheres of life and use a broad array of strategies to achieve that goal. Feminism does not belong to the law alone. Still, the law has figured prominently in the fight for women’s equality, both as a domain to be reformed and as an instrument of reform. As a result, feminism has become of special concern to the legal community.

Feminist thinkers regard feminism as somehow different from the main stream- as innovative, inventive and rebellious. In particular, they seek their work as tending to the significance of sexual perspectives in modes of thought and offering challenge to the masculine bias. From the point of view of feminist writers, ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ Western thought (which includes a wide variety of thinkers from Plato and Hobbes to Satre and Habermas) is better described as “malestream” thinking and thus its authority needs to be questioned (Beasely,1999).

Anne Tyler has made her mark in the American literature as one of the best novelist. Most of her work has been quiet and subtle fiction; however, exploring the unsubtle and complex disfunctionalities is family relationships and an individual’s search for self identity and meaning in a fast moving world. One recurring message in her works is that clutter and problems in life are inescapable, the more one runs away from it, the more it is tending towards the same situation.

Critics view Tyler as one of the most talented and gifted novelists of America. Albeit, there have definitely been some mixed reviews of her art in writing. Some critics appreciate her for her wit, deft use of detail, and her understated, seamless prose. While some others complain that her characters are too plausible to be true, they are impulsive and bizarre. But the compassion with which she presents them, even their oddities become simply human!

Some feminist critics have investigated her portrayal of changing gender roles in the American family in her fiction. While some have even censured her for ignoring the progress women have made since the feminist movement began and for falling back on traditional gender expectations (http://www.enotes.com/anne-tyler-criticism/tyler-anne-vol-205).

Feminism has emerged as a new and strong weapon in the hands of critics in recent times. A feminist issue is not just an issue, which is free of critical, phallocentric, patriarchal and sexist thinking and themes. Feminist critics have reached out in many directions to look at a text. In such a world, a feminist issue and approach would help a critic immensely, as all creative activities and one and universal.
Anne Tyler and her works do not readily suggest an association with strong feminist positions, and generally, as reviewers notes, that Tyler’s “works are largely free from feminist grievances against society.” As a rule, Tyler’s novels do not concern themselves very much with either “sex, politics or with sex as politics” (Possessions, 21). Tyler’s position is perhaps not so much an indifference to the issues that confront women and men as it is a constant emphasis, as reviewers suggest, centering her attention on ordinary people caught up in the daily chores of family life. People caught in ordinary life, of course, need to be aware of shifting gender roles and responsibilities. Tyler’s views on feminist issues are not altogether confirmed to the lives her women characters choose to lead. Nevertheless, issues that touch feminist nerves thread their way through Tyler’s novels and her characters who react to these issues.

“Tyler’s feminism,” Doris Betts says, “of this less dramatic sort – she admires the people, often women, who have an abyss running right through their own backyards and still hand out the laundry” (Morning, 13). High drama created through independence and success, change and rebellion, is certainly through independence and success, change and rebellion, which are certainly more exciting, but there is, as Tyler suggests, a good bit to be said for the Shelly and the Joanne’s and the Phillip Hawkes, who have a backyard abyss and go right on with their version of the daily laundry.




Chris Beasely,1999. What is feminism?: an introduction to feminist theory.SAGE Publications ltd. , London.
Tyler, Anne. If Morning Ever Comes. New York:, Alfred, A. Knopf, 1965.
Tyler, Anne. Earthly Possession. New York: Alfred, A. Knopf, 1974.
Updike , John. A Critical Evaluation of the Novels of Anne Tyler. New York: Alfred. A Knopf, 1977

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