Subverting the rape script in short stories by Rosario Castellanos and Isabel Allende.
This week I’m speaking at a conference at Exeter University. It’s a joint paper to be given with my co-writer Sorcha Gunne, and the conference is a day symposium on ‘Critical Theory: Violence and Reconciliation’ taking place this Friday (24th September 2010).
The paper is looking at some controversial stories by the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende – controversial because of how they represent seduction, power and rape. What Sorcha and I will be talking about, however, is how Allende subverts the rape script that makes rapists powerful and casts women as passive victims. We also use the Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos, because, although she approaches the short story form rather differently, Castellanos is also dedicated to subverting scripts of power.
This paper examines how Isabel Allende’s two short stories, ‘The Judge’s Wife’ and ‘Revenge’ represent Allende’s strategy of feminist resistance against patriarchal domination within romantic relationships. Jessica Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love examines the politics of domination underlying the heterosexual norm and interrogates the inevitability of gendered domination as she argues that society’s slavish adherence to a particular type of family unit dictates man’s positioning as active, detached, independent and woman’s subordination into object, passivity, sacrifice. We argue that, like Benjamin, Allende challenges the transparency of these binaries in the context of postcolonial Latin America. In using narrative strategies to undermine and disempower patriarchal domination, Allende’s writing builds upon a tradition of literary inheritance from writers like Rosario Castellanos. Both Castellanos and Allende present uncomfortable pictures of women’s disempowerment and sexuality. It is, however, this unease with women’s sexual agency that interrogates, challenges and ultimately subverts the rape script. Allende’s subversive strategy is controversial, since Casilda in ‘The Judge’s Wife’ and Dulce Rosa in ‘Revenge’ appear to adhere to the myth of rape as seduction – an assumption which legitimizes patriarchal control – by falling in love with their rapists. Far from reinforcing gender stereotypes and perpetuating social narratives of domination, however, Allende’s narrative strategies contextualize this ‘love’ to counteract the prevailing myth by complicating established binaries such as active/passive, masculine/feminine and dominator/dominated. By introducing notions of submission, female desire and female action, Allende challenges theoretical trends that reinforce or reverse categories of oppression.