ETHNICIZING WOMEN’S DOMESTIC ENTRAPMENT IN SANDRA CISNEROS’S ANTIBILDUNGSROMAN THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET

Author:
Lilijana Burcar, Faculty of Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Email:
lilijana.burcar@guest.arnes.si
Summary
The House on Mango Street has been translated into more than 20 languages worldwide, including Croatian in 2005. The novel has secured a firm foothold in many a literature and cultural studies syllabus outside the USA and has served as one of central entry points for the discussion and understanding of the position of women in America’s ethnicized communities. In its treatment of women’s disadvantaged position, Cisneros’s novel relies heavily on the tenets of liberal feminism, which reduces the understanding of gendered oppression to personal relationships between individual men and women and to the attitudes of men towards women. Unlike liberal feminist literary theory, systemic feminist literary theory takes a broader social context into consideration by directing our critical gaze to the structural forces and institutional practices that shape gendered positions and defi ne the role of women inside and outside family settings. Th e paper shows that because of its subscription to the tenets of liberal feminism, the novel ends up treating gender constraints and women’s domestication as though these were phenomena limited only to ethnicized communities. As a result, women’s marginalization comes to be construed as a marker of ethnic otherness rather than a structural problem defining and permeating American society as a whole. Through translations, these constructs are inadvertently also carried over and can be uncritically disseminated in other cultural and academic environments outside the USA. The paper therefore argues for the need for a systemic literary approach, which can function as a welcome and much needed critical intervention in social milieus not yet fully acquainted with the problematic nature of liberal feminism and the ethnicization of women’s domestic entrapment.
Key words
female bildungsroman; capitalist patriarchy; women’s domestication; cultural essentialism; Sandra Cisneros; The House on Mango Street
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