Possibilities in the margins: Exploring love and power in Tillie Olsen’s "I stand here Ironing", Toni Morrison’s "The Bluest Eye", and Dorothy Allison's "Bastard Out of Carolina"
Ditzel, Christine Jacquelyn
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This thesis explores the intersections of class, gender, and race in Tillie Olsen's short story "I Stand Here Ironing", Toni Morrison's novel "The Bluest Eye", and Dorothy Allison's novel "Bastard Out of Carolina". The first chapter examines Olsen's depiction of a single working class mother raising her first-born daughter while struggling with poverty and a lack of familial and social support. The second chapter probes into Morrison's piercing account of how African Americans in the urban North contended with racism and the impacts it had on their psyches and interpersonal family dynamics. The third chapter uses Allison's representation of a Southern white working class family to expose the destructive capacities of standardized notions of propriety, success, and the nuclear family structure. Each author introduced the experiences of working class women and children into a literary space that previously denied the specific representation they individually offered. The writers are uniquely pointed in their ability to highlight paradox in the lives of the characters they create. This paradox is explored in the texts as children's voices are privileged, middle class respectability is critiqued, and the definitions and make-up of the family structure are expanded. In the works, children are abused by those who are supposed to protect them, the poor are condemned as immoral yet work to perfect their behavior, and the socially abhorred and ridiculed are represented as sole examples of sincerity and support for the equally isolated and rejected. Paradox and irony are methodological tools in the authors' texts that expose the futility and destructiveness of mainstream mores as readers witness them crumble in the complex realities of the characters' lives.