From protest to process: Pacifism and post-1970 women's novels written in English

Date of Completion

January 2000


Literature, Modern|Literature, African|Literature, Canadian (English)|Women's Studies|Literature, American|Literature, English




Battlefront novels are frequently pacifist, teaching pacifism by showing war's horrors. However, another approach to pacifism occurs in novels that invite inductive analysis of the causes of and solutions to war. These novels can be classified as pacifist based on feminist pacifism, which recognizes violence not only at the battlefront but also in otherwise peaceful oppressive relationships. Such pacifist novels posit a reciprocal relationship between battlefront violence and homefront oppression by reversing the setting typical to war literature. Rather than focusing on war in the foreground and relegating the homefront to the background as war novels often do, pacifist novels foreground homefront oppression and relegate the battlefront to the background. In doing so, these novels display the connection between oppression and war and identify the homefront as a significant place for pacifist activity. In this context, Postmodern narrative forms support pacifism by signifying radical alternatives to oppression and by encouraging readers to think critically, an activity necessary to thinking through oppressive ideologies. Novels examined in this study include Virginia Woolf's 1941 Between the Acts, employed as a model text; Margaret Atwood's Surfacing (1972); Bessie Head's A Question of Power (1974); Fay Weldon's Shrapnel Academy (1986); Sheri S. Tepper's Gate to Women's Country (1988), and Toni Morrison's Paradise (1998). Comparing these novels across the three decades in which they were produced suggests that pacifist novels employ postmodern formal elements to support pacifist meaning in increasingly revolutionary ways. ^