The novel Crow Lake describes complicated family relations and history of several generations of people faced with hardship and life grievances. Crow Lake is often perceived as a modern drama based on modern social, economic and cultural values of people and their self-aspirations. Thus, Lawson proposes that the traditional patriarchal order of creation be inverted: in the beginning, she insists, is not the word, but the body. And it is here, she posits, that language begins and here that we must (at least referentially) return. As the narrator realizes that she has been spending her life false sufferings, she sets out on the long journey away from men toward and into a world of dreams. Thus, she returns full circle to her point of departure: the need to find a language with which to speak the body. Thesis Biological imagery supports the plot development and underlines the distinctiveness of narration from a woman’s point of view.
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Biological imagery underlines the unique themes and images reflected in history of the family. Nature, the land of the mothers, and History, the time of the fathers, stand as the primordial antitheses of male and female principles. The themes thus posit as given what Crow Lake had merely proposed: woman's body is the measure of its own experience: For the controversy Crow Lake generated was as intense as the enthusiasm. Both were responses to the same moves on Lawson's part: the identification of woman with nature and the glorification of a mythic past. In the context of a family tragedy that for the preceding three decades had doggedly attempted to either repudiate or forget its fascist history, Lawson came too close to the danger zone. Her linking of woman and nature evoked the all too recent specter of an ideology of womanhood that had been central to the politics of race and gender in which some women were made to fulfill their nature and produce children for the nation, while others, termed denatured, were changed. Lawson explains biological and social roles as :”Once you’ve been established in the role for a while, you’re stuck with it, no matter what you do – people will still see you as whatever it was – but at early stages … you have some choice as to what your role will be” (Lawson 8). Likewise, Lawson's view of family history as a return to a lost past was uncomfortably reminiscent of revisions of history which posited that the path to utopian future lay in the resurrection of past glory and the return to the mythic dimensions of a heroic age (Castle 33).
Determined to shed the existing language whose structures and meanings, as she sees it, have been imposed on her against her will, she attempts to break free by going beyond language to a state of innocence. And what she finds at the epicenter of this emptiness is a body, a woman: her self. This time, she tries a different approach. Positing that the body as it is constructed within cultural discourses is inescapably appropriated by and into patriarchal categories, she turns to nature and tries to evoke a different sensory image of woman: a woman whose breasts are sun-ripe gourds, her hair forsythia, a creature with forest eyes and hair of roots and mosses. “What haunted me most of all was the thought that three generations back, was a Pye son” (Lawson 36). For her all the drama and wonder of the natural world is metaphorically invoked: fields of memories glowing in shades (Castle 54).
By using nature images as if they were not only more positive, but more "natural" as it were (closer and more true to experience), without attempting to deconstruct the cultural baggage with which these images come laden threatens to overwhelm the new meanings she is trying to create. Again, her strategy is to try to get beyond language. Earlier, she had attempted to resolve the problem of finding a language for the body by going back before language to the body itself. Now, finding that experience is inevitably conceptualized in language and thus never free of the cultural meanings embedded in language, she tries to free it of this engulfment by going back to an origin moment before meaning (Gunning n.d.).
As Lawson herself pointed out, our sense of a future has to be connected to an understanding of the past. And it is we in the present who must make the link. Lawson's generation, the sorts and daughters of those who had themselves lived through dramatic situations, was profoundly marked by this contradiction. Decades of silence on the subject at home, in school, and in the culture at large, had made them unwitting, but nevertheless complicitous, participants in the process of erasing from the collective consciousness the very history they were supposed to be coming to terms with. At the same time, on a personal level, they had to face the painful fact that "coming to terms with the past" meant coming to terms with their own family history, i.e. finding out and facing who their parents were and what they had done. Most, for obvious reasons, chose not to engage in this process in any but the most unconscious ways. In this respect, Crow Lake is emblematic of the anxiety of those for whom remembering was both essential and impossible: born too young to remember or have participated in the very events the parental memory of which had shaped the lives of their children. Thus, the task that Lawson decided was most necessary-remembering, reconstructing an integrated self by retracing the steps of its history-is precisely what she is least able to do. As a result, what she "re-members" in both Crow Lake and her subsequent work is not history (not even women's history), but a mythical pre-history in which history itself, and along with it responsibility and agency, has once again disappeared. Conceptually and procedurally, Lawson's approach to history and female identity was not uncommon, much less unique, in so-called "cultural" or "radical" feminist circles elsewhere. In the dramatic context a dehistoricized essentialism took on a politically disturbing ring. Against the backdrop of history, Crow Lake was charged with dramatic tendencies (Castle 33).
Beyond the specifics of family history there is another, even more basic, problem with Lawson's biological definition of femaleness, namely the internal contradiction of her argument, the fact that by locating the source of utopian transformation in the rediscovery of a supposedly "natural" self, she entraps herself in the very identity she had set out to shed. Anxious to dispense with the trappings of culture and return to a state of pure, unmediated experience that she implies is more "natural," she forgets that both "nature" and "culture" are themselves historical constructs (Castle 75). Nature itself is not "natural." To the extent that Lawson ignores the fact that nature is a cultural construct and that female nature is a "product of a male society," she undermines the very utopian impulse with which her text had begun. For by taking recourse to nature and to the concept of a body without history, she suggests that woman is not, as she had originally proposed, a subject in the process of becoming, but rather one that has essentially always been. The reception of Crow Lake within the feminist community was marked by extreme ambivalence, with reactions ranging from uncritical enthusiasm to vitriolic attacks (Gunning n.d.).
Crow Lake is based ob biological imagery, at least in impulse, it is more or less undisputed by both its fans and its critics. What was in dispute, however, was whether its particular utopianism was one that moved women forward or one that set them back. The degree to which Crow Lake was either unconscious of or unwilling to examine its own positional as a text that belonged not only to women's history, but to dramatic history as well, is undeniably problematic. Yet to dismiss it as apolitical or even reactionary ignores the equally important fact that, particularly in the context of dramatic setting, acknowledging the historical role of subjectivity was also an important political act. For the emphasis on the specificity of women's experience provided feminism with the theoretical basis and rhetorical strategy with which to effect its disengagement from the theory and practice of a male-dominated Left to which it in many ways was still bound.Crow Lake is not a handbook for feminist strategy. In fact, the confusion of fantasy and politics was precisely the problem it encountered in its reception. It was read as a lesson in history when it might more appropriately (and no doubt more fruitfully) have been read as a feminist fairy-tale: the story of a woman who, having been transformed into a grotesque, non-human creature by the evil eye of man, finally breaks the spell and regains her self through the transformative power of self-love. In fairy-tale manner, Crow Lake asks the question "what if?": what if the structure of language, the patterns of sexuality, the forms of our relationships changed? And it is this impulse, in the end, this daring not only to speculate, but to translate speculation into textual practice, that not only accounts for the intensity of the excitement (and much of the controversy) it generated, but also challenges us to do likewise (Burroway n.d.).
The structures that readers accept as givens of contemporary reality-urban culture, nuclear families, and more or less alienated work-have been replaced in the family history with organic structures based on natural rhythms and needs. Cities, families, even work in our sense of the word, no longer exist: working means doing what needs to be done to survive in the wilderness. Family (a word they no longer use) means thinking in terms of one's connectedness to others. Social and state structures as we know them, based on hierarchical and contractually regulated relations of differential power, have been replaced by a community of equals bound by a mutuality of interdependence. The narrating voice of the impersonal record-keeper remains constant, while the narrating consciousness shifts to allow each individual's subjective perspective to be heard. The vision that emerges, in the narrative as in the world it represents, is of a whole composed of separate, yet interdependent and interrelating, parts.
The narrator/protagonist splits into two parts in the last part: on the one hand, she takes the form of a new protagonist. What language can she use to write as a woman when language has so relentlessly and for so long been used against her? Between silence and submission to masculine discourse, what are the options? Crow Lake is predicated upon the postulate that there must be a way out of this dilemma. Lawson depicts: ”Marie and I stayed in the kitchen doing women’s work. Or at least Marie” (Lawson 270). Lawson sets out to find it in the process of writing. It is thus into the void of a language that does not yet exist, into the virtual impossibility of writing as a woman, that she begins to write: slowly, carefully, painstakingly. One cannot "speak truly of the life among women," she had insisted, in a language made by and for men. It is in search of an other language, then, that her text begins. Both of these concepts were based on two main assumptions: (1) that since women were in some essential way different from men, they needed a different language from men if they wanted to write as women; (2) that since language in its present form was a tool of patriarchy, and it effectively prohibited authentic communication by and about women.
In sum, the resulting strategies, of course, differed considerably. Some argued that in the search for a language of their own women should look to their difference as women: female experience and women's history. Countering that one had to work with what was already there, others insisted on what one might call a biological imagery strategy: the traversal of established discourses through readings informed by both a feminine sensibility and a critical feminist eye.
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