Short Story Cycles

Female expansion and Masculine Immobilization in the Short Story Cycle

First paragraphs:

As a versatile, provisional form, the short story cycle privileges plurality and openness. It contests boundaries and enacts the possibility of multiple beginnings and renewable identities. Forrest L. Ingram delivered the first detailed exploration of the form in 1971. In Representative Short Story Cycles of the Twentieth Century Ingram illuminates the “duality” of a form that embodies “the tension between the one and the many” (19). He observes: “Every story cycle displays a double tendency of asserting the individuality of its components on the one hand and of highlighting, on the other, the bonds of unity which make the many into a single whole” (19).

In recent years, critics have attended to the gendered dimensions of the form. In “Gender and Genre: The Case of the Novel-in-Stories” Margot Kelley observes that “about 75 percent of the current writers” of the story cycle are women, “often women who live in positions of double marginality as members of visible minorities” (296). Kelley draws on Carol Gilligan’s research to illuminate the form’s gendered dimensions. Gilligan uses the images of the web and the hierarchy to figure the ways in which boys and girls approach conflict. Her studies of children reveal that where girls confront dilemmas through “a network of connection, a web of relationships sustained by a process of communication”, boys set up “a hierarchical ordering to resolve a conflict” (Gilligan 32, 33). These images represent the “contrast between a self defined through separation and a self delineated through connection” (35). The short story cycle enacts both sensibilities: it “suggests that a coherent or unified identity requires both autonomy and connectivity” (Kelley 304). Feminist theory posits that women are more likely to conceive the self in these terms. Feminist critic Rachel Du Plessis identifies the “both/and” vision as a “trait” of the female aesthetic: this vision signals “the end of the either-or, dichotomized universe, proposing monism … in opposition to dualism, a dualism pernicious because it valorizes one side above another, and makes a hierarchy where there were simply twain” (“Etruscans” 276). The short story cycle is a nonhierarchic form; it privileges this kind of vision.

from: Rachel Lister, “Female expansion and Masculine Immobilization in the Short Story Cycle” , Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 48 | Spring 2007, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2009, consulté le 07 mai 2022. 



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