In the belly of this story: The role of fantasy in four American women's novels of the 1980s
The fantastic in literature can be defined as a violation of what is normally thought of as possibility. As a literature of subversion, which deals with the tension between the laws of human society and the resistance of the unconscious to such laws, fantasy gives voice to otherwise unheard desires of women in our times. This study will examine the role of fantasy in four contemporary novels, two by white mainstream writers--Lois Gould's Subject to Change (1989) and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985)--and two by minority authors--Afro-American writer Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) and the Native American novelist Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (1977). In all of these novels, fantasy plays a dual role. First, it subversively deconstructs public worlds and selves. Second, fantasy becomes the agent for a developing "self." That self seeks a wholeness. It seeks an individual voice, a voice not merely measured against the male or dominant voice as "other," but one that emerges from women's experience. (Even though the protagonist of Ceremony is a man, he cannot speak until he learns to balance the masculine with the feminine in his voice.) Once found, a woman's voice yearns to connect with others in community. Finally, the self seeks agency, the capacity to act or exert power.
Fantasy is radical; its resolutions are conservative. The "self" which fantasy threatens to deconstruct survives in a new guise. In each novel, desire is covered over, and the social structure opens to take in the fantastic subject, newly equipped to deal with its dominant value systems.
0453: Womens studies