Speaking Volumes: Honoring women who chose their path

Special to the HeraldNovember 3, 2013 

By Jyna Scheeren

Special to the Herald

These days, it's common to see women choosing their own way of life and enjoying as much autonomy as they like -- at least in certain places in the world. But, in more repressive times and places, women are compelled to take on the limiting roles given to them. Stepping out of these binds can have undesirable or even dire consequences.

Scores of literary classics address this issue, depicting strong, female protagonists who breach confines, defy convention, take back their lives, and wield quiet influence that belies their station.

Sethe, a runaway slave in Toni Morrison's supernatural tale, "Beloved," pays an especially high price for her audacious bid for freedom, one that affects her family and reverberates throughout her newly adopted home in Ohio. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this haunting story about the haunted has a premise based on an unspeakable incident that took place in 1856.

While Tita De La Garza in "Like Water for Chocolate" is a bit more subtle in her actions than Sethe, she nonetheless affects changes in her family and community. This novella, written in the style of magical realism by Laura Esquivel, presents a young Mexican woman who is compelled by tradition to relinquish her dream of having a husband and family of her own in order to devote her entire life to caring for her mother. Prohibited from marrying her one true love and watching as he marries her sister, Tita uses her powers through the creation of culinary delicacies to defy her station.

Countess Olenska disregards the mores and customs of late 1800s New York high society in Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence." Although willing to sacrifice for those she loves, she is never willing to sacrifice for society and is refreshingly apathetic toward the whispers of her provincial contemporaries who regard her desire to divorce her abusive husband as scandalous.

In certain literary works, women dare but tragically fail in their attempts at liberation. Edna Pontellier of turn-of-the-20th-century New Orleans discovers an identity beyond wife and mother in Kate Chopin's "The Awakening." Her dalliance with independence causes her oblivious husband to question her sanity and ultimately leads to tragedy. "Anna Karenina" in Leo Tolstoy's novel by the same name shares a lot of similarities with Edna, even though she lives a world away. Neither are allowed happiness nor independence, and both

are ill-equipped to tolerate their condition.

The library offers monthly email newsletters, called NextReads, with a selection of genres to choose from; each lists several books, new and classics, as well as library events. Sign up from the library website.

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Access the library online at www.mymanatee.org/library Jyna Scheeren is a reference librarian and program coordinator.

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