Juliet Mitchell, “Femininity, Narrative and Psychoanalysis”

In Juliet Mitchell’s essay, “Femininity, Narrative and Psychoanalysis,” Mitchell examines the role that the novel has played in our capitalist society for women and the influence of psychoanalytic motives for writing the novel to prove that the novel was, and perhaps still is, the defining element of women in our society.

Mitchell’s essay addresses more than a single topic.  All of her topics are link together, though, as Mitchell places each topic as a constraint around the identity of the women in society.  In terms of language, the woman is constrained because language is a masculine language.  In a capitalist society, the woman is constrained by the bourgeois roles expected of women.  And finally, and perhaps most importantly, from a psychoanalytic perspective, the woman is constrained by the resulting masculine or not-masculine society derived from pre-Oedipal childhood (I think).  The combination of these constraints ways down upon the women and results in a feminist movement that simultaneously rejects masculine society, while adhering to its rules.  The novel is, in Mitchell’s words, “the prime example of the way women start to create themselves as social subjects under bourgeois capitalism.”

After finishing Mitchell’s essay, I couldn’t tell if she was opposed to the novel, which I think is an important point to clarify, as Mitchell herself asserts the novel as the defining element for women in a capitalist society.  Perhaps she is in favor of novels that are critical, such as a main subject her essay, Wuthering Heights, and not for conformist novels, such as those by Mills and Boon.  Even if a novel is critical, though, it still operates within the confines of the masculine society it admonishes.  This puts women in a crux, with the very identity of the woman at stake.  One option is madness, as Mitchell puts it.

Her essay hinges on a few premises that I do not know enough about to accept or refute.  One of the more blunt statements Mitchell posits is when she says, “language itself is phallocentric.”  I see how in languages like Spanish or French, where some words are categorized as masculine or feminine, that this assertion could be obvious enough to simply state and move on, but in English I am not so sure if I can believe what she is talking about.

 

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