Islamic Azad University
Tehran Central Branch
Faculty of Foreign Languages
Submitted to the Department of Postgraduate Studies as a Partial Fulfilment For the Degree of Master of Arts in English Literature
Tracing Helene Cixous & Luce Irigaray’s Concepts on Female Characters of the Three Plays of Sam Shepard:
A Lie of The Mind, States of Shock & Buried Child
Dr. Shahram Kiaei
Dr. Kian Soheil
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Repression, beating and abusing of women and regarding them as the “second sex” are issues that cannot be ignored. These affairs are also shown in vast dimension in post-modern American literature in which women characters are in search of “identity” and a way of liberty and freedom from patriarchal society to heal themselves but all their efforts lead to a life of “ambiguity” and nothing more; alike what women do and live in the real world. The question that comes to mind is that “what is the reason and what if there can be a solution?” This research is planned to have a feminist point of view on female characters of the three plays of Sam Shepard Buried Child, A Lie of the Mind and States of Shock. Due to the broad spectrum of the history of feminism, the methodology of this study focuses on Irigaray, a contemporary French feminist, theorist, psychoanalyst and critic of literature, through her ideas of “subjectivity”, “sexuality”, “language” and “desire”; And Helene Cixous Another French feminist and philosopher whose challenging theory of “Feminine Writing” are surveyed through this study. In the process of this research it is revealed that the belief in the theory of “transition of woman’s personality” is shared among all three thinkers and is experienced by women’s of Shepard’s plays in three social situational phases of “normal”, “sick” and “crisis”. However, the post-modern viewpoint of Shepard, Irigaray and Cixous, conveys that women fail in this transition and cannot achieve their “ego” in the modern era and their ambiguity remains with them. Finally the research concludes that literary writing and expression of problems are the part of solution which post-modernists show by criticizing “modernity”.
Keywords: transition, identity, subjectivity, literary therapy, Shepard, Cixous, Irigaray.
I am greatly beholden to a considerable number of people who genuinely assisted me during fulfilling this dissertation. I would like to show my gratitude to my caring advisor, Dr. Kiaei whose prompting and constructive feedbacks, encouragement, flexibility and confidence in my abilities lit my way during writing this research. I would also like to thank Dr. Soheil for his input through his classes which encouraged me to work on the subject matter of my interest. Here I should thank Prof. Sokhanvar for all his precious efforts for reviving English Literature in Iran and for his valuable courses and leadership through all years of my study and specially for introducing Dr. Bordbari as my referee who was encouraging to me. I am also indebted to Dr. Montakhabi who by giving precious insights on my subject was very helpful and for her extremely large heart and sentimental nature. She has been a wonderful role model, not only to me, but to many. Most importantly, I would like to thank my mom, my encouraging angel and my father, my symbol of faith, for being my biggest cheerleaders and for supporting me through all of my educational pursuits; And To my brother and sister, kambiz and sepideh, who were always there for me. A special thanks to my true friend Mr. Abtahi whose unconditional support came at a much needed time and he gave up his many weekends and evenings reading my work, truly being interested, giving comments and for never saying no.
Sam Shepard (5 November 1943- ) is “the greatest American playwright of his generation” (New York Magazine). In his high school years he began acting and writing poetry. In 1963, he moved to New York City where he met Charlie Mingus who introduced him to a jazz group. In these years he became familiar with Cinema too, he was especially interested in Western movies, which had a great impact on his personality.
His father’s personality and his life that is full of immigrations are the factors, which influenced his works. He loved his father so much and had a very friendly relationship with him and maybe the reason for such a relationship is the several travels, which he had with his father.
In the sixties, American art was undergoing some basic changes, which were related to autonomy of art and literature from their old traditions; Shepard was also under the influences of these changes. In this period Broadway theatre was put aside and a new theatre was created with the aim of reconstructing society.
It was in 1960 that he began his work as a postmodernist in American theatres. Many critics believe that Sam Shepard is the most enjoyable and excitable contemporary playwright in America, but little can be said about what exactly makes his plays interesting and exciting.
Shepard deliberately focuses on the issue of family and in this way he somehow psychoanalyzes the system of family in America. He believes that the reason of his emphasis on family issue is that 1960s was a period of family crisis in America and he himself was greatly affected by this crisis. He was raised up in an environment where “men” had the superior and dominant role and “Alcohol” and “violence” were the main threats for Family’s foundation. He clearly stated that the biologic and blood relations between brothers and sisters in a family were always interesting for him (Callens 27-39) which can be seen in Buried Child and A Lie of the Mind.
Shepard, who was grown up in a patriarchal family, was always curious and interested in woman’s personality: therefore when he brings a female character in his plays he is actually showing us the unconscious part of his mind. For this reason in the process of writing he does not usually hesitate and he writes spontaneously. He said that he completely wrote “Buried Child” in a spontaneous mode.
It can be concluded that he portrays women’s characters through his psychological vision and intuition. In this regard he says:
I don’t know that much about my woman’s characters evolutions or their maturity but I think that they gradually become active and strong characters and they are not merely a symbol of something, in my early works they were more of a sign or symbol […] and I think the evolutions and changes of my woman’ characters started with “Curse of the Starving Class” in characters of mother and daughter and then it continued in “Buried Child” and “A Lie of the Mind” (Shepard 25)
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