In the first person and in the house : The house chronotope in four works by American women writers

Abstract: The house looms large in American literature and plays a significant part in American society and history. This study uses Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the chronotope to examine the house in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Elizabeth Stoddard's The Morgesons (1862), Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979), and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping (1980). All four texts were written by American women and have female narrator-protagonists.At a time when it has been widely acknowledged that universals and binary oppositions have serious critical and political limitations, there is a need for approaches that can bring together multiple issues in criticism. This study proposes that the chronotope, which operates on several intra- and intertextual levels, offers such an approach. Employing the house chronotope as a focal point, I find it possible to probe the connections and tensions in the four works between time and space, generic concerns, ideology, first-person narration, and identity formation based on constructions of gender, race, class, sexuality, and nationality.The study furthermore investigates the interplay between the house chronotope and the chronotope of the town and also suggests that one may see Sylvie in Housekeeping as representing a chronotope of her own. Moreover, I address the question of the literary house chronotope's stability over time as indicated in these four works by four American women writers.

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