Friday, March 21, 2014

Women are not Conquerers

Women are not conquerors. We have rarely, if ever, been the ones to sail out and explore new lands, claiming and establishing them as our own, spreading our beliefs and practices and… seed. We tend to sit at home, caring for what has been left behind. I say this not to make a statement on gender stereotypes, but rather to make clear the trend for women throughout history.
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When the new world was discovered, women went with their men to seek their fortune in a strange new land. Colonialism and imperialism are implicitly masculine movements—not only colonizing and conquering new lands, but also figuratively conquering women themselves—but how does it play out when women are called upon to be the colonizers? Does feminism play a role in colonialism? In both The Poisonwood Bible and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, women are figured as colonists, though unsuccessful ones. They are not aggressively conquering the new lands they come in contact with, but are rather displaced females who are disoriented and confused by the shift from the values and doctrine of their patriarchal homeland and the things they have learned in the new world. 

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In The Poisonwood Bible, we read scenes where the missionary father of the Price family is lit aflame with the glory of God as he seeks to convert the natives of the Congo to Christianity, but the female members of his family trudge bleakly through the jungle landscape. Their beliefs in Christianity and their allegiance to their father and husband weaken as they are put to conflict and trial in the new land. Eventually, the family ruptures, their faith dashed, their love spoiled, and their dreams broken. 
Alice is a colonist, yet less ostentatiously so. She stumbles upon the new world of Wonderland, a place whose morals, customs, even reality differs much from her own. Though she attempts to find ways to teach the citizens of Wonderland about what, according to her, is actually the way things are and are supposed to be, she butts her head against a frustratingly thick wall of tradition and resolve to have things carry on as they always had. Even though she fights harder to maintain her resolve and sense of reality, Wonderland begins to overtake her and permeate the way she thinks and reacts.
Do these texts make a point that women are not conquerors, but absorbers? Are they saying that women are primarily interested in having empathy for and understanding new people and practices rather than overcoming and replacing them? 


  1. This is a really interesting point. I haven't read Poisonwood Bible, but from the evidence you've provided, it seems like women really are presented as absorbers rather than conquerors. I'd never thought of Alice as an unsuccessful colonist, but I definitely see evidence in the text that supports your idea. I'm sure this will be a really interesting paper!

  2. Hi, Morgan. I've never thought Alice as the colonist--I don't think I could've made the connection. It is quite fascinating. I've thought about what you said about women in Poisonwood Bible being colonists who are confused and disoriented. Are cultures and values really absorbed by these women? Does Alice really obsorb the morals and customs of Wonderland. For example, toward the end of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice eventually fights off the Queen and the cards that was trying to kill her. If she had really obsorbed everything about Wonderland, she probably wouldn't have resisted. Maybe, there is a better term to describe both these colonists and Alice, though I completely agree on the part that they are both disoriented. I feel like you can also make some connection between Ruth May and Alice. I've only read some summaries and such, but something about May's spirit and later catching malaria kind of made me think of Alice. Alice was brave and very adventurous at that beginning, befriending many Wonderland citizens, and later keeps certain opinions to herself (malaria?)
    I might be just blabbering... but this helps.