The Silenced Mind: The Feminine Voice and Its Importance to Cognitive Narration
Mentor:Bryan Rasmussen, Assistant Professor of English, California Lutheran University
Although cognitive approaches to literary studies have become important tools in understanding narrative, such approaches are far from being complete. By locating mind in narrative, cognitive approaches offer to provide a more complete analysis of the text. What such approaches do not take into consideration, though, is mind in relation to gender. One wonders, does the mind have a gender? And given the classical feminist argument, like the one offered by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s groundbreaking study The Madwoman in the Attic, that literature has been the domain of men throughout history, one begins to wonder where gender comes into play in recent approaches to narrative that privilege mind and cognition. This essay expands upon the differences between the feminine and masculine narrative mind by comparing two Victorian texts: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. With the help of feminist critic Susan Lanser's theory of the female double-voice and cognitive theorist Manfred Jahn's theory of focalization through shifting windows of perception, I seek to put the gender back into mind in order to show how the inner, hidden, feminine voice can help reorient narrative “windows” of perception to critique a patriarchal society, specifically the Victorian society of the time. By doing this, I argue that a feminist attention to social critique can help reorient cognitive studies—to shift its own windows of perception, as it were—to include gender as part of mind.