Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Discussion Questions: Refuge
In her “Prologue,” Williams says, “Volunteers are beginning to reconstruct
the marshes just as I am trying to reconstruct my life.” Williams
dates her “Prologue” July 4, 1990, thereby suggesting a personal declaration
of independence. What
kind of life do you think Williams wants to “re-construct?” What
is she declaring her independence from? What
will be her “alternative” self? In
your response to these questions, please consider the following: discourse,
epistemology, ontology, and morality.
Williams’s attempts to valorize the feminine, especially in her identification
of woman with nature, has both liberating and confining potential. Does
Williams unwittingly reinforce traditional forms of oppression of women
by connecting so clearly the woman’s body with the land?
In an interview with Mickey Pearlman, Williams claims that the language
women speak is the language of the heart and a kin to the land. “Women’s
language is like connective tissue…detailed and circuitous; it goes in
and out.” According to
Williams, the language of women knows no time. “A
woman’s language is about meanderings, like a river. You
may go through eddies and spiral in one place again and again. You
may enter white water, full of risk and danger…You may just decide to take
the flat water very slowly. It
is a language without self-consciousness.”
also said to Pearlman that she wanted to explore in her narratives how
“intimacy with the land” enables people to be intimate with one another.“I’m
interested in writing out of the body, the body of the Earth, and what
that form might take regarding language and story.I
want to see how we might redefine the erotic, how an erotics of place might
lead to a politics of place.”
are familiar with feminist swcholars Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous, comment
on how Williams reflects their notions of l’ecriture feminine.If
you are not familiar with French feminism, comment on Williams’s “feminine”
style of writing.Did you enjoy
it?Is it representative of women’s
discourse?Or is it representative
only of Williams’s discourse?
What are your impressions of the mother-daughter relationships represented
in the book?
Gerda Lerner defines “patriarch” as the “manifestation and institutionalization
of male dominance over women and children in the family and…in society
in general. It implies that
men hold power in all the important institutions of society and that women
are deprived of access to such power.” Considering
Lerner’s definition, discuss how the following institutions are patriarchal,
and how Williams challenges them: medicine, military, family, religion.
Some critics of Williams dismiss her religious views as pantheistic. Is
this a valid criticism from your point of view?
In what ways is Williams’s text representative of nineteenth-century American