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Feminism in Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners Essay

The Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary defines feminism as, “A doctrine advocating the granting of the same social, political and economic rights to women as the ones granted to men.” Feminists consider woman as an oppressed group, those who must present themselves as individuals and human beings. In Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners, Morag Gunn’s struggle for female self-representation is seen as she writes about her life. This is shown through Morag’s desires for lust and profanity, that which females should keep hidden. Furthermore, Morag breaks social boundaries by writing her novel from the female perspective. Finally, Laurence allows the reader to become sympathetic for Morag as she is marginalized in a predominantly male society. Margaret Laurence shows the intricacy that is feminism through the depiction of the assertive, yet vulnerable Morag Gunn. Morag is unlike many females as she allows herself to curse and show lust. Knowing it is socially unacceptable, Morag rejects swearing as a teenager: “Morag does not swear. If you swear at fourteen it only makes you look cheap, and she is not cheap, goddamn it.” (126)

However, as Morag becomes more mature she revises her opinion: “Shit. Bloody bloody Christly hell. And the hell with not swearing, too.” (133) By being vulgar, Laurence shows Morag’s feminist attributes by having her go against the “social norm” of her time. Finally, throughout the novel Morag becomes more aware of her lustful desires and offers them bluntly. Alia Amer wrote about a woman’s lust in society: “Women are not allowed to look closely at a man, however, or to have a lustful or provocative look, or to look deliberately at them when they happen to be in the same setting (such as on a bus, or in a room).” (Amer) Laurence contradicts this statement as Morag’s sexual awakenings are seen as empowering to the female. In conclusion, Morag Gunn’s vulgarity is a representation of Margaret Laurence’s feministic ideology.

Morag’s conflicting identities of both a woman and a writer provide an outlook on female roles in her own society. As a female author Morag makes an “attempt at self-representation” (Smith) though, “women have historically hesitated to attempt to the pen…the woman writer’s self-contemplation may be said to have begun with a searching glance into the mirror of the male-inscribed literary text” (Gilbart and Gubar). Laurence challenges this through Morag’s determination to finish her novel and writing the novel from a predominantly female perspective. Finally, at the end of the novel, Laurence shows Morag’s accomplishment: “Morag returned to the house, to write the remaining private and fictional words, and to set down her title.” (525) Morag finishing her novel is a representation of how a female can succeed in the “representative male life” (Smith) of a writer.

To conclude, Laurence challenges male identity by identifying Morag as a woman writer, therefore giving a more feminist view on society. Finally, Laurence creates sympathy for Morag as she is marginalized in a predominantly male society. Wayne Booth states that, “The solution to the problem of maintaining readers’ sympathy is to use the heroine herself as a kind of narrator, though in third person, reporting on her own experience.” (Booth) Through Laurence’s narrative technique, having Morag as the narrator, sympathy is created for the female perspective. Furthermore, Morag’s downfall for making assumptions causes the reader to feel sympathetic for her consciousness.

“Morag perceived that what she had taken to be hostility had been in fact self-reproach on his part.” (278) Laurence creates empathy as the female mind is presented as solitary. Lastly, the feeling of sympathy is created when Morag asks her absent husband for forgiveness: “I need you, too, Brooke. I care about you. I can’t stand this…Brooke, forgive me. May we forgive one another for what neither of us could help.” (359) Laurence shows how Morag is still dependant on a male figure and as a result creates sympathy for her. Overall, sympathy is used to identify with the female perspective in a male-dependant society.

In conclusion, Margaret Laurence shows the complexity of women through the contrast of inferiority and self-confidence seen in Morag Gunn. Laurence creates a character with lustful desires and profane ways that are regarded as socially unacceptable by woman in her society. Morag challenges the, at the time, conflicting roles of being both a woman and a writer by writing from a predominantly female perspective and finally, Laurence creates sympathy for Morag as she struggles in an over-bearing male society. Overall, Margaret Laurence challenges masculinity and allows femininity to prevail.


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