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Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing : A Thesis On Female Bonding

Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing : A Thesis On Female Bonding

If you’re having trouble in completing your Master’s Degree due to the thesis paper, then we’re here to offer you some of the guidelines on how to write a proposal/thesis for M.A. English students. Every study begins with the topic, thesis statement or title. The very first task of the researcher is to find out the topic for your study. Since English has diverse field and large coverage on its subject matters, you can choose any one of the field from the following:

  • Novels
  • Short Stories
  • Films
  • Anthology
  • Language use/formation
  • Children’s Literature



The following is a sample thesis on “Resistance to Patriarchal Hegemony through Self-awakening and Female Bonding in Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing”

The present research revisits the patriarchal structure from the perspective of radical feminism. The research argues that it is the traditional patriarchal authority that teaches women to be submissive. The teaching is to be blamed but not the women who learn it. Due to the ‘rule of the father’, the society has become a fertile place for the patriarchal authority to have his power exercised regardless of the concerns pertaining to women’s equality, freedom, self and subjectivity. The central character Grady stands against the patriarchal structure and takes an oath to break such structure. To achieve her goal, she refuses the lessons either from her mother or from the other social spectra. By the process of self-awakening and female bonding, she accomplishes her goal and completely neutralizes the patriarchal authority. She dismantles the vertical patriarchal structure and exemplifies herself as an advocate of the feminist voice. Towards the end of the novel, Grady accomplishes the task of reforming a patriarchal society and introduces a new society based on equality.  For this, Jacqueline Rhodes’ idea of ‘female bonding’ and ideas of Aclice Echoles provides the necessary theoretical framework for the research.

  1. Feminist Concerns in Summer Crossing

Truman Capote’s posthumously published novel Summer Crossing reinvents traditional teaching as a tool of patriarchal domination and argues on behalf of the voice of women. He presents such teaching in consonance with the norms that are still in effect and set values that are responsible for limiting the roles of women. And in return, it expects their silence and obedience. Despite heavy level of sophistication in the novel, the central female characters feel suffocated and trapped in a world not of their own choosing. These characters in the eyes of the researcher represent both the classical and radical feminists. The generational gap in the novel suggests the setting of the story in the transitional phase oscillating amid of liberal and radical feminist movement. The minute observations of the everyday chores vibrate classical, liberal and radical voice.

The research argues that due to the prevalent social system based on patriarchal rule, the women endure horrible situation. They are being disregarded; contribution being neglected and ultimately deprived of their freedom. Now, how can the society expect women’s competence and progress equal to men when it does not guarantee the equal treatment for women? The patriarchal teaching stands as a great hurdle for women’s liberation; whereas, it serves as a weapon of domination for males. Thus, to set women in action, enrich their knowledge, transcend their voice and command on their own, there is a strong need not only to question the norms, values and systems of the patriarch but also to enlighten women and make a radical female bond. This study takes radical feminism as a theoretical perspective to look at the text and have the queries being answered.

Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing opens up with happy McNeil family trying to cope with the new radical feminist movement brandishing the patriarchal rule. First it introduces Mrs McNeil as a traditional woman who has internalized the patriarchal hegemonic power as a rule to limit her roles, responsibilities and desires. She believes that patriarchal rule is magnanimous. She has conceptualized such norms and values and likes her daughter to learn and follow them. She often worries about her daughter Grady and Apple because they do not go with the same flow as she does. They do not like to internalize inequality and injustice as a part of social norm.

Voice of the women has been widely used in contemporary feminist theories and in the literature of marginalized women. As a response to the socio-political condition of females, it seeks to establish identity, representation and access to freedom and rule of their own. It is an expression of the action, bargain, reformation of knowledge and understanding of women in order to question the traditional norms and values. Voice of the women as a tool expresses and reinforces on proactive role of women for their liberation. Thus, feminist practice highlights it as a tool to make women proactive on the issues of identity, freedom, right, justice and access in decision making in particular and women’s equality in general.

Capote’s novel has received diverse analysis from the renowned critics and scholars from the very beginning of its publication. Some of the critics praise Capote’s style for his unique presentation and some critics criticize the novel for being hypocritical and unusual. Some of the prominent critics and scholars have paid much attention to his works and the researcher has taken them into consideration.

Robert Siegle praises Capote’s comprehensive style in his novel. His revelation pays much attention to Capote’s formalist side than what it carries. He believes in how Capote writes than what he writes. He argues:  “Capote seeks to make his practice of writing as comprehensive as possible, absorbing into this application all the forms he has known, as if sheer range of generic conventions and techniques would achieve his dream of plenitude” (441).  Siegel is of the opinion that Capote has laid much effort on ornamenting the novel with all the writing techniques he has known. Making such an argument makes him a formalist analyst of the novel. There are some major causes latent in Capote’s writing which carry much importance than formalist analysis. In such a case, Siegel has been incomplete in his analysis. Thus, his analysis does not address the concerns with social science in general and feminist analysis in particular. His criticism merely remains as a criticism in the pages of his book not in the minds of the reader to have him exemplified for the social discussion on prime issues concerning women.

Likewise, William Todd Schultz observes how Capote felt after the completion of Summer Crossing. The curiosity on his novel oscillates between hope and fear of failure. He expresses:

The short stories, Other Voices, and Tiffany’s were the early works published in Capote’s lifetime. But there was another ambivalent effort, a novel he never expected to see the light of day. This was Summer Crossing, a book of social commentary he labored over in the late 1940s, but finally judged ‘thin, clever, unfelt’. At first it gave him ‘fine hopes’. He felt alive and justified doing it, and it left him nervous all the time, ‘probably a good sign’. (67)

Schultz makes an attempt to uncover Capote’s feeling. He calls his effort ambivalent which gains much praise to him. Summer Crossing is a social commentary which dwells the social practices, lifestyles and surroundings. The critics’ behaviorist approach sees much in him as he says, “he felt alive and justified doing it” (67). Reading the internal thought of Capote makes his criticism alive. What the critic sees is Capote is his hope which he calls ‘a good sign’. Thus, Schultz has made an attempt to valorize Summer Crossing as he sees abundance of social lifestyle in the novel.

 

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  1.  Voice of the Women in Truman Capotes’ Summer Crossing

Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing provides evidences that cross the limits of patriarchal structure and establishes the voice of women in the society. This chapter argues that Capote’s central characters are not merely the examples of hegemonized figures but also the gallant radical feminists who are sometimes violent to challenge and then brandish the patriarchal structure. Grady, the central character of the novel, rejects the lessons of the patriarch. She disagrees with the norms, values and systems in general and the ‘rule of the father’ in particular. She charges her mother for being hegemonic to power of the father. As she comes up with new insight, she claims that women and men are compliment to each other and shall have respect to each other. The researcher hereafter makes an attempt to illustrate in brief the historical development of patriarchal rule and the role of women in shaping the present day society based on equality.

Women, from the time immemorial, are considered as the company of men. There are lots of interpretations on women when it comes to discussion. The society where there is dominance of the male voice, females are often expected to remain silent.  Mineke Schipper quotes the Dutch saying, “Where men are speaking, women should keep their mouths shut” (47). Women should speak in a low voice and shall have respect for men. For men, it is normal or natural when women act like the way men wish. In Rwanda it is believed that, “No hen is allowed to sing in the cock’s presence” (47). It suggests that male domination and exploitation over female has a long history. There was actually no space for women to reveal their inner feelings. Transmitted from generations to generations it became the tradition and women follow it. So far as the traditions have impression on our present, we still see women doing whatever they were taught by. The present study does not question why they follow such traditions but why they were taught to follow it. There must be some latent motive in doing so. When a child is taught to spit, s/he spits but when s/he is taught to respect s/he respects. It is because child cannot distinguish between good and bad habits. They just do whatever they are taught to and they imitate whatever others do. So, it is problematic for the present society that women are still taught to follow the same tradition; the same sequence, again and again. The question is what should we do now, and we know the answer to that, do we not—breaking the tradition, allowing women to learn, exercise their mind, explore their feelings and openly demand for their rights. When women are given a chance, it will completely neutralize the biasness between men and women and support to rebuild the society based on equality.

The researcher argues that women who follow the footsteps of their mothers and grandmothers are not to be blamed but the traditional teaching which habituates women to accept the biased rules, norms and values formulated by the patriarchal authority. There is no need to blame mothers and grandmothers but the traditional practice that intends to guide them. And, if women are to be judged equal to men, the biased rules, norms and values are to be subverted. So, there is strong need to change the traditions/ practices which are obsolete and remain as obstacles for the liberation, freedom, self, identity and dignity of women. Thus, women should rise with their bold voices; shall have courage to grind such traditions to dust and Truman Capote, to some extent, in Summer Crossing speaks for the welfare of women, their liberation, succession, identity and self.

Truman Capote illustrates his novel with the role of women in traditional society. First, he introduces two women; mother and daughter whose thinking greatly differs since they belong to different generations. We observe that mother shows confirmation to patriarchal norms and values whereas the daughter speaks against it. There is vivid distinction between traditional practice and need for the liberation of women. Thus, the researcher establishes voice of women throughout this chapter. As stated earlier, first of all it introduces the traditional society where women are seen hegemonized and then it shifts towards the radical society where women object the traditional women and society as well. The concept of hegemony was coined by the Antonio Gramsci to show the powerless people being operated by the internalized power of the capitalists. Walter Adamson quotes the idea of Gramsci: “hegemony as a mode of rule for the bourgeoisie and for the proletarian “potential state” (171). Thus, hegemony is the power of the ruler which proletariats have internalized and believe that they must obey the command of the bourgeoisie. Capote shows the hegemonic power being challenged. He shows the shift regarding women’s thinking from hegemonic to radical. It shows the thoughts of mother and daughter oscillating between discrimination of the past and liberation of the women at present.

Traditionally, women are thought to be mysterious. As Mrs McNeil is traditional minded she goes on praising her daughter, Grady. There are lots of interpretations about women’s body, their feelings and kindness they have. But the readers can observe Grady not silent about such praises. She does not boast for being mysterious. She reluctantly accepts her mothers’ viewpoint. She takes pleasure in thinking that she is mysterious but she is not serious about the intention behind such praise. Capote asserts, “You are a mystery, my dear, her mother said, and Grady, gazing across the table through a centerpiece of roses and fern, smiled indulgently: yes, I am a mystery, and it pleased her to think so” (3). The voice of Grady’s mother is an affirmation to patriarchal rule. She defines her daughter as she was taught by and learned from the society. It is not surprising that she calls Grady ‘mystery’. Women are considered mysterious from the very beginning of the society. Mineke Schipper quotes the Gikuyu proverb, “ Woman and sky cannot be understood” (295).The sky is imagined as a woman in several ways: neither can be understood, both are a mystery, both change unexpectedly; neither can be trusted, life without either would be much less complicated. Thus, associating women with mystery suggests the affirmation of Grady’s mother with patriarchal norms, values and systems.

The researcher judges over Gradys’ mother and reveals that Grady is far more aggressive than her mother. She understands that her mother is supporting the patriarchal definition. Readers can notice Grady as an aggressive girl and radical in her thinking. Her quick understanding of her mothers’ mind suggests that she is not as dull as her mother rather much more conscious of her freedom. Truman explains such consciousness in Grady’s words, “She had thought at first that this was because her mother considered her plainer, more obstinate, less playful than Apple, but later when it was apparent, and painfully so to Apple, that Grady was finer looking by far, then she gave up reasoning about her mother’s viewpoint” (4). Here, the readers can notice the patriarch sentiment of Grady’s mother. Since Grady’s mother is habituated in following the patriarchal rules, norms and values, she wants her daughter to follow such rules. But, being conscious about the evils of the society, now, Grady realizes that her mother is guided by the patriarchal instinct. She does not give a damn about her mother’s superstition. This rejection is similar to Sheila Ruth’s concept of distortion of patriarchal constraints as, “Life and personhood defined within such patriarchal constraints must be distorted” (96).  Ruth believes that life and personhood defined by patriarchal society articulates constraints much and freedom less for women. Thus, such constraints are the hindrances for women’s liberation. As Capote’s character Grady understands the politics of teaching patriarchal norms through her mother, every woman should vandalize the discriminatory provisions and teachings to secure their freedom.  At this point, the analysis comes near the to idea as proposed by Antonio Gramsci. Paul, Richard Bellamy and Virginia Cox take support from Gramsci as “Gramsci insisted that true hegemony could only be exercised by a class that was dominant economically” (xxxviii). Thus, the idea of hegemony as described by Gramsci is operating the minds of the classical feminist characters in the novel.

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III. Women’s Victory in Summer Crossing

Truman Capote’s novel Summer Crossing revisits the patriarchal structure with the help of radical feminism; makes thorough examination of the established norms, values; systems and concludes that they are challenged at present. Thus, feminists set limits of reform and come up with the motif of rejecting the structure. They also tend to establish the womanhood in society. For this, they make ‘feminist bond’, a radical bond and ‘sisterhood’ as a tool to fight against the structure.  In their movement, with the collective efforts of women, they become successful in getting victory over the patriarchy.

At the beginning of the novel, the readers can observe Mrs McNeil trying to teach her daughters the lesson of the patriarch. She wants her daughter not to disobey the social rules. She is somehow hegemonized by the patriarchal authority. But her daughters Grady and Apple vehemently go against the social rules. They sometimes act as if they do not know the rules and at times they knowingly go against it. Grady’s refusal to get married is a challenge for the society. Her mother tries to woo her. Grady knows that her mother is one of the loyal followers of the patriarchal norms and values, thus she charges her mother for being traditional. Gradually, the readers observe her cutting her hair and speaking in presence of males and suggesting women not to carry out the tasks assigned to them by the males. Her lessons influence other women too.

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Source: Aryal, G.P. “Resistance to Patriarchal Hegemony through Self-awakening and Female Bonding in Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing.” (An Unpublished Dissertation) Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University, 2015.

 

 

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Best, Deborah L. “Gender Stereotypes”. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World’s Cultures. USA: New York, 2003: 11-26.
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Davis, Deborah. Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Balls. Canada: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2006.
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Gramsci, Antonio, Richard Paul Bellamy and Virginia Cox. Gramsci: Pre-Prison Writing. Cambridge: CUP, 1994.
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Ruth, Sheila. Issues in feminism: a first course in women’s studies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
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Siegle, Robert. “Capote’s ‘Handcarved Coffins’ and the Nonfiction Novel.” Contemporary Literature 25.4. US: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984: 437-51.
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