This first novel from one of America's most important living writers is set in Lorrain, Ohio in 1939. An adult narrator, named Claudia MacTeer, recalls her childhood, especially the year when another family, the Breedloves, had been put "out doors" and the daughter, Pecola Breedlove, had to come to live with the MacTeers. Although Claudia and her sister Frieda uneasily befriend Pecola, the desperate poverty and domestic violence of the Breedlove household signify a world beyond their experience and understanding. The relative normalcy of the MacTeer household is contrasted to the imploding violence in the Breedlove household, and with the deterministic grimness of a Thomas Hardy or Richard Wright novel, Morrison's story proceeds toward the final tragic fate of the young Pecola, whose mother dotes on the white family she works for and whose father (Cholly) has been racially humilated, socially defeated, and made violent by the sociological violence of his life. In the novel's horrible central scene, after Pecola has been returned to her family, Cholly rapes and impregnates his daughter. There is no refuge from such devastation for Pecola, who seeks to escape her reality by fantasizing that she, like Shirley Temple and the ubiquitous white-skinned, blue-eyed dolls Pecola so adores, might become white and be spared her fate. Pecola's wish becomes a metaphor for the black community's self-contempt, for the consequences that follow from a society that holds whiteness as a standard for beauty and interprets blackness as ugliness and deformity. The psychological consequences of sexual assault are not particularly explored by this novel, and we should certainly understand by now that sexual violence happens across economic and racial lines, so that Pecola's whiteness would not necessarily have saved her. Nevertheless this is a compelling novel that connects sexual assault to other basic modes of social oppression and degradation such as poverty and racism.
In this short story, we are thrown immediately into the situation of Anne Ramsey, a woman in her mid twenties who is abducted on the streets of Washington D.C., taken prisoner in her own apartment, and sexually assaulted. Thereafter the story shifts dramatically in time and in voice, centering always on the episode of Anne's assault, yet also casting her voice into the future where she recollects the devastation of that day and also measures her own instincts for survival. The wider frame of the story is provided by the perspective of her lover Carter, who tries to accompany Anne imaginatively during an event that he cannot completely understand in order to better know the woman she has become. This story is an innovative experiment in testimonial fiction that charts the ripple effect of sexual violence, which also has an impact on the significant others, or secondhand survivors, in a survivor's life. The story ends in Anne's voice, calling for our understanding of sexual violence as more than a single event, but a trauma with long-term consequences. Esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom has called "Anne, Afterward" a short story that is "marked for permanence" and if this is so, perhaps it is because the courage and spirit of this story's heroine are as enduring and powerful as trauma itself. "Anne, Afterward" originally appeared in The North Atlantic Review and, in short form, Soma Magazine.
Any person who attended high school can attest to the struggle of fitting in and feeling of being left out. Yet in Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel, we read in even more raw and painful detail how a teenage girl copes with isolation in her freshman year of high school. The heroine, Melinda, is traumatized into silence after a summer party ends in a police raid. Ostracized by her friends but unable to explain her actions, Melinda struggles to express herself throughout the school year. Not until later in her story do we begin to understand that Melinda is dealing with the shocking aftermath of an acquaintance rape. For anyone who remembers or has experienced rejection in adolescence, Speak will shed new light on the emotions and behaviors that result when a person is treated as an outcast. As Melinda ultimately finds her voice, we learn the truth about her decision not to speak and what really happened at the party. No doubt readers will come away with greater consideration, sensitivity and compassion for those who long to be accepted, and an understanding of the reasons for actions that are often hidden below the surface. Both humorous and touching, this book is a must-read for young adults, their parents and friends (ages 13 and up).
Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the most widely read books of the late twentieth century. The first of five volumes from the author's autobiography, it recounts a childhood marred by the presiding social structures of racism and sexual oppression. It also offers one of the most direct accounts of the rape of a young child. The narrative details the child's life with a fundamentalist grandmother in Arkansas and an overwhelmed mother in California, who fails to prevent her live-in boyfriend from raping her eight-year old daughter. In retaliation for the rape, Maya's uncles kill the boyfriend, as Maya is traumatized by both the rape and the subsequent murder of her rapist. Despite this influential, horrifically central event in her childhood, Angelou foresees the possibility, as Freud would say, of working through trauma and grief. Indeed, the narrative is characterized by its relentless optimism, by the author's basic belief in the expressive possibility of literary song and the black girl-woman's voice. Over the course of the narrative, Maya struggles for employment, completes high school after getting pregnant, and finally feels a renewed connection to her life through the birth of her child. Seeing Maya Angelou today, in all of her force and glory, we cannot help but feel optimistic ourselves, as we marvel at what she endured before becoming everything that she so vividly is.
Prostitution, like rape, is hardly a stranger to today's taboo culture. In Jody Raphael's "Listening to Olivia,” the reader is given an opportunity to learn about the issue head-on with all its alarming truths, yet with much compassion and hope as well.
This is Raphael's second work in a trilogy dealing specifically with the interrelationships between poverty and violence, and why a life tangled within these has become such a complicated trap for so many women. As in "Saving Bernice,” Raphael once more targets the issue where it counts most: at its heart, via the survivor's own story.
The survivor profiled is Olivia, whose intention for the book is to, quite simply and admirably, help those who are in the same position as she was once in. Her moving tale of survival, braided with Raphael's account of its social implications, proves to us that today's sex trade industry is more than just conceptual; we cannot turn a blind eye on it anymore.
"Listening to Olivia” provides research and straightforward information on the structure of the prostitution industry, including its global relevance. It touches on issues such as drug addiction, the false idea of glamour and female independence in the prostitution industry, and why it becomes so easy for so many to get trapped. Furthermore, "Listening to Olivia” is smart; it commands an effective way of storytelling because its contents reflect the average person's knowledge of it, making it accessible, readable, and understandable.
The messages of the book are even more emphasized and gripping as the voices of the women in prostitution become visible throughout the stories they tell. It is an honest, yet earnest, and often inspiring account on what the public needs to know about this complex, often unmentionable subject.
One of the too often ignored aspects of sexual violence is the way that it devastates not only its victims, but all who support and care for them: families, communities, and our culture as a whole. Working With Available Light is a compelling and resonant account of how one woman's family has been impacted, in ways large and small, by the sexual violence done to her. On a perfectly ordinary autumn afternoon, photographer Patricia Evans, out for a run on Chicago's lakefront, was beaten and sexually assaulted. In the wake of this defining event, nothing in her life, or the life of her family, would be the same. Evans's husband, Jamie Kalven, has written a brutally truthful memoir of thier family's struggle in the wake of this assault on Evans. As husband, daughter and son try to make sense of the violence that has entered their lives—and neighbors and friends respond with both confusion and care—Kalven juxtaposes the rituals and routines of ordinary life as they reassert themselves against a new landscape: one of loss, grief and mourning for all that was before Evans' attack. Covering a period of five years, during which Evans redefines her place within the world, and her relationships to her husband and children, we see, with brutal clarity, the long-term effects of sexual assault on the family. Yet in reading this book we are bearing witness to something more: a love story, where the love is real and tested and true and above all lovely. Perhaps literary critic Cythia Ozick has put it best: "The ghost of violence hovers over these pages; also a certain beauty—the beauty of transparent and pellucid prose animated by a sensibility at once tender and unsentimental. The clarity and purity of Kalven's sentences are an astonishing vehicle for the exact rendering of terrors. This is a remarkable book."
In this remarkable memoir, Nancy Venable Raine attempts to chart the social and political implications of rape and its aftermath. As she responds implicitly to her rapist-who in 1984 assaulted her in her own home and ordered her to "shut up" about it-Raine asks how it is possible to celebrate survival if one is alone and silent. Silence, whether or not it is experienced as shame, produces the perception of shamefulness. Of course the reason some victims of sexual assault are silent is not only because they find it difficult to speak of what they have experienced. Silence is a social phenomenon, and as Raine charts her own silence for a decade, she remembers how others reacted in horrified silence to her rape. Silence, says Raine, makes it harder not only for victims but for everyone—we don't know what to do with the feelings we experience on hearing about and seeing victimization. If "no one wants to hear about such terrible things," as she is devastatingly told when she informs someone she's writing a book about rape, then the raped self cannot exist socially, in relation to others. Raine's writing is thus defiant, resilient, hopeful, and celebratory of herself and her relationships with others. Throughout the memoir she delights in her own voice, crafting a deliberately poetic narrative, recovering rape stories in ancient myth (such as the myth of Persephone and Demeter) and interweaving them with her own story. Raine follows Brownmiller in seeing rape as a crime of violence rather than sex, and she even goes so far as to claim that the emphasis on sexual violation can get in the way of seeing rape for what it is, as a horrific act of interpersonal violence. Ultimately, this book is interested in how we talk about rape as a culture, and in how rape can be more fully talked about by survivors-what voices can adequately convey their brokenness and violation, what's left of them besides fear, or shame, or rage.