Dissertation: Makov-Hasson, Narrating Gender and Nation in the Early Novels of Israeli Women

Makov-Hasson, Hadar. Oedipus’ Sister: Narrating Gender and Nation in the Early Novels of Israeli Women. New York: New York University, 2009.

 

Abstract

This dissertation follows the emergence of the first novels to be written by women in Israel after 1948. Largely ignored until now, the corpus of the female interwar novelists [1948-1966] consists of more than twenty novels which offer a diverse and innovative engagement with questions of gender and nation. The dissertation presents a reading of six such novels, framed within a discussion of the writers’ choice of genre, a highly uncommon venue for women writers during that time.

The main argument of this dissertation is that women novelists of the suggested period proposed alternative interpretations to the prevailing Zionist meta-narrative which dominated Hebrew male-centered literature. By employing strategies of appropriation and subversion, these writers have managed to portray alternative protagonists with different trajectories.

The six novels analyzed in the dissertation are closely read through the lenses of various theories. First, theories of the novel are explored in an examination of the chosen genre and the unique possibilities of resistance it offers. Next, the novels are read in conjunction with feminist and postcolonial theories as a means to highlight their moments of interruption of the national narrative, and as a tool to recognize and explain strategies of resistance and defiance.

My reading reveals that while often adopting canonized poetics, the female interwar novelists use this form of appropriation as a cover up for their subversive content. Offering marginal protagonists, both women and men, they reread the national narrative by either foregrounding feminine and artistic coming-of-age stories that defy stereotypical gender roles, or by exposing the ruptures within the model of national manhood through the exploration of male protagonists and their nationalized masculinity.

This dissertation presents a two-fold contribution to the field of modern Hebrew literature. First, it adds a "missing link" to the story of women’s writing, exposing a continuity that contradicts previous depictions of this writing as sporadic and mostly marginal. Second, it rattles prevalent perceptions of the literary canon, revealing how its so-called margins managed to infiltrate and undermine the ruling literary norms of the time, while anticipating some of Israel’s most prominent literary works.

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