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Quite Contrary: The Cultivation of Self in Mary Mebane's Autobiography

Quite Contrary: The Cultivation of Self in Mary Mebane's Autobiography Quite Contrary: The Cultivation of Self in Mary Mebane’s Autobiography by Summar C. Sparks The constraints, the restraints, the hidden threats that we lived under, that were the conditions of our lives, inevitably produced mutations in the natural human flowering. To me we were like plants that were meant to grow upright but became bent and twisted, stunted, sometimes stretching out and running along the ground, because the conditions of our environment forbade our developing upward naturally. — Mary Mebane, Mary Mary, the first of Mary Mebane’s two autobiographies, begins with the one-sentence paragraph, “My name is Mary” (3). This single line evokes one of the other seminal first lines of American literature — “Call me Ishmael.” Similar to the Moby-Dick narrator, Mebane seems simply to be declaring her own presence and individuality. However, by avoid- ing the subject pronoun “I,” Mebane begins her narrative by creating a distance between herself as object, “Mary,” and herself as subject, “I,” emphasizing the difference between name and being — between object and subject. Mebane, by avoiding the subject position, destabilizes the subjectivity of her narrator just as Melville, by avoiding declarative state- ments, destabilizes the reliability of his narrator. While Mebane http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Southern Literary Journal University of North Carolina Press

Quite Contrary: The Cultivation of Self in Mary Mebane's Autobiography

The Southern Literary Journal , Volume 43 (1) – Mar 16, 2011

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Publisher
University of North Carolina Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 the Southern Literary Journal and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of English.
ISSN
1534-1461

Abstract

Quite Contrary: The Cultivation of Self in Mary Mebane’s Autobiography by Summar C. Sparks The constraints, the restraints, the hidden threats that we lived under, that were the conditions of our lives, inevitably produced mutations in the natural human flowering. To me we were like plants that were meant to grow upright but became bent and twisted, stunted, sometimes stretching out and running along the ground, because the conditions of our environment forbade our developing upward naturally. — Mary Mebane, Mary Mary, the first of Mary Mebane’s two autobiographies, begins with the one-sentence paragraph, “My name is Mary” (3). This single line evokes one of the other seminal first lines of American literature — “Call me Ishmael.” Similar to the Moby-Dick narrator, Mebane seems simply to be declaring her own presence and individuality. However, by avoid- ing the subject pronoun “I,” Mebane begins her narrative by creating a distance between herself as object, “Mary,” and herself as subject, “I,” emphasizing the difference between name and being — between object and subject. Mebane, by avoiding the subject position, destabilizes the subjectivity of her narrator just as Melville, by avoiding declarative state- ments, destabilizes the reliability of his narrator. While Mebane

Journal

The Southern Literary JournalUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Mar 16, 2011

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