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The representation of patriarchy and power relations in Christa Wolf’s "Kassandra"

by Olivia Hillings (Author)

Essay 2014 13 Pages

Literature - Modern Literature

Excerpt

Introduction

‘That’s the male version. Now watch the other’,[1] this statement encapsulates the underlying theme of Christa Wolf’s narrative. assandra in which she radically inverts the Homeric, ‘male version’ of the Trojan War. Inspired by Ingeborg Bachmann, Wolf creates a female voice within a male-dominated society. She re-writes the mythos from the perspective of a female narrator, Kassandra, a Trojan princess and prophet, who upon the fall of the city is waiting for her execution in Mycenae and uses her last hours to deliver her retrospective account of the Greek-Trojan conflict. Thereby Wolf provides critique of the patriarchal order as well as the power relations dictated by patriarchs and so ‘scratches away the entire male tradition’.[2] This essay will discuss how both patriarchy and power relations in.assandra are represented in an ultimately socially destructive manner. In order to achieve this, I shall first demonstrate that the patriarchy is depicted as a social construct predominantly resting on unconditional drive for dominance, elimination of female subjectivity and perpetuation of aggression. Subsequently, I will examine the representation of power relations in the context of gender, class and religion to argue that power relations based on the exclusion of women, manipulation, terror and misuse of religion ultimately lead to the demise of society as a whole.

Greece and Troy: different stages of patriarchy

In analysing. assandra with regard to the representation of patriarchy, understood as a system of social structures and practices establishing male dominance and at the same time resulting in oppression and exploitation of women,[3] it is vital to address.oraussetzungen einer Erzählung[4] accompanying the narrative. In this series of lectures given by Wolf in 1982 at the University of Frankfurt am Main, the author critically assessed male-dominated cultures describing them as ‘selbstzerstörerisch’ and characterized by ‘Unfähigkeit zur Reife’ (V 115). This opinion forms the essence of the negative representations of patriarchy and its values, which in.assandra is exemplified by the Greek and the Trojan societies.

In.assandra, the Greeks represent an advanced stage of patriarchal rule with male domination taking the form of “overt brutality”[5]: women are forced into marriage by their fathers or brothers whilst Briseis, who goes to the Greek camp to be reunited with her father, ultimately gets abused and raped by both Achilles and Agamemnon, who treat her as spoil of war.

In the pre-war era, in Troy one can observe the remnants of a past matriarchal order: the priests wore female costumes and King Priam occasionally sat in Queen Hecuba’s megaron on a stool whilst she occupied an armchair that resembled a throne ‘Königin, [...] die in ihrem Megaron saß, auf ihrem hölzernen Lehnstuhl, der einem Thron sehr ähnlich sah und an den der König sich […] einen Hocker heranzog’.[6] However, for as long as Kassandra can remember, the matriarchal goddess Cybele is banned from the city. In reality the political power is vested with the King who merely consults the Queen. In the Frankfurt lectures Wolf herself states that Hecuba and Kassandra’s sisters are supposed to ‘das Haus hüten’ and ‘heiraten’ (V96). This indicates that women are reduced to the domestic sphere which in turn proves the patriarchal construct.[7] On balance, the situation in Troy is initially one of emerging patriarchy which is accelerated as the war progresses. Hence, contrary to Maisch’s view,[8] it is argued that throughout.assandra Troy’s social structure did not only develop from matriarchy to patriarchy, but rather, as Weedon rightly asserted, that “even before the war Troy is a city run on patriarchal principles”.[9] From the beginning Wolf presents us with patriarchal orders both in Greece and Troy, the difference is merely one of degree.

Wolf’s critical representation of patriarchy in the Greek and Trojan societies is subdivided into three categories. Firstly, she criticises the blind male desire for domination which is based upon their hierarchical thinking. Secondly, she point outs the violent, objectification and exclusion of women which is inherent to patriarchy. Finally, she demystifies the cult of heroes.

Drive for domination and hierarchical thinking

In.assandra patriarchal structures are represented as driven by a mindless desire for economic domination of the shipping route to Hellespont, over which the Trojans claim historic rights but which are disregarded by militarily superior Greece. .assandra demonstrates men resorting to violence and military force instead of diplomacy in conflict resolution. Priam, despite being aware of the Trojan military inferiority is blinded by his pride. He will not reveal that Helen has been lost to the Egyptian King, as he considers the elusive ‘Ehe [des] Hauses’(K83) to be of prime importance. Eager to reclaim domination of the region he rejects Kassandra’s suggestions to negotiate a settlement, in which in exchange for the information about the whereabouts of Helen the war could be avoided. His absolute power makes him incapable of recognition of his weaknesses as well as the imminent doom hanging over the entire city. Hierarchical thinking is represented through the Priam and Eumelos’ ultimate control of the state and the lives of the whole community. This for Wolf is tantamount to oligarchy based on madness: “The realization that the physical existence of all of us depends on the shifts of delusional thinking of a very small group of people, in other words on chance, […] completely unhinges the classical aesthetics, […] which are fastened to the laws of reason” (V84). This delusional patriarchal thinking is especially exemplified by Priam, since he lives in ‘Phantasiewelten;.icht ganz scharf die Bedingungen ins Auge faßte, die seinen Staat zusammenhielten, auch die nicht, die ihn bedrohten’ (K20). This combination of obsession for power and hierarchical thinking leads Troy into ‘moral decay’[10] and is the cause of its ultimate demise.

Exclusion of women from the public sphere

Here I will discuss the consequences of the marginalisation of women, the mechanisms of which are considered in the context of power relations. In.assandra, a small group of patriarchs controls the state believing that the warfare is not a ‘Frauensache’ (K107). Wolf epitomises patriarchy as barring women from any political decision making thus depriving them of the possibility to participate in shaping society or to determine their own lives. As the author notes ‘For three thousand years, wherever ‘reality’, things of real importance were drafted, planned, and produced, women have not counted and do not count. Half the population of a culture have by their very nature no part in those phenomena through which that culture recognises itself’.[11] Such a patriarchal constellation, however, proves to be not only hugely detrimental to the women but it also poses a huge danger for peaceful international relations, since the exclusion of women diminishes and devalues traits usually ascribed to the female gender. Qualities such as intuition, emotion and fertility, all of which, are ‘necessary to the wholeness of both women and men’,[12] prevent the collective thinking process from being dictated by patriarchs who only sink deeper in their immaturity, unable to abandon their delusions based on their unconditional drive for progress and mindless domination.

[...]


[1] Harrison, p.431.

[2] Schelbitzki Pickle, p.34.

[3] Walby,.heorizing Patriarchy, p.20; Walby,.atriarchy at Work, p.51.

[4] Wolf,.oraussetzungen einer Erzählung: Kassandra. Subsequent references are included in the text, abbreviated as..

[5] Smith, p.267.

[6] Wolf,.assandra, p.20. Subsequent references are included in the text, abbreviated as..

[7] Chodorow, p.64.

[8] Maisch, p.73.

[9] Weedon,.eading Christa Wolf, p. 238.

[10] Kuhn, p. 198.

[11] Ibid., p.180.

[12] Weedon,.eminism, theory, and the politics of difference, p.30.

Details

Pages
13
Year
2014
ISBN (eBook)
9783656685883
ISBN (Book)
9783656685876
File size
433 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v275527
Institution / College
University of Nottingham – School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Grade
Starred First
Tags
christa wolf’s kassandra

Author

  • Olivia Hillings (Author)

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Title: The representation of patriarchy and power relations in Christa Wolf’s "Kassandra"