6 March 1997
Discussion Leader Paper
A woman's stay at the Lowell mills provides her with time for self-reflection or reflection on religion or literature. The Lowell woman's only responsibility other than her work, is to herself and this independence is the primary vehicle towards knowledge and away from the ignorance that previously oppressed her. It is this independence which is so seductive. Lowell women give up many of the pleasantries of home life in order to pursue it: "the writers [exchange] the unspoiled beauty of the mountains, gorges and cataracts of the countryside for the factory walls, and physical freedom for a constricting lack of exercise, space and privacy" (Eisler, pg. 133), because it is within these walls where they have the liberty to produce such writing. Interestingly, it is the confinement which allows women to have the space for independence, reflection and ultimately a literary genre of their own making. Though The Lowell Offering is full of writing which is nostalgic for home or impatient for the future, these themes are exclusive to the Lowell women and they create an original genre of writing, and the "remembrance of home [becomes] a golden pastoral" (Eisler, pg. 133). This pastoral is the mill woman's experience and thus, is wholly outside that of the traditional literary male.
In the handout for today, the quote from Storey's Cultural Theory and Popular Culture speaks of a dialogue between different literary frameworks. The writing of the Lowell mill women is somewhat dialogic with that of the male literary tradition such as Emerson and Thoreau. Instead of removing herself from society and retreating to nature in order to gain autonomy and individuality, like Thoreau, these women instead turn away from the ignorance they experienced and by which they were oppressed in nature and submerge themselves into a society of their own by way of the mills. In a sense, these women are moving away from the male literary tradition which suggests nature as deliverance from the weight of society and instead, they offer the workplace and the independence gained in it, as the female deliverance from the constraints of this tradition, in that it provides a forum for women to individualize their own genre in the literary world by way of their acquired independence.
However, these women are still operating from the framework of a Transcendental notion. Thoreau's removal from society is temporary and serves as a transition from man as one of the pack to man as an individual. The Lowell women write from within this same structure, in that their time at the mills is temporary and a transition between girlhood and womanhood. Most of these woman are at the mills to make themselves in whatever sense, marriageable.
Therefore, the Lowell women, regardless of their incredibly individual notions of independence and self-knowledge that give way to their own literary genre, are still in a sense, operating within the same structure as the male transcendental writers before them.
- Eisler, Benita, The Lowell Offering, Harper & Row, New York, 1977.