Since its publication in 1896, critics of Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs have disputed the work's claim to be a novel. Feminist critics in particular have defended the fiction's nonlinear structure, some claiming that its circularity and nondramatic development characterize a novelistic mode that is distinctively female. Yet even such defenses of Pointed Firs are limited. Resting as they do on binary polarities (male/female; linearity/nonlinearity), such oppositions reduce discussion of Pointed Firs's genre to issues of engenderment and plot variation. I believe that the work of Mikhail Bakhtin offers another way to address the question of whether Pointed Firsis a novel, a way that avoids the dichotomized nature of previous criticisms. Bakhtin's theory of the novel rejects traditional definitions of the genre as a homogeneous form and of language as a unitary, centripetalizing system. Unlike his structuralist and linguistic contemporaries, Bakhtin recognizes that stratifications within language extend to include not only a variety of dialects but socio-ideological languages as well. In redirecting our attention to the realm of language, Bakhtin situates interanimated discourses and contesting voices at the heart of all novelistic fiction.
Copyright © 1994, Margaret M. Strain
Strain, Margaret M., "'Characters ... Worth Listening To': Dialogized Voices in Sarah Orne Jewett's 'The Country of the Pointed Firs'" (1994). English Faculty Publications. 94.