He Said, She Said: A Feminist Exploration of the Literary Canon


He Said, She Said: A Feminist Exploration of the Literary Canon


Introduction Centuries of writing have contributed to what academics and readers alike consider to be the English language literary canon—a collection of influential and well-read works agreed upon to be the most important pieces of writing. These works are predominantly written by men. Few female authors tend to break through the barrier to enter the historical literary canon, and those who do are typically celebrated for their works with the qualifier of being a woman. But what of the women inside the canon—the female characters whose lives exist within stories written by men? How do we view these women, their stories, and their endings? These women exist only because a man wrote them, and their personalities and endings are defined by the male perspective. Their objectives and motivations have been subject to much scrutiny during every wave of feminist literary criticism. But what can we do about these women whose stories have already been written? Retellings of canonical works and myths have been trending in popular fiction recently, with most authors consciously reframing these stories toward women and queer identities. I have chosen four works from the English-language literary canon with culturally significant female characters: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Antigone by Sophocles, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. These women’s stories—and their endings—were shaped by male writers and their ideas of womanhood.


Hamaid, Michaela Ann


Rider University



Harris, Laurel


Baccalaureate Honors Program


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Hamaid, Michaela Ann, “He Said, She Said: A Feminist Exploration of the Literary Canon,” Rider Student Research, accessed September 25, 2023, https://riderstudents.omeka.net/items/show/46.

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