Acts of dissent: Literatures of coming to consciousness in the United States and Latin America

Donna M Bickford, University of Rhode Island


This dissertation studies the place of literature in an increasingly globalized economy; explores connections between literature and social change; and theorizes implications for how we become aware of, or are able to envision, ourselves as political actors. I focus on United States feminist consciousness-raising novels and Latin American testimonial novels, second-wave feminist strategies for politicization, and Paulo Freire's notion of conscientization to discuss literature as oppositional practice—as sites where oppressive social and political conditions are challenged and inequity and injustice are made visible. ^ I examine the process of coming-to-consciousness to determine what acts of dissent are made possible once politicization is achieved. A significant part of the work these novels do is to intertwine purportedly private domestic space with the public arena, responding to the contentions of second-wave U.S. feminism that the personal is the political and to the assertions of conscientization that the daily conditions of one's life contain political import. I argue that analyses of the novels which concentrate only on “public” revolutionary activity allow readers to ignore that the novels envision, and call attention to the need for, egalitarian intimate relationships as an integral part of creating a just society. I insist that we consider what is at stake in identifying the existence of a broad range of dissent, which encourages new ways to imagine modes of intervention in response to societal injustice. I analyze testimonial novels and consciousness-raising novels in their roles as oppositional histories—histories that make visible what dominant narratives have occluded, or that re-present what “official” histories have distorted or told only partially from a mainstream perspective. This approach necessitates a consideration of the truth values of the novels which offer revisionist histories within a genre identified as “fictional.” I consider their contributions to the politics of memory, the process of witnessing, and the struggle against cultural amnesia. I suggest how this critical work matters in terms of pedagogy, discussing how these texts might be included in college English classrooms and why it is important to have them there. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, Latin American|Women's Studies|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Donna M Bickford, "Acts of dissent: Literatures of coming to consciousness in the United States and Latin America" (2000). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9988720.