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Between lexis and deixis : working out textual ideology in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s short story "Louisa"

ContributorsMartin, Caroline
Presented atSANAS Biennial Conference 2022, Who Tells Your Story?, Université de Fribourg, 18-19 Novembre 2022, p. 10
Presentation date2022-11-19

In Mary Wilkins Freeman’s short story “Louisa” (1891), the eponymous character is faced with the dilemma of either marrying a man she does not love or performing typically masculine tasks such as field labor to save her destitute family from ruin. Louisa revolts against the idea of a loveless marriage and is determined to “wrest a little sustenance from their stony acre of land,” much to the discontent of her mother, Mrs. Britton, who deems her behavior irrational and morally reprehensible. The story, narrated by a predominantly covert heterodiegetic narrator, addresses the question of gender roles by opposing the mother’s discourse of True Womanhood to Louisa’s unconventional sense of self-determination, grounded in the Protestant work ethic. The two protagonists explicitly defend their respective points of view through reported speech, thereby constituting two identifiable moral deictic centers in the narrative. However, the story’s overall endorsement of Louisa’s value system is more subtle and takes various forms: the deictic markers of the story’s “textual ideology” (Lanser) are distributed across multiple levels that work in conjunction to conceal and naturalize it, a configuration that Lanser describes as “embedded ideology,” that is, “ideology carried at ‘deep-structural’ levels of discourse.” The narrator’s occasional use of “value-laden lexis” (Lanser) or explicit comments betray their partiality towards Louisa, although the extensive use of internal focalization and the ambiguity it generates complicate the task of identifying a clear narratorial stance—and persona—to which the moral center could be attached. Consequently, other narrative elements such as characterization, setting, and plot become fundamental to determine the story’s moral orientation. Freeman’s short story thus features different kinds of moral deictic markers (literal, figurative, and structural) that I shall analyze in the light of Lanser’s hypothesis that “the more deeply embedded an ideology, the greater its chance of being apprehended subliminally and without argument.”

  • Narratology
  • Deixis
  • Ideology
  • Short fiction
  • Focalization
  • New Woman
Citation (ISO format)
MARTIN, Caroline. Between lexis and deixis : working out textual ideology in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s short story ‘Louisa’. In: SANAS Biennial Conference 2022. Université de Fribourg. 2022. 10 p.
Main files (1)
  • PID : unige:171498

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