Grace Paley: Illuminating Dark Lives by Jacqueline Taylor
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Grace Paley is a "writer's writer," admired by both scholars and the reading public for her originality and unique voice. In this first book-length study of her work, Jacqueline Taylor explores the source of Paley's originality, locating it in the way Paley transforms language to create strongly woman-centered stories.
Drawing on interviews with the author, as well as the stories themselves, Taylor emphasizes Paley's awareness that women's voices have been muted and their stories ignored or left untold in our culture's male-oriented dominant discourse. She watches Paley in the process of reshaping language at both the semantic and narrative levels to make it express women's perceptions and experiences. In Paley's stories, it becomes possible to ignore traditional heroic and dramatic themes and instead talk about women and children in such everyday settings as the playground, the kitchen, and the grocery store.
Some of the specific techniques Paley uses to accomplish this include identifying and repudiating sexist language in the dominant discourse and redefining ordinary words from the perspective of women. At the narrative level, Taylor reveals how she draws on women's oral traditions to tell open-ended stories that resist rigid beginning-middle-and-end structuring.
This transformed language enables Paley to construct a social world where woman-centered meanings can flourish. In her nontraditional stories, no single narrator or version of events dominates. Anyone can be a storyteller and no one has the last word.