Journal of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research


Tym, Linda


The paper “Power Reclaimed and Given: Female Passivity and Agency in Harris, Brand, and Smith” explores representations of women in art in Claire Harris’ “After Image,” Dionne Brand’s “Blues Spiritual for Mammy Prater,” and Ali Smith’s How to be both. Harris’ poem depicts a woman, who is the subject of a male photographer’s photos and who has been objectified and relegated to passivity by the photographer, in the active process of reclaiming the power to create her own identity. Brand’s poem shows Mammy Prater as a woman who, although formerly subjugated and abused, has already reclaimed that power; in an act of creation, Mammy Prater takes control of how she depicts her identity through taking control of the process of being photographed. Smith’s novel, however, explores the story of one subversive character, Francescho, who uses their paintings to give power and agency both to individual women and to masses of poor workers. This paper concludes that although there is inspiration in one particular woman regaining the right to form her own identity and to find her own agency within the world, Smith’s novel reveals that the true power of feminism lies in the potential of one individual’s particular story to give power and worth to others. In feminist theorist Sara Ahmed’s terms, the power of feminism is situated in its existence as a “movement” – a force of continual forward motion and the collective and growing power of giving power to others (Ahmed 3).