THIS IS THE SECOND OF THREE ARTICLES, in which I discuss Sue Monk Kidd’s memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.
As I wrote in the First Impressions post, Dance of the Dissident Daughter is a different sort of memoir — more a book-length personal essay than an event-based story. The reason I say this is because Sue Monk Kidd uses her personal experiences to directly address the broader and universal principles that apply to women. Hers is not just a personal journey; it’s a universal journey. And so, she provides references to other writers on the topic, as well as references to myths, metaphor, and symbolism — all the ways in which she can communicate her message about women awakening to the divine feminine.
For these reasons I confess that analyzing The Dance of the Dissident Daughter for pace, and examining voice, tone, and word choice has been, for me, a difficult task. It defies the typical approach I might take for a purely story-based memoir. I’ve done my best — AND I would like your help. Please feel free to add to the conversation your own thoughts about pace, voice, tone, and word choice in the comments section. Make this a community conversation.
Focusing on pace.
This is not a story full of plot tension — a page-turner in which you must find out what happens to the heroine in the next chapter. The pace is slow. The pace mirrors the author’s journey: a long, slow awakening, full of dreams and long periods of contemplation. I sometimes became impatient with the pace and found myself skimming and skipping ahead; but, this might be because I have already walked this journey myself, and I was more interested in finding out where our personal stories intersected than in the universal application of that awakening.
That said, there is a rhythm to Kidd’s memoir.
She opens with a personal story about seeing her daughter on her knees before a pair of leering, mocking men. This event, which takes place in the middle of her gradual awakening, acts as a catalyst to push that awakening fully into her consciousness. Once the scene is written, Kidd turns the focus of her personal story to Everywoman’s experience:
“At forty (or sometimes thirty or sixty), women grow ripe for feminist spiritual conception. By then we’ve been around long enough to grow disenchanted with traditional female existence, with the religious experience women have been given to live out. …When this disenchantment, this ripeness, begins, a woman’s task is to conceive herself. If she does, the spark of her awakening is struck. And if she can give that awakening a tiny space in her life, it will develop into a full-blown experience that one day she will want to mark and celebrate.” (p. 11)
She uses mostly third-person language that is just a little bit distant: “women” and “a woman” and “she.” But did you notice how she invites you into her story with the word “we” in the second sentence? “We’ve” grown “disenchanted with traditional female existence.” Intentionally using “we,” Kidd invites women into and acknowledges them as part of her experience, as part of Everywoman.
“We” also makes a statement to the male reader: This is something all women experience, in one way or another.
The next paragraph, in which Kidd talks about how conception, labor, and birthing are metaphors for the process of awakening, is all “we.” We need to know the way awakening works; how we bring the “new consciousness forth,”; and how “our lives will never be the same.”
And then she returns to her personal story:
“I’ve given birth to two children, but bringing them into the world was a breeze compared to birthing myself as woman.” (p. 12).
So, this is how Kidd introduces the rhythm that will mark the entire work: the personal story expands to the universal and then back again to the personal, usually in small chunks at a time. Her personal scenes are rich with details conveying the emotion of her journey. The emotion carries forward into the universal through the use of 2nd person plural — We.
She writes about her dreams (the personal), then invokes the symbolism of those dreams (the universal) using a Jungian approach to symbolism and the collective unconscious. (I must confess here that I’m envious when I read about the many beautiful and symbolic dreams Kidd has, as my dreams are usually strange and confusing and without any obvious symbolic meaning.)
Kidd uses myths and the feminist meanings of those myths to explore and uncover meaning for her own and the universal journey of awakening. And then she reinforces her statements of universality with references to other feminist writers: Carol P. Christ, Naomi Wolf, Maya Angelou, Virginia Woolf, May Sarton, and Jean Shinoda Bolen, to name just a few.
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter is more than a memoir; it is also an academic work that invites study and branching out to read other authors on the topics Kidd introduces. I wouldn’t call it an “easy read,” but I will say that for any woman who has “been around long enough to grow disenchanted with traditional female existence,” or who has questioned cultural attitudes about women in general, this is an important book and worth the time.
Please share your reactions and thoughts.
In the next article in this series, scheduled to be posted on October 2, we’ll look at the overall structure of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and how Sue Monk Kidd approached what must have been the daunting task of communicating her story as the story of Everywoman.
My gift to you . . .
To help you start a book journal of your own, I’ve created a Book Journal template I’d like to share with you. If you prefer to journal by hand, download the PDF version, print, and place in a binder. If you like to journal using your computer and you use Microsoft Word, download the Word version so you can make your entry directly onto the page.