Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Cate Kennedy, Like a House on Fire (2012)

Cate Kennedy is an Australian feminist writer who makes ordinary life the subject of her preferred literary form: the short story.  Importantly, she seems to be fascinated by the secret thoughts that people have but do not share with others.  All of her stories exhibit her interest in the contrast between what is thought and what is said and done.  For example, individuals may have many negative thoughts about being in a disappointing marriage but choose to endure. 

As a feminist writer Kennedy gives much of her attention to the prevalence of patriarchy and how this impacts negatively on the lives of women in both overt and subtle ways.  Despite the great advances produced by the second wave of feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, Kennedy raises many issues of concern to contemporary feminists where change is perceived to be needed, such as in women’s health, in addressing negative body image issues, and in addressing domestic abuse and the oppressive nature of traditional marriage and its traditional gender-based division of domestic labour that is unfavourable to women.  

Corresponding to this, Kennedy sees most men as uncommunicative, as unable to express emotions, and as lacking qualities that women value, like empathy or compassion.  This is presented as profoundly disappointing to women and as compromising the quality of their lives.

While Kennedy shows some sympathy for working class and poor people who struggle economically in an oppressive capitalist system, she also shows sympathy for progressive people who try to live a politically correct and an environmentally sustainable and ethical existence in a socio-economic system that presents too many obstacles to achieving this.  Notably she shows how difficult it is to avoid the commercialism, consumerism and materialism of modern living.  It is also difficult for progressive parents to raise their children in a manner to, for example, eliminate male tendencies towards aggression and war toys and to raise their daughters to not see their worth as enhanced by makeup.

As well as feminist issues, Kennedy’s short stories also address issues such as inequality, economic exploitation, social injustice and oppression, the alienation of workers from their dull repetitive tasks, pacifist concerns about male tendencies to violence and war, pollution, waste, greenhouse gasses and global warming and the spoiling of the environment, the disrespecting of the multicultural principle of appreciating diversity and the need to address migrant disadvantage, gay rights and the need of homosexuals for acceptance, and animal rights.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

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