Practicing Intersectionality: Feminist Witches in Postmodern Re-Visions


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Ziwei ZHAO

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Awarding Institution
Award date25 Jan 2017


This dissertation aims to explore how women writers reevaluate and reimagine the witch figure in late-twentieth-century postmodern fiction. Since witches are, both historically and in the popular imagination, almost always female, the persecution of witches becomes closely linked to the persecution of women, especially in the radical feminist discourse of the1970s. From the dangerous Other in the early modern period of the witch craze, the image of witches has undergone a series of changes, transformed by romanticism, occultism, and feminism, to become an alluring enchantress, a goddess, and a proto-feminist martyr burnt at the stake of patriarchy. However, representation of the witch continues to evolve, as does the feminist movement. The radical feminist notion that sexism is the primary and most fundamental form of oppression is challenged by many who also experience other forms of social injustice, such as racism, classism, and heteronormativity. Acknowledging identity as a complex, multi-dimensional construct, postmodern feminist texts reflect a shift toward intersectionality in their re-visions of the witch figure, casting witches in a new light that calls for more nuanced interpretations.

The texts analyzed in this study are Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem(1992), Marina Warner’s Indigo, or, Mapping the Waters(1992), and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins(1997). Each book offers a rewriting of historical-canonical texts that allows the witch figure as well as other female characters to explore their identities and desires in an interlocking web of power relations; these texts are appropriative and paradoxical in nature, simultaneously recalling and refuting the narratives from which they derive. Through close readings of these texts, this dissertation will analyze how feminist re-visions of witches and witchcraft in the late twentieth century have progressed to become more inclusive and intersectional, comprising themes of postcolonial struggle and queer desire into the female narrative of life under patriarchal rule. This research will also examine how women writers employ postmodern techniques to emphasize the metafictional self-reflexivity of the texts while highlighting the social, political, and historical realities upon which their stories are rooted.