Beyond Duality: the ‘Choreography’ of Gender in Dacia Maraini’s novels

Maria Morelli


Dacia Maraini has created a body of work that questions the mechanisms of oppression and manipulation at play within the economy of a heterosexual regime. This means challenging the role of women inasmuch as they are primarily identified as wives and mothers, a challenge linked to and emerging from the questioning of the notion of the (female) body as performing certain gender roles which are, in Judith Butler’s words, ‘a legacy of sedimented acts’ (Butler, 1988).
Following this line of enquiry, in this article I will be looking at the question of female sexuality as tackled in three works by Dacia Maraini: Donna in Guerra (1975), Storia di Piera (1980) and Lettere a Marina (1981). I shall posit that, although at odds with the gender roles patriarchal society would expect them to fulfil, the female characters portrayed in these texts do not seem willing to embrace an exclusive sexuality either. Rather, they would appear more inclined to perform what Butler defines as a ‘process’ or a ‘becoming’ (Butler, 1988) or, in my reading, Jacques Derrida’s utopia of a ‘choreography’ of gender (Derrida and McDonald, 1982), understood as an adamant rebuttal of any essentialist, prescriptive, interpretation of gender and sexuality.
In Maraini’s narratives gender formation translates into an on-going process which—resonating with a Derridean utopia—becomes less a matter of seeking a unifying subject than of expressing the blurring of the boundaries of a single, unitary category.

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