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Writers and Oppression

For members of marginalized groups, limited access to education and literature compel them to forge fresh relationships to language. Writers from these groups base their work on modes of speech, on communal traditions of oral communication, and, sometimes, on the reimagining of European art forms. But, when they employ the standard framework of novel, chronicle, or autobiography, the standard is transformed. As a group, they (and others like them) are creating a genre, the novela-testimonio, in which the disenfranchised seize the weapons used to oppress them, and turn them on their rulers. That is the case for the following four narratives, which take very different forms: Toni Morrison's Beloved is a novel; Rigoberta Menchu's life story. I, Rigoberta Menchu, was compiled from a series of interviews; Omar Cabezas wrote his autobiography in Fire from the Mountain; and the fourth book is a collection of Aztec chronicles entitled The Broken Spears.

But their similarities are far more important than their differences. Each of these books is a form of testimony. The writers, all members of oppressed groups, bear witness to the nature of their oppression. Their books provide new analyses of the relationship with the oppressors, analyses that derive from the experience of the oppressed. Though each writer employs different narrative strategies, all the writers draw on the oral traditions that were often the only public voice of their people. In bringing this voice to the ears of a wider public, these authors chose to write in ways that reflect their experience and traditions. As members of oppressed racial and ethnic groups, the writers all have unusual relationships with the language of the dominant group.

In these works, the liberation of repressed voices and the clear communication of messages result from the skillful manipulation of literary means. But the books also serve as a means of documenting lives and experie...

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Writers and Oppression. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:30, August 06, 2020, from