American Writers, Supplement VI by Jay Parini

By Jay Parini

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The arrival of peace began a long period of national prosperity coupled with intense social repressiveness emblematized by Senator Joseph McCarthy's domestic war against Communists, by the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and by the development of what the feminist writer Betty Friedan would call "the feminine mystique," a set of confining norms for American women. In her autobiographical narrative An American Childhood (1987), Dillard intimates that many of these tensions haunted her early life, observing, "The theaters of war .

She then lived again in Washington for two years, but after separating from Clevidence, she returned to Connecticut and Wesleyan. During this time, she published two books, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (1982), a well-received collection of essays, and Living by Fiction (1982), a literary theory volume. In 1982 she joined a State Department cultural delegation to China; back in the United States, she participated in the organization of a conference and hospitality for visiting Chinese writers.

In Dillard's work, the exuberant, soaring "fancy" style is often counterbalanced and grounded by the "plain" style. The idea of "usefulness" re-emerges in Encounters with Chinese Writers, where she describes writing in terms beyond individual selfexpression. For the Chinese, representing a collective understanding of the world is more important than presenting "an individualistic and anarchic mentality" that is "too selfish for us," as one of her Chinese colleagues insists. In characteristic Dillard fashion, one of the most prominent descriptive details assumes metaphoric significance.

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