Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

Roots Still Here: The Language of Internalized Misogyny and its Role in Generational Trauma in Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence
Sarah Jackson
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Erica Abrams Locklear
Abstract / Summary:
Within the fictional town of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson paints a beautifully grim picture of the lives of Appalachian women of color. Centered around the Goode-Brown family, in which three generations of women live under one roof, Wilkinson’s tale is one of both despair and hope as these women navigate their lives while contending with the harmful effects of internalized misogyny that pervade Opulence. Behind closed doors, the cycles of sexual violence and abuse reign unchecked, even within the Goode-Brown household as old wounds between mother and daughter begin to reopen. Family matriarch Minnie Mae holds fast to the family values instilled in her long ago as her great-granddaughter comes of age, while her daughter and grandchild struggle with scars such as postpartum depression and trauma from past abuse. In her review of the Birds of Opulence, Journey McAndrews states, “Although these women love fiercely, they clip one another’s wings and peck away at one another’s faults,” signifying that although the Goode-Brown women have pure intentions, the harmful beliefs perpetuated by misogyny can erode even the strongest of family bonds, leading to mental illness and generational trauma. In this literary analysis, I explore how Crystal Wilkinson expertly weaves mirrored descriptions of nature and women’s bodies within the town of Opulence to highlight the ever-present undercurrent of sexualization that women contend with, and how it may intersect with race and mental illness. As Wilkinson demonstrates, there is power in naming and discussing the struggles that continue to plague Appalachian women, many of which stem from detrimental beliefs that have been perpetuated for generations. The Goode-Brown women are a representation of how such deeply entrenched beliefs can unravel a family, while also providing hope that said beliefs can also be unlearned.
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