Reading has drastically changed with the advancement of technology. Doors to new possibilities have opened and books are no longer acknowledged as single purpose objects. Through digital mediums stories can now be told in experimental and non-traditional fashions. One experimental writing form is hypertext. According to Ted Nelson, hypertext is defined as “a software system that links topics on the screen to related information and graphics, which are typically accessed by a point-and-click method.” Hypertext breaks traditional form and adds several interactive features allowing participants to explore the message or theme at an exceptionally profound level. Nelson believes hypertext was the catalyst for the new era in written word. This new era was drastically different than traditional methods of reading and writing, but was readily accepted by those who utilized digital literary mediums.
“Patchwork girl”, a hypertext story written by Shelly Jackson, uses hypertext to present a feminist message. Jackson tells the story by using drawings of female body parts stitched together through text and illustration. The story and the images utilized to create Patchwork Girl uses this breakage from traditional writing and parallels it with the voice and perspective of a female narrative. Patchwork Girl is written in Hypertext style to give writer Shelly Jackson an experimental voice to mold and shape as her own without being transfixed to a still page. Patchwork girl correlates with an expression of feminism because it moves away from the indoctrinate style of writing with its nonlinear form, its deconstructive body of the monster and its lexias, and the random selection of its text.
As seen through lecture, hypertext has three central defining functions. It has multiple pathways to continue the reading, chunked text, and a navigation system of links. The form of hypertext is revolutionary because it breaks apart linear writing styles and puts it into something completely new. By making the writing nonlinear the author is essentially no longer in control of the flow of the story. Instead, the reader has control and can navigate the story as she or he wishes. The reader chooses the pathway and she or he autonomously concludes the ending.
While some authors of Hypertext stories may etch a constant fixed destination, other Hypertext stories reveal alternate conclusions depending on the reader, at least the reader can choose the road. The reader is not bound by a narrow pathway, but instead she or he has liberty to choose. The journey to the destination matters and choice, freedom, and independence is what Hypertext offers. Equality reverberates in the very foundation of Hypertext.
In Patchwork Girl, Jackson has more of a conversation with the reader about feminism and allows the reader to come to the same conclusion through the nonlinear usage of hypertext. The message of feminism is all about equality and by using hypertext this message is not only in the writing, but it also in the construct. Patchwork Girl has apparent ploys to convey a feminist message, but the hypertext medium itself expresses feminism because it breaks away from tradition. The writer and the reader become equal participants in pushing the story forward. Just like in feminism, both parties are equally important in carrying out to the finished goal. Robert Coover wrote that “the traditional narrative time line vanishes into a geographical landscape or exitless maze, with beginnings, middles and ends being no longer part of the immediate display. Instead: branching options, menus, link markers and mapped networks. There are no hierarchies in these topless (and bottomless) networks, as paragraphs, chapters and other conventional text divisions are replaced by evenly empowered and equally ephemeral window-sized blocks of text and graphics — soon to be supplemented with sound, animation and film” (Coover 707). He continues by rhetorically asking if hypertexts are “to be linked to the chain of existence and events, (he answers) yes, but bound by it? No. I forge my own links, I am building my own monstrous chain, and as time goes on, perhaps it will begin to resemble, rather, a web.” Coover’s quote repeated by the monster in Patchwork Girl, not only shows the power of feminism underlined, but also relates directly back to usage of hypertext. Hypertext is completely different from the traditional hierarchal form of writing and just like the monster wishes to be something equal and autonomous, hypertext does so simultaneously.
The first image that is seen when entering the story of Patchwork Girl is the deconstructed monster. The body metaphorically represents the body of text that is the story and the body that must be sewn together in order to unfold itself into its story. This monster parallels greatly with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and is also equally as important to understand and travel through to comprehend the message of feminism behind the story. The female monster correlates Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein’s monster and offers a parallel to the words of Mary Shelly’s monster. What the monster in Frankenstein yearned for the most was a female companion to be his equal counterpart so he did not have to live in solitude, dominating over another sex. The wish was denied in Frankenstein, however this power of equality is granted in Patchwork Girl as the author stitches the patchwork of the story and creates the female monster. Frankenstein thinks better of creating the female counterpart in Mary Shelly’s book and destroys the monster and in Patchwork girl the female monster is given a voice to parallel as the reader patches it together. The reader essentially gives the monster life and the female monster interrupts the voice of Mary Shelly and remarks “I told her to abort me, raze me from her book; I did not want what he wanted. I laughed when my parts lay scattered on the floor, scattered as the bodies from which I had sprung discontinuous as myself rejoice to be.” The body is reassembled by reading about all of the different body parts and the story cannot continue without first reassembling the body parts of the monster and thus giving it the voice and option to speak its story. (PatchworkGirl)
Hypertext relents the author from taking dominance by allowing the reader to make the choice of which text box to click on and continue the story. The link between written and stitch not only portrays the metaphor written in the following body paragraph, but also shows the equal importance of the reader and the writer. The reader must stitch the story together and the writer is responsible for the text on the screen. Both links to sewn and writing parallel each other to convey this importance. There are five paths for the reader to take; “the graveyard, the journal, the quilt, the story, and the broken accents.” The reader chooses where to begin by constructing the story together. The reader in a sense is responsible for constructing the monster by which text box they decide to click on. All text boxes lead to several more text boxes in which the reader again gets to choose randomly of how to progress this story. The reader is essentially the parallel of Frankenstein and is responsible to giving life to the female counterpart of the monster. Shelley Jackson uses the voice of the monster to remark on how the original Frankenstein story structure and control of the author kept the monster back. “I alone remember the real Mary. Her curious mix of resonance and passion. The part that twisted under me with a dark satisfaction and the part that wiped her hands afterward and twitch the curtains open with punitive haste. You can see it in her book. How she embeds her tale in a thickness of letters and second hand account as if precaution were needed to secure the monster behind those locks and screens.” The usage of hypertext gives the monster more dominance vs in Mary Shelly’s story where the still pages in them self held the monster back and kept it constrained. It is only through the random selections of story that allows the female monster it’s free voice to speak openly and lively with the reader. The author seems to have little power to what the monster will say next because it is not controlling the voice.
Patchwork girl is an expression of feminism because it moves away from the indoctrinate style of writing with its nonlinear form, its deconstructive body of the monster and its lexias, and the random selection of its text. Hypertext diverges from the hegemonic style of writing and provides freedom for writers and readers. Not only does hypertext writing reflect the feminist theory, but the theme within Patchwork Girl explicitly reflects the medium through which the story is written. Without the shared control, the work perhaps could not be close read and defined as something equal. Nor would it be able to parallel with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein so deeply to its very core and would lose its ability to critique the author through structure. Hypertext is one of many experimental forms of the digital that opens the door to convey new messages. It is important to understand how hypertext can be used so a deeper point can come across to the reader.