‘One day she would tell him what she knew’
Disturbance of the epistemological conventions of the marriage plot in Lila
in Marilynne Robinson
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The relationship between epistemology and power is one that underlies much of the quintessential form of the female Bildungsroman: the marriage plot. Drawing on theorists from Michel Foucault to Miranda Fricker, this essay argues that Robinson’s third Gilead novel, Lila, challenges epistemic injustice, a challenge rooted in the generic conventions of the androcentric American Bildungsroman tradition, as well as the transcendentalist philosophy that informs it. Indeed, this essay reads Lila as a novel primarily about epistemology and power, arguing that the relationship between Lila and Ames dramatises the tension between his recognised, reified form of academic, book-bound learning, and her marginalised, discredited, and life-learnt knowledge. The exchanges they have throughout the novel not only highlight how these forms of knowledge are linked to power, class, and gender, but also question and undermine such a hierarchy.

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