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Mariana Garcia
Professor Ditch
English 113B
8 May 2015
The Heroines of Guernsey Island
Traditional gender roles have always been a controversial category. Traditional gender
roles are based on characteristics that are constructed by society, which individuals are expected
to perform according to a persons sex. Men and women are obligated to perform traditional
gender roles because it is expected by society. When individuals do not conform to the socially
constructed gender roles, then they are seen as nonconformists for rebelling against gender
norms. The epistolary novel, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann
Shaffer and Annie Barrows, takes place on the Island of Guernsey during the occupation of
German Soldiers. In this text, Juliet Ashton and Elizabeth McKenna, often rebel against
traditional gender roles by doing what they think is right even though they are seen as
nonconformist by portraying masculine traits. Their fearlessness decisions make them heroes in
their community, which sets them apart from women that conform to traditional gender norms.
In the article, Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender Judith Lorber
states, Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created and re-created out of
human interaction (19). Gender performance is based on everyday interactions, which makes
individuals have the option to portray any gender they would like to perform because it is not
based ones biological sex. According to the article, Global Perspectives on Gender and Work:
Readings and Interpretations Jacqueline Goodman states, Humans learn to be men and women;
they are not born that way (2). Humans learn how to perform masculine or feminine traits and it
is not based on ones sex. Gender performance is how one performs due to human interactions

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and the individual can choose the way they want to perform in their everyday life. Although
many individuals are obligated to conform to traditional gender roles, many rebel and that leads
to changing expectations of gender norms. In the novel, Juliet Ashton is an example of a
rebellious courageous woman who does not conform to traditional gender roles. Shes a female
journalist for The London Times newspaper in the early 1930s during World War II. During this
time women had no rights and most women were not financially stable because they often
followed traditional gender roles, which caused women to depend on their husband. Juliet
portrays a masculine role because the traditional gender roles in the 1930s were for women to be
submissive, but Juliet is able to support herself with no help from a man and it is therefore seen
as a masculine characteristic. Juliets past experience as a child may be one of the reasons she
does not conform to traditional gender roles. Her great uncle raised her when she was twelve
after the death of both her parents. Due to two occasions of running away, he sent her to a select
boarding school and had nobody to really depend on but herself. Past experiences can really
affect an individuals future and shape the person they are yet to become.
Juliet Ashton even breaks traditional gender roles in her love life. As Juliet gets familiar
with the islanders, she later notices that she falls in love with one of the members of the book
club, Dawsey Adams. Dawsey is a pig farmer and founder of the literary club. He is very shy and
timid, but very generous and loving. As days go by Juliet is unsure if Dawsey has any interest in
her because he is very shy and does not really open to her. One day Juliet finally has the courage
to express her feelings towards Dawsey by proposing to him and admitting she is in love with
him. As Juliet goes to visit Dawsey, Shaffer and Barrows state, Would you like to marry me?
(272). Juliet rebels against traditional constructed gender roles by getting on one knee and
proposing to Dawsey. According to the socially constructed gender norms, it is the mans role to
have the courage to propose to their loved one. Juliet does not conform to many traditional

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gender norms and portrays a nonconformist role by performing a masculine trait. Juliets gender
performance is masculine and her courage makes her grow as a person by standing up for what
felt right. Juliet and Elizabeth have many similar characteristics they perform that label them as
heroine women.
Elizabeth McKenna expresses courageousness and leadership in many situations she
faces. Even though the Island of Guernsey is occupied by German Soldiers, Elizabeth forms The
Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society book club to help the members deal with the
oppression they are force to face. The book club often gets together to share the different books
they read while dealing with the German occupation. Members of the book club see Elizabeth as
a heroine because of her bravery and nonconformity as she performs duties traditionally
expected by men. One night, members of the book club stayed after curfew during one of the
gatherings. It was considered a crime to be out after curfew and the outcome would often be
individuals getting arrested if they are lucky. As the members are walking home they approach
German Soldiers and Elizabeth heroically walks up to them and apologizes for their actions.
Barrows and Shaffer state, She acted like she didnt see any pistols at all. She walked up to the
officer in charge and started talking (29). To have the audacity to walk up to German Soldiers
with weapons after curfew knowing the consequences they might have to face can be seen as a
masculine performance. If it wasnt for Elizabeths masculine brave act, things might have been
worse for her and the club members.
Elizabeth is a nonconformist that often portrays masculine characteristics due to the
situations she witnessed and is seen as a heroine for having the courage to stand up for what she
believes is right even though it cost her her life. The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society
book club labels Elizabeth McKenna as a heroine for her bravery. She often puts her self at risk
for what she believes is right. She does not acknowledge the dangerous consequences she puts

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herself into when she is helping others. In the novel, Shaffer and Barrows state, Elizabeth broke
out of our line fastso fast. She grabbed the rod from Bintas hand and turned it upon her,
hitting her over and over. Guards came running and two of them struck Elizabeth to the ground
with their riffles (181). While Elizabeth is imprisoned in a Concentration Camp she portrays a
masculine role because she has the courage to beat a guard even though it would lead to risks.
She stands up for a woman that was getting beat by a guard for something women have no
control of. As Elizabeth stands up for what she felt is very unfair and uncalled for, she got struck
by rifles and had to suffer the consequences by getting placed in the punishment bunker. The
next day the German Soldiers gathered around her bunk and took her outside of the
concentration camp where she was shot in the back of the head. Due to Elizabeths masculine
act, she put herself at risk and is killed for standing up for what she believes is right. Elizabeth
broke the traditional gender roles and performs as a masculine woman.
They are many different situations where women break traditional gender roles.
Traditional gender roles are socially constructed, which can make it difficult to be insubordinate
if society pressures an individual to act a certain way based on ones sex. In the book, Rhetoric
For Radicals Jason Del Gandio states, Our masculine and feminine characteristics are in no
way biologically determined, but rather socialized into rigid categories (113). Society sets
standards for each sex for them to follow known as masculine and feminine traits. If one does
not perform proper characteristics due to an individuals sex then they are seen as nonconformist
like Juliet Ashton and Elizabeth McKenna. The article, How To Tame A Wild Tongue Gloria
Anzaldua states, Flies don't enter a closed mouth is a saying I kept hearing when I was a
child (34). This symbolizes that her culture taught her that no harm could happen if her mouth is
shut. As a child, Gloria Anzaldua was told by her parents that it is better to keep a mouth shut
and conform to social norms without questioning it. Gloria is a Chicana that is trying to adapt to

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the American English culture language, but it is difficult for her to conform. Instead of
conforming to social norms she rebels and stands up for what she believes in. Gloria can be seen
as a nonconformist by breaking social norms and stating how she really feels about conforming
to society. Juliet and Elizabeth are similar to Gloria because they all perform a masculine trait,
which is bravery. According to social norms, it is seen as a mans role to demonstrate dominance
and a womans role to be submissive. All three women portray masculine characteristics because
they choose not to conform to social norms and they have a say in what they believe is right,
even though it can often lead to serious consequences.
When women do not conform to traditional gender roles it often results in risks and
negative consequences. When women are submissive they conform to the traditional gender role
because they perform the way they are expected to perform according to society. Adelaide
Addison thought of Elizabeth as a disgrace because she sought Elizabeths interest as masculine
performances, which was a disgrace to all women that conform to traditional gender roles. In the
novel, Shaffer and Barrows state, Elizabeth was a wild thing-roaming unkempt about the island,
even on Sundays. No household chores, no shoes, no stockings. Going out on fishing boats with
rude men. Spying on decent people through her telescope. A disgrace. (Shaffer and Barrows
66). Adelaide Addison performs the roles she is expected to perform and does not get any
punishment for conforming to traditional gender roles. Elizabeth often gets punished for her
actions as she portrays masculine characteristics. Even though women who conform to
traditional gender roles are often safe from many negative consequences, women who do not
conform have a say in how they want to live and can make a difference in the world because they
have the power to rebel and fight for what they truly believe in.
In conclusion, Juliet and Elizabeth are labeled as nonconformist due to their masculine
gender performance. They rebel and take control of the situations they face, which lead to

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consequential outcomes because of the decisions and actions they choose to partake in. One
should not be punished for not conforming to social norms and should not be seen as a
nonconformist simply because they do not follow societys way of life. It is important that
individuals are open to perform and express how they truly feel without facing any serious
consequences. Nonconformity should not be seen as an eccentric way of being, but as an
ordinary way of expressing ones self without being talked down upon. It should be a social
norm for individuals to express how they truly feel to really make a difference in the world.

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Works Cited
Anzaldua, Gloria. How to Tame a Wild Tongue. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. 33-45.Print.
Del, Gandio J. Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists. Gabriola Island,
BC: New Society Publishers, 2008. Print.
Goodman, Jacqueline. Global Perspectives on Gender and Work. Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc. (2010):1-131. Web. 24. March. 2015
Lorber, Judith. Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender. Composing Gender. Yale
University Press, 1994. 19-30.Print.
Shaffer, Mary A., and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. United
States of America: Dial Trade Paperbacks, 2008. Print.