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Javier Martinez
Professor Corri Ditch
English 113B
2 April 2015
Breaking Traditional Gender Norms
The novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and
Annie Barrows, takes place mostly on an island called Guernsey, which is located between
England and France. The novel is set on January 1946 after World War II. This novel shares the
struggle the war brings to individuals, yet they still have the strength to come together. The novel
also shows the characters as nonconforming to the traditional gender norms. Gender norms is the
idea of a persons character is based on a persons sex. Most societies believe gender is define by
sex, but gender is define by how individuals perform themselves this is called gender
performance. Nonconformity is the refusal to conform to traditional ideas, beliefs, and attitudes.
This novel brings up three main characters that define their gender norms to make an impact in
the lives of themselves as well as others. Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey are nonconformists in the
way which they rebel against gender norms to show masculinity and feminist can be in either
The traditional gender norms for a female are commonly described as acting feminine,
which consist of being caring, beautiful and submissive. This traditional gender norms are also
shown in the book Rhetoric For Radicals by Jason Del Gandio. Gandio states Man is
constructed as independent, superior and foundational to humanity. Woman, by contrast, is
constructed as dependent, subordinate and secondary (Del Gandio 115). This shows the
traditional aspects of each gender and how it is seen. This contrast is also seen in the novel with

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the character Isola Pribby. For example in the quote My nose is big and was broken when I fell
off the hen-house roof. One eyeball skitters up to the top, and my hair is wild and will not stay
tamped down (Shaffer and Barrows 53). Isola is shown to be a character that cares about her
appearances and wishes to fix her flaws. The traditional gender norms of a women is to be as
perfect as possible, in order to be successful or be seen by man. Isola is a women who does not
like her own body because it does not fit the physical traits for a women. The traditional gender
norms has been seen as a must reach goal, which makes males and females hate themselves if
they dont fit the gender norm. However, the author also shows how Juliet Ashton, who is a wellknown writer, breaks the gender norms and is described as independent, brave, and smart. For
example, Juliet refuses to get married with Mark Reynold, a publisher, despite the level of status
he has. Im going to Guernsey tomorrow and you cant stop me. Im sorry I cant give you the
answer you want (Shaffer and Barrows 154). Juliet chooses to be strong enough to speak her
mind and continue to be independent. By rejecting Mark, Juliet shows that she is not afraid to
make hard decisions despite what individuals may say. Another masculine trait Juliet performed
was when she propose to Dawsey Adams, a farmer in Guernsey, I thought, shes going to tell
him not to be a sissy But she didnt. What she said was, Would you like to marry me?
(Shaffer and Barrows 272). It is generally custom for the male to propose marriage because it
shows confidence and power. For Juliet to go against traditional gender norms and show her
masculine traits is brave and bold. By not conforming to traditional gender norms, Juliet has
moved from just caring about her appearances, like Isola, but has developed masculine traits and
became more confident with herself.
Another important character in the novel is Elizabeth McKenna, who died in a
concentration camp, and who is not physically present but has affected the islanders with her

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bravery and righteousness. For instance, in the beginning of the novel Elizabeth is shown to be
brave by standing in front of the German officers, and their pistols, to protect the islander for
passing curfew (Shaffer and Barrows 29). Stepping up to the German officers and lying to their
faces to get out of punishment, takes a lot of mental strength. It is assumed that females have to
depend on males to save the day, but Elizabeth was the only one who stepped up to the
challenge. By doing this small action of bravery, Elizabeth creates a union and hope among the
islander. Besides the islanders Remy Giraud, a friend Elizabeth made in the concentration camp,
assures Elizabeths bravery. Remy said Her strength did not fail her, nor her mind, nor ever she
just saw one cruelty too much (Shaffer and Barrows 182). Remy describes Elizabeth as brave
and always trying to make the best of thing or help other. In other words, Remy is saying that till
the end Elizabeth was strong but her body could only take so much. This is another example of
how Elizabeth goes against her gender role for the attempt to fight for her values, even in life or
death events. Another example is when Sidney Stark, Juliets publisher and her best friend
brother also saw Elizabeths bravery and strength Who thought up the lie about the Literary
Society and then made it happen? Guernsey wasnt her home, but she adapted to it and to the
loss of her freedom (Shaffer and Barrows 201). Even Sidney, an outsider to the islanders, saw
the brave and noble action Elizabeth made for herself and others. Elizabeth may not have been
from the island, like Juliet, but they both followed their beliefs even if it meant to break the
gender performance. Elizabeth broke the traditional gender norm for woman, which took a lot of
strength to show that women can be as brave as men.
Women are usually shown as supporting an item and the female hand is usually
shown as delicate. Men and their hands, however, are shown as being assertive and powerful.

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To show a male performing in a masculine way the author made Mark Reynold to
symbolize the traditional gender norm, which can be described as Men and their hands,
however, are shown as being assertive and powerful, according to Lore, M. Dickey. "The Codes
of Gender: Identity & Performance in Popular Culture." For example, in the quote I dont want
to see the play with someone else I want to go with you. In fact, I dont give a damn about the
play. Im only trying to rout you out of that apartment (Shaffer and Barrows 99). This shows
how Mark is sure of what he wants and is willing to do anything to get it. Mark Reynold has all
the traits a male should have and is expected to have. However, the character Dawsey is shown
to be the opposite of Mark but still be considered a brave person. As I previously mentioned
Dawsey is a farmer in Guernsey who minds his own business. Dawsey is described to be quiet,
shy, insecure, and even nurturing, qualities found in femininity. One example of this is when
Sidney is describing Dawsey as quiet, capable, trustworthy (Shaffer and Barrows 194). This
quote is showing that Dawsey is not the outgoing type of guy, and is not the guy who follows his
beliefs. However, Dawsey is considered brave for going against traditional gender norms and be
define by traits that describe woman. Even though, Dawsey is going against traditional norms,
the islanders still respect him more than Mark. This shows how males do not need to be
masculine to be brave or be respected. Another example of Dawsey feminine trait is when he
takes care of Kit when Elizabeth passed away. Kit is Elizabeths daughter who was raised by the
members of the book club but grown more attach to Dawsey. She pulled her chair close to
Dawseys and ate with one elbow planted firmly on his arm, (Shaffer and Barrows 162). This
quote explains the dynamic Kit has towards Dawsey and how she sees Dawsey as a care taker of
her. Kit was raise by many people but chose Dawsey of all because he showed warmth, care,
sensitive, and nurturing to Kit. Because of Dawseys characteristics, Kit is more drawn to

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Dawsey and feels the warmth similar to a mother. However, Dawsey is not as bold or aggressive
as Mark or Juliet, but he still had the strength and bravery to go against the traditional gender
norms and chooses to live his life as he sees best according to his preferences.
Some people may argue that the novel suggests that the books were the source of bravery.
That the book club itself gave the strength for individuals to become brave. Or that bravery will
only get individuals killed like Elizabeth. But the books only gave the islanders hope and a
source of connection to others. It never gave bravery because the bravest character, Elizabeth,
did not read a book to become brave. The books were just a way to escape their daily lives or
find a connection to them. Also, the book club did not inspired bravery, but it was born out of a
brave act, by Elizabeth. The book club only gave the islanders a form to cope and a form to get
out of the war environment. For the individuals who say bravery will only get people killed, is
partially right. I will not say bravery will never get people killed because ones again Elizabeth is
an example of this. But, bravery is something to be proud of and will make individuals live
forever. What I mean is even though Elizabeth died, she is still being remember and looked up to
for her brave actions and personality after her death. The characters that were showing bravery
where Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey for nonconforming to traditional gender norms. It takes a lot
of bravery to go against traditional ideas or beliefs because everyone will likely look at you
wrong. For example in the short story My Hips, My Caderas, by Alisa Valdes Rodriguez,
explains her struggles of being looked at differently but still has the strength to get the best of
both When I want to be loved for my mind, I Flock to liberal intellectuals, usually whites. They
listen to my writing (Alisa Valdes Rodriguez 75). This shows how she has the strength to
brake gender norms and look pass her body. She wants to be taken seriously and not be defined
by her hips, so she goes against her traditional gender norm. However, Juliet, Elizabeth, and

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Dawsey did defined traditional gender norms but they also acted on them, used their traits to find
themselves and help others along the way.
Gender performance is an image that individuals have to a specific sex. In the novel The
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, create
characters that symbolize the traditional gender norm of a female and a male, but also show the
nonconformity of the traditional gender norms to achieve recognition that behind nonconformity
are brave acts. The authors want to show the good side of nonconformity as well as Akilah
Monifa from "Defining Gender Identity." Akilah Monifa states This was seemingly a positive
shift; it purportedly separated gender from sexuality, but in fact it "reinforced traditional
concepts of male and female impacting both transgendered people as well as gays, lesbians and
bisexuals." In other words, the acts of nonconformity, like Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey, show
that power of people and the well to fight for a better lifestyle. Overall, the novel is showing the
nonconformity of gender in different characters to show the different aspects of nonconformity
and the power of bravery.

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Works cited
Ann Shaffer, Mary and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
United States: The Dial Press. 2008. Print.
Del Gandio, Jason. Rhetoric For Radicals. Canada: New Society Publisher, 2008.
Lore, M. Dickey. "The Codes of Gender: Identity & Performance in Popular Culture."
Contemporary Sexuality 12 2011: 9. ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2015
Monifa, Akilah. "Defining Gender Identity." The Lesbian Review of Books 6.4 (2000): 10.
ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2015.
Valdes Rodrigues, Alisa. My Hips, My Caderas.MSNs Underwire. 2000:
73-75. Print.