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Reymundo Martinez

English 115

Professor Ditch

6 December 2017

Gender Radicalism: Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Gender, as a social construct, constitutes how people in a society react to an unfamiliar

environment, and can affect their ability to handle life-altering circumstances by becoming

radical in their gender performance. But when one breaks free of these gender norms to adapt to

their surroundings, it can make a difference in the lives and society around them. In The

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Elizabeth McKenna goes beyond the gender

norm by taking on a masculine role as a heroine by facing the German prison guards head on

oppressing the innocent, while Dawsey Adams follows a masculine sense of honor while taking

on a caretaker role in what would be considered feminine obligation. Its this behavior and the

way that Elizabeth and Dawsey act upon the circumstances they are presented with that

demonstrates how they are radical in their gender performance based on the responsibilities and

actions that each one of them takes on, regardless of the repercussions.

It is tough enough to live in a society constantly watched and oppressed by a foreign

power, but it is another thing to go against ones gender normality in order to stand up to that

power, especially if youre a woman. Elizabeth McKenna is a prominent figure for the women

on the Island of Guernsey who view her as a symbol of hope and bravery against the face of

great struggle, and she maintains who she is despite the brutal horrors that she faces while

incarcerated in a German concentration camp. Elizabeth shows characteristics of masculine


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dominance by physically engaging in a fight against Binta, one of the prison guards, for

witnessing her attack another prisoner. Elizabeth broke out of her line fast- so fast, she grabbed

the rod from Bintas hand and turned it against her, hitting her over and overI will stop now

(Schafer 181, 182). Elizabeth breaks free from the prescribed gender roles of prison life where

women are to be seen as more submissive and goes beyond that by physically engaging in a fight

knowing that she would face severe repercussions for her actions. This masculine act of combat

that Elizabeth chose to take in order to protect the other prisoners is reiterated in Aaron Devors

Becoming Members of Society: The Social Meanings of Gender, where he states Such an

alternative conception of gender roles captures the hierarchical and competitive masculine thirst

for power, which can, but need not,, lead to aggression and the feminine quest for harmony and

communal well-being (39). Elizabeths unwavering commitment to the other prisoners is

incomparable to anything that many others in her position were ever willing to take, and she acts

opposite to her gender norms by showing a masculine demeanor of taking on trials that would

put her own well-being at stake for the sake of others.

Elizabeths bravery is not limited to physical rebellion, but its also displayed in her

willingness to take on punishment for the sake of others survival. In the text, one of her fellow

prisoners Alina had accidently dropped a potato from her cart that she was transporting as part of

her duties within incarceration. Elizabeth knew that the punishment for this would be severe, and

that if it was discovered that Alina did it, they would kill her. Alina had ulcerated corneas, and

it was important that the overseers not notice thisElizabeth said quickly she had taken the

potato, and was sent to the punishment bunker for one week (GLPPS 181). Elizabeth takes on a

punishment that many people in her position probably wouldnt do, and her behavior was

something that very few people would do, which is why she was viewed so highly by her prison
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friend, Remy, the other prisoners, and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie

Society. Devor also explains the significance of how actions similar to that of Elizabeth are

viewed highly by others when he states Persons who display success and high status in their

social group who exhibit a manly air of toughnessand the aura of aggression, violence, and

daring are seen as extruding masculinity (Devor 42). Elizabeths actions are far beyond that

of feminine normality, for rather than give in to her oppressors, she constantly rebels and

demonstrates that Anger is good because it expresses your deepest cares and concerns (Del

Gandio 26).

Cecile Touvier, who is Remys caregiver, helps Remy writes the letter about what

Elizabeth did in the prison camp and she describes the horrors of the prison and when Remy gets

to the part about Elizabeth being shot, she begins to conclude the letter there, not describing what

the Nazis did with Elizabeths remains. This shows the use of self-examination where Remy

wants Elizabeths friends on Guernsey to remember her for her heroic actions rather than her

gruesome death and to know that it wasnt meaningless (RFR Labors of the Multitude 81-89).

This heroic action of a woman who met a tragic death for not conforming to their gender

norms is also seen in history many centuries prior to the era of this novel. Joan of Arc was the

great heroin of the French Army towards the end of the Hundred Years War who believed that

she received a revelation from God to lead the French to victory against the British. She lead the

entire French Army composing entirely of men to victory, but died at the hand of others who

brought her to trial as a witch and was burned at the stake. The author of Gender Transgression

as Heresy: The Trial of Joan of Arc explains this by saying: It is the intention of this paper to

take the trial of Joan of Arc on charges of heresy seriously by arguing that Joan really was a

heretic by virtue of the fact that she was different: she diverged physically from the accepted
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norms of society and theologically from the teachings of the Church. Joan of Arcs actions

resonates with that of Elizabeth because both had become heroines in their own ways and

inspired others to take action against the cultural normality of gender and social class.

While Elizabeth went above and beyond the call of duty to defend her friends, you dont

have to risk your life in order to by radical in your gender performance. Dawsey, like Elizabeth,

went against the gender norms of masculine behavior in society as a way to honor Elizabeth for

always defending the helpless; and he demonstrates that you dont need to sacrifice your life in

order to be considered radical in your gender performance. Dawsey Adams was a fan of Juliets

writing and he became fascinated by Elizabeth for the brave woman everyone portrayed her as.

After Elizabeths tragic death, Dawsey had openly volunteered to look after Remy. Juliet wrote a

letter to her friend Sidney during the period of grief when news spread about Elizabeths death

saying Remy wants to come to Guernsey, after all. Dawsey has been writing to her, and I knew

he could persuade her to come.(GLPPS 202).

Dawseys persistence to get Remy to come to Guernsey to be close to Elizabeths friends

goes beyond the gender normality of masculinity that seems very thoughtful to Juliet but may be

seen as week to other men. University of Maryland Professor Xipong Chen of Gender Studies in

his Article The sex of the Angels: caring for the Well-Being Dependent Elderly People as a

Mainly Feminine Role states As Professor and Director of the Center for Work Life Law Joan

Williams notesmen are considered primarily breadwinners and women are considered to be

primarily caretakers, and husbands could not perform as ideal workers without the flow of care

work from their wives. This statement supports the ideal behavior of gender within this society

during the era that this book is written and it illustrates how Dawsey breaks that these roles by

offering to look after Remy. Additionally, in Judith Lorbers Night to His Day: The Social
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Construction of Gender, she states a time where she witnessed a man with a baby in a carrier

while other passengers smiled approvingly at how the father had changed prescribed gender roles

to care for the child in a way that would normally be done by women, which resonates with

Dawseys offer to look after Remy, who defies gender roles of masculine performance by

choosing to look after Elizabeths dear friend and it is admired approvingly by Juliet (Lorber 19).

Furthermore, he uses persuasive tactics with a feminine characteristic of compassion in

order to get Remy to come to live with him on Guernsey. In Rhetoric for Radicals we read Yes,

persuasion is used to a degreeBut the process is about consensus rather than

persuasionbased on respect, trust, openness, common agendas and a desire for communal

rather than individual outcomes. This is known as invitation Rhetoric (Del Gandio 87). Dawsey

uses these elements in order to persuade Remy to come to Guernsey, and it demonstrates how he

is willing to serve another life if it means the littlest thing to honor Elizabeths memory and

bravery. It is the tone and means of reaching consensus rather than a dominant demand for Remy

to come to Guernsey that makes Dawseys actions more feminine in his behavior, showing how

he goes beyond the gender norms of masculine dominance that others see and admire him for.

Both Elizabeth McKenna and Dawsey Adams rebel against the gender normality of their

society by taking on responsibilities that very few people in their position would for the benefit

of others around them. Elizabeth takes on the role of a radical and fierce heroin who stands up to

and even fights against her oppressors even if it means costing her own life, while Dawsey takes

on the responsibility of taking care of Remy despite what many might think of him taking on a

feminine, caregiving role. It is these actions and the commitment that each character takes to

stand up against to the challenges life throws at them that makes each of them radical in their

gender behavior; am dot sets the stage for what it means to be radical in ones gender behavior.
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Work Cited

Shaffer, Mary Ann, and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.

Gandio, Jason Del. Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists. Gabriola

Island, Ca.: New Society, 2008. Print.

Lorber, Judith. Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender. (1994): n. pag. Print.

Devor, Aaron. Becoming Members of Society: The Social Meanings of Gender. (1989): n.

pag. Print

Pimentel, Luisa. "The Sex of the Angels: Caring for the Well-being Dependent Elderly People as

a Mainly Feminine Role." The Sex of the Angels: Caring for the Well-being Dependent Elderly

People as a Mainly Feminine Role 23 (2011): 23-37. OneSearch. Web.

Grigat, Daniel, and Gregory Carrie. "Gender Transgression as Heresy: The Trial of Joan of Arc."

Past Imperfect 13 (2008): n. pag. OneSearch. Web.