Essay One: Final Version How Family Folklore Alters Through Experience Over Time Elders in a family often tell youngsters stories of their past. Moreover, Steven Zeitlin, Amy Kotkin, and Holly Cutting Baker, assert in “Family Stories” that “Family stories are usually based on real incidents which become embellished over the years” (10). These stories tend to change as people age and experience various situations.
Canfield’s short story “Sex Education” depicts Aunt Minnie, a woman who faced a traumatic sexual experience as a teenager, telling her story to an audience of younger generations at three different stages of her life; each account is told in a different manner as she experiences various situations that involve sexuality, namely experiences with her son Jake.
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Through the plot’s development of Aunt Minnie differently telling a terrifying experience thrice as time passes, and characterizing her differently, from immature to serene, as she goes through life, Canfield conveys the theme that time and experience may change one’s story. In the opening exposition, the plot reveals Aunt Minnie’s first telling of her terrifying sexual experience as a teenager and she is characterized as young minded and frightened.
Her telling of her story makes it sound like she is purely innocent and has no fault in the incident where she gets trapped in the cornfields, and in her opinion, is almost assaulted by many men, and after turning to Minister Fairchild, the minister as well, as she tells, “[h]e grabbed hold of me –that dreadful face of his was right on mine- and began clawing the clothes off my back” (785). She is characterized as frightened and/or trying to frighten her audience, as she is shown to have “become strangely agitated.
Her hands were shaking, her face was crimson. She frightened us” (785). Through descriptions of her telling the story, it is apparent that she is embarrassed, traumatized, and insecure. During her second telling of her story, which serves as the turning point in the plot, Aunt Minnie’s characterization has shifted more to that of a more experienced in dealings with sexuality than she was when telling her story for the first time, though she is still not fully mature as she blames, although somewhat right, her cousin Ella for her overly frightening warnings.
Aunt Minnie asserts how her cousin Ella should’ve have warned her in a different way. According to her, if warned too harshly/frighteningly, the person would be scared out of his/her wits and not think properly. Not thinking properly, the person wouldn’t be able to get out of that unwanted situation even if doing so was easy. All the same, Aunt Minnie somewhat takes credit/responsibility for the incident with the minister.
As evidenced in her saying, “His expression, his eyes –well, you’re all married women, you know how he looked, the way any able-bodied man thirty-six or –seven who’d been married and begotten children, would look –for a minute anyhow, if a full-blooded girl of sixteen, who ought to have known better, flung herself at him without any warning, her hair tumbling down, her dress half unbuttoned, and hugged him with all her might” (789), she now understands that when a girl, with the appearance like the one she had at the time, comes up and embraces a man, the man will feel aroused.
Also of importance, she has learned this through experiences with her troublesome son Jake, who is always in trouble regarding women; she has even traveled far to fetch him. She is more experienced with sexual learning/desires through her own experience, and is more responsible and mature about them, having not gone and “…ruin[ed] a man’s life for just one second’s slip-up” (789).
Although she is characterized as much more moderate and calm, Aunt Minnie is still argumentative and agitated. As the story comes to a resolution, the plot exposes Aunt Minnie as old and timeworn and her third and last account of her story in the cornfields is very different from the first, as her characterization now is one that is fully aware of the man/woman relationship with sexuality.
She understands that she had been interested in the minister and that was why she ran to him and hugged him tightly, admitting that “[she] had been, all along, kind of interested in him” (790), and how she “thought the reason [she] threw [her] arms around him was because [she] had been scared” (790), and finally that “that wasn’t all the reason [she] flung [her]self at Malcolm Fairchild and hugged him” (790). Aunt Minnie also acknowledges that it was not his fault at all that he had “the look” in his face.
She also honestly takes credit for being lost in the cornfields as her own fault. Not only insightful and knowledgeable in dealings with sexuality, Aunt Minnie, in the last telling of her stories is described as also serene, direct, and even nostalgic about the “horrific” event that had occurred in her teenage years. Through her short story “Sex Education,” in the form of a family folklore, Canfield interprets sexual earning and desires and how they alter as people age and experience various situations that involve sexuality. Also through the characterization of Aunt Minnie and the plot in which this character experiences the man/woman relationship in the course of encounters with her son Jake and learns to accept the sexuality in this relationship, Canfield’s theme that one’s story can be modified into another through various life changing experiences over time corresponds directly to that of Zeitlin, et al.
Bibliography Canfield, Dorothy. “Sex Education. ” A Treasury of Short Stories. Ed. Bemardine Kielty. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1947. Zeitlin, Steven J. , Amy J. Kotkin, and Holly Cutting Baker. “Family Stories. ” A Celebration of American Family Folklore. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.