GENDER ROLES IN LITERATURE Essay
Many people think that boys in our culture today are brought up to define their identities through heroic individualism and competition, particularly through separation from home, friends, and family in an outdoors world of work and doing. Girls, on the other hand, are brought up to define their identities through connection, cooperation, self-sacrifice, domesticity, and community in an indoor world of love and caring. This view of different male and female roles can be seen throughout childrens literature. Treasure Island and The Secret Garden are two novels that are an excellent portrayal of the narrative pattern of boy and girl books.
When thinking of books that seem to be written specifically for young boys, Treasure Island is a book that comes to many minds. Treasure Island is the epic tale of thrill seeking and adventure. Stevensons main character is a small boy, Jim, who gets to go away from his mother and embark on a trip across the ocean. There are sea fearing pirates, sword fight, and bloody killings.
These are typically things that interest boys. Stevenson also follows the literary pattern described by Perry Nodelman in his book, The Pleasures of Childrens Literature. He describes that many novels written by men follow a pattern when it comes to the plot of their stories. There is an unified action that rises toward a climax and then quickly comes to an end (Nodelman 124). Treasure Island follows this pattern. The novel moves towards the climax of finding the treasure and then ends quickly without too great of detail with how the treasure money is spent or what happens in the characters lives. In many ways, Treasure Island exemplifies the narrative patterns of a boy book.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Secret Garden seems to be written for girls. The Secret Gardens main character is a young, orphaned girl named Mary. The story focuses on Mary finding friends, becoming a better person, and a family coming together at last. Frances Burnett seems to follow two literary patterns described by Nodleman. The first is that she seems to write more about domestic events rather than adventures. Although the garden is an adventure for Mary, planting, weeding, and tending to the garden are chores that many would associate with women. The other literary pattern she follows is how the plot is laid out. Nodelman describes plots of novels written by woman as having many less-intense climaxes rather than one. Apparently some women prefer a different kind of pattern of events from the one conventionally assumed to be desirable (Nodleman 124). In The Secret Garden, there are many climaxes. Burnett does a wonderful job of making every chapter lead up to a new climax. There is not just one, as there seems to be in Treasure Island. The Secret Garden seems to follows the pattern of being a girl book.
These reasons are just a few for why Treasure Island and The Secret Garden follow the male and female narrative patterns that are often found in childrens literature. They seem to portray gender-specific roles such as Jim seeking adventure and Mary loving to work in the garden. Also, the authors follow certain patterns in how they set up the climaxes in each of the novels. These two novels are perfect examples of how gender roles are illustrated in literature.
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