Works By Shirley Jackson Essay, Research Paper
The Roles Played by the Men and Women Portrayed
In Two Short Stories by
As members of society we are affected by various elements of the world around us in everything we do. The actions, attitudes, and beliefs of those who make up the population are essentially the building blocks of society. The specific roles of men and women have been debated for as long as they have existed for humans. In very early times structure of society was very rigid and there was strong promotion of conformity of all classes. Over time, however, these rigid lines have been blurred due to a questioning of equality among the sexes. The roles have diffused each other and seem to have reached an almost equal standard. Complete equality is a difficult concept for us, as humans, to accept. As women we want to be treated equally, yet when it comes to taking out the garbage we usually ask a man to do it. Similarly, men would like women to be independent of them but if you misplace their screwdriver you become banned from the toolbox. Two short stories by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery and Like Mother Used to Make act to juxtapose each other when observing the roles of men and women.
The specific roles of men and women are depicted in both stories. In The Lottery Jackson has the men arriving at the drawing first followed by the women. The men do not even arrive with the women, this shows societies value placed on the man, such that they care little for the women and are not anticipating the horror in the act that they are about to encounter. The men are the higher power and have more authority then the women over the obedience of the children. Although the women stay home and take care of the kids and cook for them and clean, it is the power of the father, which is of greater importance. When called upon by their mothers, the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times ( 132). One child in the story ignores his mother s call, but when his father spoke up sharply Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother ( 132). This quote shows how there is more power in the male figure in the children s lives. This story enforces an unfair distinction in class status between men and women.
Women are subordinate in the social power structure of the village as shown when Mrs. Hutchinson s family is chosen in the first round. Mrs. Hutchinson complains that her daughter and son-in-law hadn t drawn a ticket yet. She is reminded by Mr. Summers that daughters draw for their husbands families ( 136). This shows that the society has placed greater importance on the man whose family a woman is married into, over the family that a woman was born into. The power is exclusively held in the hands of males in families. Women as inferior housewives, must submit to their husbands power over them because as men in the work force they link the woman into society. By marrying them, as if done as a favor, the men have given the lives of the women value.
The role men and women are expected to fulfill in The Lottery show a firm division between the genders. When the card with winning card is drawn the townspeople begin asking questions such as Who is it? Who s got it? Is it the Dunbars? Is it the Watsons? ( 135). Simply put, Mr. Dunbar s leg is broken and Mr. Watson is dead, thus making them the most unproductive families in the village. Mr. Dunbar as a man is unable to provide for his family, therefore the villagers expect that he has drawn the card. It is expected that those who do not fulfill their duties as townspeople are expendable.
In contrast to the gender roles in The Lottery Shirley Jackson wrote the short story entitled, Like Mother Used to Make. It is a story whose theme is the role of men and women in society. Again we see the gender role emphasis in Jackson s writing. Yet, in this story the two main characters, Davie and Marcia, deviate from the roles of society s norms. At first independent Marcia is a refreshing change from the typically oppressed women portrayed in The Lottery. As we become well acquainted with Marcia we grasp her true nature, which in direct contrast to David s calm and slow paced attitude, is thrust onto the reader with overwhelming force. This story [exhibits] a blend of gender characteristics. Reversing the usual male-female stereotypes, Jackson shows David s pleasure in domestic matters (Hall 15). David takes his time and appreciates small details, when setting the table for dinner Jackson writes,
First, the tablecloth, pale green, of course. And two fresh green napkins. The orange plates and the precise cup and saucer at each place. The plate of rolls in the center, and the odd salt and pepper shakers, like two green frogs. Two glasses-they came from the five and ten, but they had thin green bands around them-and finally, with great care, the silverware. Gradually, tenderly David was buying himself a complete set of silverware He had chosen a sedate, pretty pattern one that would be fine with any sort of table setting The silverware lay in a tarnish-proof box on a high shelf all to itself finally he stood back, checking everything and admiring the table, shining and clean ( 128).
Shortly thereafter, and in direct opposition Marcia explodes into the room disrupting the calm serene scene set by David. Jackson writes, then suddenly the door burst open and Marcia arrived with a shout and fresh air and disorder ( 128). She is always in a rush and acts in a manner lacking femininity. Marcia was always hungry; she put meat and potatoes and salad on her plate with out admiring the serving silver, and started to eat enthusiastically. Everything s beautiful, she said once ( 129). The key idea here is that she only admired the care he took once.
David the male figure in Like Mother Used to Make takes on the role of a woman by societies standards in that he cooks all day waiting for his female friend to return home from being at the office all day. Jackson writes, David makes a little pot roast for dinner and he slices it in fine thin slices and arranges it on a plate with parsley. His plates were orange, almost the same color as the couch cover, and it was pleasant to him to arrange a salad, with the lettuce on the orange plate, and the thin slices of cucumber. Society during the early 1950 s viewed cooking and cleaning as a job of a woman and in this story the duties are reversed. This idea of woman taking on this characterization seems perfectly natural, today, in the millenium, but we must keep the publication date in mind while reading this story. Like Mother Used to Make was a short story published in 1949, an era of history during which the man was the financial provider for the family and the women stayed at home to cook dinner and bake cookies. In this way Shirley Jackson has shown the possible differences in the roles of men and women during her time. In this story the woman has the higher power and more authority because she is at work all day and gets to come home to a nice cooked meal. The man is home cooking and making the table all beautiful for her. Not only is she unappreciative for the work David did to make the dinner special, but she took credit for the meal as if she prepared it. David s obsession with domesticity has led to a bizarre role reversal, a transformation (Hall 158). David becomes a character with the homey traits that Marcia refuses to take on. When David walks down the hall and into Marcia s room he begins to tidy it up. Having had his own domesticity interrupted, he begins to create it again in a different location, a fantastic reversal of stereotypical male and female roles. (Hall 159).
During dessert Marcia hears her doorbell ringing and she pressed the buzzer that opened the downstairs door to allow the visitor in. Suddenly a male co-worker from Marcia s office appears in David s apartment and David instinctively begins playing hostess to the visitor. In the early 1950 s it was most common for the man of the family to invite his co-worker over to the house to discuss business. The visitor, Mr. Harris serves as a character foil for David. In contrast to David, the large Mr. Harris exudes an oppressive masculinity (Hall 16). It is obvious to the reader that David is immediately turned off by Mr. Harris. Cigar smoke is good for the plants, he said thickly as he lighted it, Marcia laughed ( 132). This gradual tarnishing of his picturesque home irritates and upsets David as Marcia finds it amusing. Then as David is leaving his masculinity is questioned again. Mr. Harris extends his hand to David and David shook hands limply ( 132). A firm handshake is a traditional sign of strength and power of society for men.
Jackson shows two contrasting views of the roles of men in women in these two works. In both we see the negative aspects of the societal norms she elicits in her work. As readers we seem to have difficulty accepting either story as a true testament to life. Sympathy is felt for the oppressed women in The Lottery, in that we feel their lives should have greater value in the eyes of the men that love them. In the same respect we feel sympathetic for David for the lack of respect he receives for Marcia, a woman he truly cares about. At the conclusion of reading both stories we realize that there is no perfect place in society for either man or woman, but we must work together as a whole society to find equality. No one person is of greater value than another and in order to achieve a true sense of belonging in society both males and females must all be respected for the work that we do, not the work we are expected to do. Not literature or society must create the norms in which we follow; we must find each role for ourselves and take pride in the role we play.