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Gender Issues in Bobbie Ann Mason, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 649

Essay

Bobbie Ann Mason is an American novelist from Kentucky, famous for her short stories about the Vietnam and Civil wars. Mason’s short story In Country is about a teenager whose father died during the Vietnam war before she was born. Now that the daughter is coming of age, she is becoming desperate to know more about who her father is. Although the story largely focuses on a girl who lost her father during the Vietnam war, In Country is also a story about the “rapid shifts in cultural attitudes during the sixties and seventies. Specifically, the novel looks at the sudden fluidity, beginning in the sixties, in our concepts of what it means to be masculine or feminine” (Blais, 2008).

Throughout the book, traditional roles of femininity and masculinity play a crucial role in the story. Women marry early, bear children and take care of the kids and the home. Men go off to work in the sixties, then when the seventies comes, many of them have to leave for Vietnam. Samantha Hughes is the exception to the rule in In Country. Sam is the girl who is searching for her father, and she rejects the gender roles placed on her by society. Her uncle, Emmett Smith, shares her point of views.

Sam, Emmett, and Mamaw, Sam’s grandmother, take a trip to Washington D.C. in the story to visit the Vietnam memorial so Sam can try to reconnect with her roots. While they are there, a conversation strikes up between the three of them regarding the 1984 election in Kentucky, where the Hughes’s live. This dialogue captures the generation gap between Mamaw and Sam perfectly:

“She won’t get elected.” Mamaw says. “Nobody’s ready for a woman up there.” Sam reminds her that Kentucky has a female governor. “Geraldine’s dynamite,” Emmett says when a picture of Geraldine Ferraro appears on the screen. “I like her accent.” “She wouldn’t get us into war.” says Sam. “Reagan wants to go to war.” (18)

Sam clearly saw that women had a role and benefit in the government, whereas Mamaw was clearly trapped in the past gender roles of the fifties and early sixties.

Throughout the book Emmett and Sam’s relationship continues and Sam’s masculinity strengthens- even her name is ubiquitous. While Sam experiments with her masculinity, Emmett explores his femininity, both continuing to challenge the current gender roles of their society. The story climaxes when Sam departs Hopewell on a journey to the University of Kentucky. During a dinner with her ex-boyfriend Lonnie and his father, Sam and Lonnie’s father get into a heated discussion about the war. Bud, Lonnie’s father, expresses regret at having been born “between wars” because he “missed out on something important.” Because Sam lost her father in the war, this caused a lot of emotion inside so she replied with “if there wasn’t a war for fifty years and two whole generations didn’t have to fight, do you mean there should have been a war for them? Is that why we have wars? So you guys don’t miss out?” (86-87)

After this, Sam and Emmett run off to Cawood’s pond, where Emmett is forced to confront the horrors of his own experience overseas. That night Sam becomes determined to feel both what Emmett and her father felt, “feel what the wretches feel” (211). As she connects with the soldiers, she also begins to connect with her own womanhood for the first time, and as she wakes from a sleep in the Cawood Forest hearing her uncle Emmett approaching her, she thinks a rapist is attacking and she gets on the defensive, grabs a weapon and prepares to defend herself. Once she realize it is Emmett and not an attacker, the novel comes full circle and Sam has accepted both her femininity as well as her masculinity.

Work Cited:

Blias, Ellen A. “Gender Issue’s in Bobbie Mason’s In Country.” JSTOR, n.d. Web. 9 May 2013. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3199962uid=3739808&uid=2134&uid=371336361&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3&uid=371336351&uid=3739256&uid=60&sid=21102192923171

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