Gender and Genre in Short Fiction
These short stories were written down roughly between 1000BC to 100BC and were written in Hebrew and Aramaic. J. M. Bickham in “Writing the Short Story A Hands- On Program” states that to qualify as a short story, the tale must be committed to paper in an language others can understand” , so according to this it was not until this period of time that these ancient biblical tales could be construed as short stories. Sampson and Delilah is the classic example of the female seductress bringing about the downfall of the innocent yet mighty man. danger and betrayal emanate from the city and are most often manifested in an ambiguously attractive and dangerous woman who sets out to seduce the hero in order to prevent him from discovering that she is the murderess” Samson is largely blameless in the scheme of things falling victim to the charms of the beautiful Delilah, who has been bought by the chief of the Philistines: “Cajole him and find out where his great strength comes from, and how we can master him and bind him and reduce him to helplessness.
In return we will each give you eleven hundred silver shekels. ” Gender is a very important aspect of this particular story because it creates the tension between the two lovers on the issue of trust “How can you say you love me when you do not trust me” Without the magic of the romance their would be no seduction and there would be no deception. Samson’s manhood is a key issue for once he had lost his strength it would seem that essentially he had lost his manhood.
There are threats too from bushman ‘in the horrors’ or a ‘villainous looking sundowner’ and a ‘gallowed faced swagman’ She is alone with her children and the mongrel dog Alligator against these intruders. Lawson tells his readers, “her surroundings are not favorable to the development of the womanly or sentimental side of nature” . She is a victim of the isolation of the Australian outback. It seems incongruous when we realize that “She finds all the excitement and recreation she needs in the Young Ladies’ Journal and Heaven help her! takes a pleasure in the fashion-plates. ” The gender of the protagonist was absolutely crucial to this story.
She is a victim of her circumstances. The pleasures of the city are beyond her grasp and her children, although she obviously loves and cares for them, present as a burden to her as she raises them alone in the isolation of the bush. What a pathetic sight is her Sunday afternoon ritual: “She dresses herself, tidies the children, smartens up baby, and goes for a lonely walk along the bush-track, pushing an old perambulator in front of her. She does this every Sunday. She takes as much care to make herself and the children look smart as she would if she were going to do the block in the city”
It is her instinctive protection of her children that renders her the hero of the story. Whilst her husband, the drover is well intentioned (“He intends to move his family into the nearest town when comes back…” ) he is however almost portrayed as abandoning his everyday duties to his family. As we consider Lawson’s motives for writing this short story a number of questions arise. Was it just a good yarn set in remote Australia? Was it a serious reflection on the harsh, unforgiving conditions in which so many women were forced to live in this era of Australian development?
Was Lawson merely reporting on the hard facts of life? Was he making a statement about the enormous sacrifices made and the hardships they endured in order to fulfill a sometime unattainable dream? Whatever motive, the fact remains that this short story has for generations left readers pondering the role of females in early Australia. The key gender issue of Judith Wright’s short story “In the Park” is that of a woman trapped by an unhappy or unfulfilling relationship with a husband who she has not seen for eighteen months.
Vivi’s mother appears to be trapped in a family situation, living with her mother-in-law Mrs. Coleman with whom there is obvious tension. This morning she is calling her mother in-law Mrs. Coleman, rather than calling her Gran. This is a bad sign. We are introduced to her predicament through the eyes of the little girl Vivi. “Those days their voices made Vivi wince, when they spoke to one another…” These were the days when there was tension between mother and mother in-law.
The opening sentence: “Vivi’s mother was taking her to the park to see the flowers and the birds in cages” gives us clues to the point of view from which Judith Wright has chosen to tell the story. It could also be suggested that this opening sentence might offer to the reader an indication of the sense of being trapped like birds in cages. As the story unfolds we see Vivi trapped in an excursion to the park which was not intended for her benefit, rather it was intended as an opportunity for her mother to meet the strange man, Mr. O’Malley. Even the nature of the very day itself, the oppressive heat from which there appeared to be no escape.
The room to which Vivi and her mother felt confined in her grandmother’s house suggested an oppressive environment. “Our room isn’t all that nice for a kid on a day like this, with the sun coming straight in like it does; and you don’t like her messing up the rest of the house. ” The “birds in cages” offer a reflection of the emotions of the key characters in the story. Judith Wright uses the technique of telling the story through the eyes of a child and in doing so elicits sympathy and compassion for the two main protagonists in the reader.
Wright’s “In the Park” follows the typical short story model out lined by Sorenson in “How To Write Short Stories” in which the readers, “can identify with the characters in this story…the plot includes several kinds of conflict, both external… and internal…rising action, climax and resolution…The setting is consistent with the character personalities…The early dialogue helps readers identify the characters and their relationships to each other…The story’s tone and mood are consistent with plot and character. ”
As we see Vivi noting the extra effort her mother has put into her appearance there is an element of estrangement, tragedy and hopelessness. “You’ll crush my dress, she looked at her mother’s red hat that made her face look like a stranger’s…” This episode like Lawson’s protagonist reading the ‘Young Ladies Journal’ seems to further confirm the predicament of the respective characters. Just as Lawson’s character was effectively ‘caged’ by the harsh conditions of the outback, Wright’s character is ‘caged’ by the social conditions of the extended family within the isolation of her situation within the city.
Likewise Samson was effectively ‘caged’ by the isolation of the secret of his strength. As we see him imprisoned and chained, the image of the caged birds of Wright is comparable to the predicament of the now powerless Samson. The gender of the reader in both ‘Samson and Delilah’ and ‘The Drover’s Wife’ are largely incidental as the events of both stories are equally engaging to both male and female readers, because the focus of both these stories is largely on the unfolding of a yarn. The individual character development of the main protagonists adds another dimension to the already unfolding story.