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Javier Martinez
Professor Corri Ditch
English 113B
2 April 2015
Breaking Traditional Gender Norms
In the novel Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and
Annie Barrows, takes place mostly in an island called Guernsey, which is located between
England and France. The time was 1946 after World War II. This is a novel that shares the
struggle the war bring to individuals but still have the strength to come together. In the novel
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society show the characters nonconforming to the
traditional gender norms. Gender norms is the idea of a persons character is based on a persons
sex. Most societies believe gender is defined by sex, but gender is define by how individuals
perform or feel like performing their selves, this is called gender performance. Nonconformity is
the refusal to conform to traditional ideas, beliefs, and attitudes. This novel brings up three main
character that define their gender norms to make an impact in the lives of themselves as well as
others. Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey are nonconformists in the way which they rebel against
gender norms and be define as brave.
The traditional gender norms of a female was described as acting feminine, which consist
of being caring and beautiful. This is also shown in the book Rhetoric For Radicals by Jason
Del Gandio that state Man is constructed as independent, superior and foundational to
humanity. Woman, by contrast, is constructed as dependent, subordinate and secondarty (Jason
Del Gandio 115). This shows the traditional aspects of each gender and how it is seen. This
contrast is also seen in the novel Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with the

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character Isola Pribby. For example in the quote My nose is big and was broken when I fell off
the hen-house roof. One eyeball skitters up to the top, and my hair is wild and will not stay
tamped down (Shaffer and Barrows 53). Isola is shown to be a character that cares about her
appearances and wishes to fix her flaws. The gender norm of a women is to be as perfect as
possible, in order to be successful. Isola is a women who does not like her own body because it
does not fit the expected for a womens traits. However, the author also shows how Juliet
Ashton, who is a well-known writer, breaks the gender norms and is described as independent,
brave, and smart. For example, Juliet refused to get married with Mark Reynold, a publisher,
despite the level of status he has. Im going to Guernsey tomorrow and you cant stop me. Im
sorry I cant give you the answer you want (Shaffer and Barrows 154). Juliet choose to be
strong enough to speak her mind and continue to be independent. By rejecting Mark, Juliet
shows that she is not afraid to make hard decisions despite what individuals may say. Another
masculine trait Juliet performed was when she propose to Dawsey Adams, a farmer in Guernsey,
I thought, shes going to tell him not to be a sissy But she didnt. What she said was, Would
you like to marry me? (Shaffer and Barrows 272). It is generally costume for the male to
propose marriage because it shows confidents and power. For Juliet to go against traditional
gender norms and show her masculine traits is brave and bold. By not conforming to traditional
gender norms, Juliet has moved from just caring about her appearances, like Isola, but has
developed masculine traits and became more confident with herself.
Another important character in the novel is Elizabeth McKenna, who died in a
concentration camp, and who is not physically present but has affected the islander with her
bravery and righteousness. For instance, in the beginning of the novel Elizabeth is shown to be
brave by standing in front of the German officers, and their pistols, to protect the islander for

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passing curfew (Shaffer and Barrows 29). Stepping up to the German officers and lying to their
faces to get out of punishment, takes a lot of mental strength. It is assume that females have to
depend on males to save the day, but Elizabeth was the only one who stepped up to the
challenge. By doing this small action of bravery, Elizabeth creates a union and hope among the
islander. Besides the islanders Remy Giraud, a friend Elizabeth made in the concentration camp,
assures Elizabeths bravery. Remy said Her strength did not fail her, nor her mind, nor ever she
just saw one cruelty too much (Shaffer and Barrows 182). Remy describes Elizabeth as brave
and always trying to make the best of thing or help other. In other words, Remy is saying that till
the end Elizabeth was strong but her body could only take so much. This is another example of
how Elizabeth goes against her gender role for the attempt to fight for her values, even in life or
death events. Another example is when Sidney Stark, Juliets publisher and her best friend
brother, saw Elizabeth like the islanders did. Who thought up the lie about the Literary Society
and then made it happen? Guernsey wasnt her home, but she adapted to it and to the loss of
her freedom (Shaffer and Barrows 201). Even Sidney, an outsider to the islanders, saw the
brave and noble action Elizabeth made for herself and others. Elizabeth may not have been from
the island, like Juliet, but they both followed their beliefs even if it meant to break the gender
performance. Elizabeth broke the gender norm of woman, which took a lot of strength, and then
acted on them no matter the outcome shows the level of bravery she had.
To show a male performing in a masculine way the author made Mark Reynold to
symbolize the gender norm of a male. Mark is described to be charming, smart, confident, and
demanding. For example, in the quote I dont want to see the play with someone else I want to
go with you. In fact, I dont give a damn about the play. Im only trying to rout you out of that
apartment (Shaffer and Barrows 99). Shows how Mark is sure what he wants and is willing to

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do anything to get it. Mark Reynold has all the traits a male should have and is expected to have.
However, the character Dawsey is shown to be the opposite of Mark but still be considered a
brave person. Like I mentioned before Dawsey is a farmer in Guernsey and who mines his own
business. Dawsey is described to be quiet, shy, insecure, and even nurturing. One example of this
is when Sidney is describing Dawsey as quiet, capable, trustworthy (Shaffer and Barrows
194). This quote is showing that Dawsey is not the outgoing type of guy, and is not the guy who
follows his beliefs. This shows how someone, other than an islander, describes Dawsey. Another
example of Dawsey feminine trait is when he takes care of Kit when Elizabeth passed away. Kit
is Elizabeths daughter who was raised by the members of the book club but grown more attach
to Dawsey. She pulled her chair close to Dawseys and ate with one elbow planted firmly on his
arm, (Shaffer and Barrows 162). This quote explains the dynamic Kit has towards Dawsey
and how she sees Dawsey as a care taker of her. Kit was raise by many people but chose Dawsey
of all because he showed warmth, care, sensitive, and nurturing to Kit. Because of Dawseys
characteristics, Kit is more drone to Dawsey and feels the warmth similar to a mother. However,
Dawsey is not as bold or aggressive as Mark or Juliet, but he still had the strength and bravery to
go against the traditional gender norms and chooses to live his life as he sees best according to
his preferences.
Some people may argue that the novel suggested that the books were the source of
bravery. That the book club itself gave the strength for individuals to become brave. Or that
bravery will only get individuals killed like Elizabeth. But the books only gave the islanders
hope and a source of connection to others. It never gave bravery because the bravest character,
Elizabeth, did not read a book to become brave. The books were just a way to escape their daily
lives or find a connection to them. Also, the book club did not inspired bravery, but it was born

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out of a brave act, by Elizabeth. The book club only gave the islanders a form to cope and a form
to get out of the war environment. For the individuals who say bravery will only get people kill,
is partial right. I will not say bravery will never get people killed because ones again Elizabeth is
an example of this. But, bravery is something to be proud of and will make individuals live
forever. What I mean is even though Elizabeth died, she is still being remember and looked up to
for her brave actions and personality after her death. The characters that were showing bravery
where Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey for nonconforming to traditional gender norms. It takes a lot
of bravery to go against traditional ideas or beliefs because everyone will likely look at you
wrong. For example in the short story My Hips, My Caderas, by Alisa Valdes Rodriguez,
explains her struggles of being looked at differently but still has the strength to get the best of
both When I want to be loved for my mind, I Flock to liberal intellectuals, usually whites. They
listen to my writing (Alisa Valdes Rodriguez 75). This shows how she has the strength to
brake gender norms and look pass her body. She wants to be taken seriously and not be defined
by her hips, so she goes against her traditional gender norm. However, Juliet, Elizabeth, and
Dawsey did defined traditional gender norms but they also acted on them, used their traits to find
themselves and help others along the way.
Gender performance is an image that individuals have to a specific sex. In the novel The
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, create
characters that symbolize the traditional gender norm of a female and a male. But, also shows the
nonconformity of the traditional gender norms to achieve recognition that behind nonconformity
are brave acts. The nonconformity of Juliet, Elizabeth, and Dawsey show that power of people
and the well to fight for a better lifestyle. Overall, the novel is showing the nonconformity of

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gender in different characters to show the different aspects of nonconformity and the power of
bravery.

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Works cited page


Ann Shaffer, Mary and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
United States: The Dial Press. 2008. Print.
Del Gandio, Jason. Rhetoric For Radicals. Canada: New Society Publisher, 2008.
Print.
Valdes Rodrigues, Alisa. My Hips, My Caderas.MSNs Underwire. 2000:
73-75. Print.