Differences underlying similarities. Divergent types of characters accentuating gender roles in Twain’s "Eve’s Diary" and Munro’s "Boys and Girls"

Seminar Paper, 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


The use of tone

Animals as symbols

The portrayal of relationships

The importance of language




Jeffrey T. Nealon and Susan S. Giroux argue that when we think of differences between women and men, that we tend to naturalize them – they seem like something that just “is”, as opposed to a “constructed difference” (181). The two short stories that the paper will be dealing with are Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary and Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls. By interpreting the differences in criticizing gender roles in Twain’s and Munro’s works, we come to understand that their individual differences in writing styles allow them to express their concerns more clearly, each of them working on putting things apart, just to see how they function, and carefully reconstructing them again.

This term paper will argue that the two texts at hand are equal in their attempt prove the way gender roles are constructed and in their criticizing of those – notwithstanding their own differences in time, age, manner and tone, and so they allow us to ask the question of how they affect the characters, and ultimately, the readers.

As Judith Butler says in Gender Trouble, “Originally intended to dispute the biology-is-destiny formulation, the distinction between sex and gender serves the argument that whatever biological intractability sex appears to have, gender is culturally constructed (…)” (9). Both writers are aware that the differences between men and woman exist, but what they are interested in is the way in which these differences become ingrained in our society to a point where it is difficult for an individual to break free from the boundaries and establish oneself as a person, rather than identifying primarily as “male” or “female”.

On one side, there is Twain, whose representation of Eve, superficially, is the view of each woman through a man’s eyes. One encounters a challenge if one attempts to talk about Eve as a character, because she is not one – she is a representation of women stereotypes in society. One of the things Twain touches upon is probably the biggest stereotype about women, on the occasion where Eve explains how she loves to talk: “I talk, all day, and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting, but if I had another to talk to I could be twice as interesting, and would never stop, if desired.” (7). In fact, a study done in 1990 by Cutler and Scott demonstrated that women are perceived to talk more, even though they do not necessarily do so, and another study revealed that both men and women were more likely to interrupt their interlocutor, if it was a female one. (Hancock and Rubin 2011).

Munro, on the other hand, presents us with a closer look into an individual’s own difficulties of growing up and other than being a child, a pupil and a granddaughter; she now must learn to play her role in the society as a girl as well.

While some differences between Twain’s Eve and the girl narrator in Munro’s short story are evident, the similarities are salient. Both characters have male figures they look up to and both of them are quite lonesome throughout the stories. Finally, both give up on their own idea of what a woman is and accept what society requests of them, with the distinction that the girl narrator understands the meaning of her actions, while the same thing cannot be said for Eve, considering that she is only a stereotype.

The use of tone

One of the most noticeable elements in both short stories is the writers’ use of tone to create a certain kind of ambience and vividness of the characters, influencing the way in which the stories are processed and understood.

Another use of tone is to accentuate the set of qualities a character might have. Twain, being a humorist, uses a lot of dramatic irony in Eve’s diary and the overall tone of the story is humoristic, light and ironic. By using such tone, he succeeds in creating the stereotypical woman: light-hearted, fanciful, always searching for the beauty in things, often ignoring their practicality and showing no signs of “common sense”.

The light and calming nature of Eve’s character comes through as she encounters a tiger, an animal with which most of us connect slaughter and danger, which Twain presents as something that is safe to sleep among: “I couldn't get back home; it was too far and turning cold; but I found some tigers and nestled in among them and was most adorably comfortable, and their breath was sweet and pleasant, because they live on strawberries.” (4). Besides the fact that it depicts Eve in a certain way, this description also adds to the irony of the story, where the reader knows that tigers do not feed on strawberries, and the end result is that Eve is seen as either being quite silly or irrational.

His tone and humor are a trademark easily identifiable with his writing, therefore, the choice of tone speaks more about him as an author, especially considering that the biblical creation story is something that is often taken very seriously, and therefore is the perfect victim of Twain’s humor. There are certainly people who believe that Adam and Eve were genuine human beings, hence Twain gives them actual qualities that normal people have, showing them in their daily activities, gaining experience, feeling and expressing emotions. Conversely, that only makes it more difficult to believe the story, even though – theoretically speaking – if Adam and Eve actually existed, they would be no or little different from the rest of us.

Of particular interest is the way he shows the discovery of fire, which he attributes to Eve, and the way she reacts to it is crucial in understanding her as a blueprint for every other woman. The text is filled with these events, where the assumption that a woman must be doing something only to gain approval in man’s eyes is undeniable:

I had created something that didn't exist before; I had added a new thing to the world's uncountable properties; I realized this, and was proud of my achievement, and was going to run and find him and tell him about it, thinking to raise myself in his esteem--but I reflected, and did not do it. No--he would not care for it. He would ask what it was good for, and what could I answer? for if it was not GOOD for something, but only beautiful, merely beautiful. (Twain 13)

While Munro uses a more direct, straightforward tone in her story, it is also a way for the reader to gain a better understanding of the main character and the way the story develops. Munro describes people and their habits, events, what they meant to those people and how they affected them, making it, unlike Twain, credible. That also induces a certain degree of empathy towards her characters, while at the same time, because of their shortcomings and imperfection, the reader still manages to stay distant and not to connect himself directly with the protagonist. Her choice of tone also sheds a light on her complexity as a writer and on her ability to transform the short story into an emotion. Living in a period which was crucial for the development of writers and a literary culture of Canada, her involvement in the dealing with social and political issues has allowed her to choose her arguments more carefully, which the main topic of Boys and Girls proves – the making of gender roles. The topic might have also been influenced, as a lot of her previous work, by her own experience, as at one point, she struggled to keep at balance her private life, what was expected of her as a housewife, and her writing. This is probably one of the reasons why a lot of her work deals with feminism, as at that time in Canada there was not a lot of people who “believed that a woman doing really serious work, not just amusing herself, was possible” (Thacker 354).

The first sentence of the short story starts with a fact: “My father was a fox farmer.” (1), followed by something that looks like a job description. One can conclude that the tone is already set in the very beginning of the story. The first sentence is in the past tense, which tells us that it is a recollection of memories, and even though throughout the story the narrator tells of the times where she proved herself dishonest, we are, precisely because of the tone, still inclined to trust her. The story ends with her father as well, describing her in terms of gender, something we are also used to seeing as a fact.

Twain’s tone is amused but also ambivalent, while Munro’s is candid, often contemptuous and disheartening. As different as they are, it is not something that prevails, but rather it emphasizes how far the issue of gender roles has come, and compels the reader to recall the enormous amount of everyday, mundane things we are accustomed to call “facts”.

Animals as symbols

Perhaps the best example of this symbolism is the use of a mare as a symbol within Boys and Girls. A horse, as a literary symbol usually represents freedom, spirit and wilderness, therefore, to the narrator in the story it represents all the things she is able to have as a child, which are prohibited to a young girl. The horses and all the other animals on the farm initially represent the same thing – food and income. The foxes serve as means of income, the horses to feed the foxes, and the main character in Munro’s story, as she is young, does not pay real attention to what happens to these animals. Her father raises her in such a way, making sure that nor she, nor anyone in their family, gets attached to the animals: “Naming them did not make pets out of them, or anything like it. Nobody but my father ever went into the pens, and he had twice had blood-poisoning from bites.” (3). If other girls had puppies and kittens, she had mean-looking foxes who stared at her with malevolent faces. Her attitude towards animals was also colder and more reserved, as she was used to witnessing animals get killed; “I did not have any great feelings of horror and opposition, such as a city child might have had; I was too used to seeing the death of animals as a necessity by which we lived.“ (9). As she grows up, these animals start to mean something else to her. As a child, she is unaware of the freedom she has, the ability to be whomever she wants to be, since the need to classify her does not exist yet, just as she is unaware of these animals and the killings that happen.

The first time she sees a horse being killed, she presents it to herself as something rational, necessary; “It was not something I wanted to see; just the same, if a thing really happened it was better to see, and know. “ (7). Just because most of the time killing animals is seen as a necessity, it does not mean that it really is, and that people, especially young children are not affected by it. Even though in the text the scene is described almost completely emotionless, it left an effect on the narrator:

“I had not thought about it very often since, but sometimes when I was busy, working at school, or standing in front of the mirror combing my hair and wondering if I would be pretty when I grew up, the whole scene would flash into my mind: I would see the easy, practiced way my father raised the gun, and hear Henry laughing when Mack kicked his legs in the air.” (9).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Differences underlying similarities. Divergent types of characters accentuating gender roles in Twain’s "Eve’s Diary" and Munro’s "Boys and Girls"
University of Graz
InterAmerica, InterSectional Literature
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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525 KB
literature, mark twain, alice munro, short story, gender, gender roles
Quote paper
Ivana Matic (Author), 2017, Differences underlying similarities. Divergent types of characters accentuating gender roles in Twain’s "Eve’s Diary" and Munro’s "Boys and Girls", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/352076


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