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What conflicts or issues does each author raise in the depiction of family life or gender roles? The essays and short story you read this week

What conflicts or issues does each author raise in the depiction of family life or gender roles?

The essays and short story you read this week depict family life: marriage, relationships
between parents and children, gender roles and expectations within the family, and
family customs and traditions. Choose two of the texts, and compare how the authors
explore one aspect of family life. In your initial posting, consider the following questions:

• What conflicts or issues does each author raise in the depiction of family life
or gender roles?

• Is the author’s narrative purely personal, or does it address larger social or
cultural issues?

• Does the author use language (or imagery and metaphor) in an interesting way
to highlight the issue presented?

• Does the author address the liabilities or advantages in embodying specific
roles (e.g., in being male, female, old, young, etc.)?

• Does the author offer a solution to family problems?

Remember to point to specific examples, passages, and quotes from the literary work in
your posting.

Your initial post is due by Day 3 and must be at least 300 words in length.

Valley of The Gun

1 “Take ‘em, Joe!” cried Grandpap as the three deer, a buck and two does, stretched out at a lope across
the ridgeline above us, swi� dark silhouetes against the tan buckwheat stubble of what we called the
ridgefield. My father, “Big Joe,” leaned into the frost-�nged air. ka-krak, ka-krak, ka-krak, ka-krak—the
sound of each shot was followed by that ratling echo through the chilled gray woods that every meat
hunter knows and can hear in his sleep. The first deer, the buck, was thrown sideways by the impact and
went down at a running roll. The two does did approximately the same thing; the second one would later
be found a�er an hour of tracking the blood on fences and grass. We had just witnessed an amazing feat
s�ll talked about in the Bageant family all these years a�er my father’s death.

2 That was in the late fall of 1957. I had been allowed to go with the deer hunters for the first �me, and
already I had seen family history made. Dad had stepped into family folklore, become one of those to be
talked about for genera�ons in a family of hunters, men�oned in the same breath with old Jim Bageant,
who shot a whole washtub full of squirrels one November morning just before World War II.

3 These men—Daddy, Grandpap, and two of my uncles, Uncle Toad and Uncle Nelson—were meat hunters
who trudged the fields and woods together right up un�l the day they got too crippled up to do it or died.
And it was because they were meat hunters that they let my dad take the three deer, one each on their
tags, on the last legal day of hun�ng season. Everyone knew that my dad, the best shot in the family, had
the most likelihood of ge�ng more than one of the deer.

4 Later in the day, a�er dressing the deer and hanging them on the back porch to chill, we sat around the
living-room woodstove, cleaned the guns, and talked about the day’s hunt. To an eleven-year-old boy, the
smell of gun oil and the stove’s searing raw heat on the face, the polishing of blued steel and walnut, the

clean raspy feel of the checked gun grips, the warm laughter of the men, well . . . that’s primal a�er-the-
hunt stuff so deep you can feel the sparks from Cel�c yew log fires and the brush of bearskin leggings on
your knees. It has been going on in this place and on this land for 250 years.

5 I quit hun�ng years ago, yet this remembered room and the long-dead men who inhabited it that day in
the fall of ‘57 remain for me one of the truest and finest places and events on this earth. Guns can have a
place inside a man, even remembered guns in the soul of an arthri�c sixty-year-old old socialist writer. The
crack of a distant rifle or the wild meat smell of a deer hanging under a porch lightbulb on a snowy night
s�ll bewitches me with the same mountain-folk animism it did when I was a boy. And though I have not
hunted since 1986, the sight of a fine old shotgun s�ll rouses my heart.

6 In families like mine, men are born smelling of gun oil amid a forest of firearms. The family home, a huge
old clapboard farmhouse, was stuffed with guns, maybe thirty in all. There were 10-, 12-, 14-, and 20-
gauge shotguns, pump guns, over-and-unders, and deer rifles of every imaginable sort from classic
Winchester 94 models to 30-ought-sixes, an old cap and ball “horse pistol” da�ng back to the mid-1800s,
and even a set of dueling pistols that had been in my family since the 1700s. No hillbilly ever threw a gun
away, even when it could no longer be repaired. And un�l they stopped working completely, guns were
endlessly cared for and patched back together. Otherwise they weren’t to be parted with except under
the direst circumstances, either on your deathbed or because you were so broke your cash bounced. For
example, there is one ancestral family gun that my brother Mike did not inherit—my father’s prized old
Ivers and Johnson double-barrel shotgun, which had been in the family since the turn of the twen�eth
century. An out-of-work trucker at Christmas�me, Daddy sold it to buy us kids the standard assortment of
Christmas junk so we would not feel disappointed. I remember a Robert the Robot for me, a �n stove for
my sister, a litle red wheelbarrow for my brother, and, of course, toy guns and holsters. That was in 1952.
We s�ll have the photographs, and we s�ll lament the loss of that fine old Ivers and Johnson.

7 Through our early years we boys could not hunt, but we were allowed to beat rabbits out of the bush
for the dogs to chase back around to the hunters. With clothes torn in the blackberry thickets and feet
frozen in the winter creeks, faces pricked and bleeding, we rustled the brush piles. This would be
considered child abuse today, but so would a lot of things we once did. Besides, there are far fewer boys
hun�ng nowadays, thanks to computer games and television. Anyway, surviving the brush torture test of
manhood earned us the right to sit around with the men-folk when they told hun�ng stories—so long as
we kept our mouths shut unless spoken to. It was then we learned the family lore, who did what back
when and with which gun. This imbued each gun with a sense of ancestry, made us feel part of a long and
unbroken chain of men, a history we would contemplate over decades of seasons during that long pa�ent
wai�ng game that makes up most of successful hun�ng—or ge�ng skunked.

8 A�er a couple more years came a day when they let us help clean the guns, running oil-soaked patches
down the barrels and polishing the stocks and metalwork self-consciously under the eyes of grand-fathers,
fathers, and uncles, our mouths set serious and every move as careful as if each gun were made of
dynamite, trying to demonstrate that we respected their destruc�ve capability enough to be trusted with
one. Then the mighty �me came when Pap would pull the small 22-caliber “cat rifle” down from the
bedroom wall to begin real target prac�ce, along with what would today be called gun-safety training,
though it was more ins�nct and common sense for farm boys back then. We had observed gun-carrying
prac�ces for years, absorbing such lessons as these: Never crawl through a fence with a loaded gun. Never
point a gun at anyone, even accidentally while walking together. Never kill anything you are not going to

eat, unless it is a varmint like a groundhog or a pest such as a copperhead snake under the front porch.
Never shoot in the known direc�on of a house, no mater how distant. In 251 years of hun�ng these hills,
no one in the Bageant clan was ever accidentally shot while hun�ng, which tes�fies to the prac�cal
responsibility na�ve to the three-century-old gun culture of the southern uplands.

9 Half a dozen years a�er the Christmas Daddy sold the Ivers and Johnson, I turned thirteen, grown up
enough to start hun�ng with an old family 12-gauge, the en�re barrel and forestock of which was held
together with black fabric “tar tape,” as electrical tape was then called. And when I looked down at that
12-gauge shotgun cradled in my arm under a bright cold October sky, I knew that my grandfather had
walked the same fields with it when it was brand-new from the Sears catalog, and had delivered mountains
of meat to the smoky old farmhouse kitchen with it. I knew that my father had contemplated all this too
under the same kind of sky, carrying the same gun, and that my younger brother would too. Ritual and
clan. My family has hog-butchering knives that have been passed along for genera�ons. I’ve heard that
Norwegian carpenters do the same with tools. And perhaps there is the same ritual passing of male family
heritage and custom when upper-class sons of, say, the Bush family go off to the alma mater prepschool
and are handed the keys to the Lincoln. I wouldn’t know. My symbol of passage was an old shotgun with
black tape along the barrel.

10 For millions of families in my class, the first ques�on asked a�er the death of a father is “Who gets
Daddy’s guns?” That sounds strange only if you did not grow up in a deeply rooted hun�ng culture. My
brother Mike uses the same guns our daddy used. If there is a hun�ng gene, he’s got it, so he inherited
the family guns. True to form, Mike is a meat hunter who puts a couple of bucks and a doe in the freezer
every year and probably could bring them home given only a bag of rocks with which to hunt.

11 If you were raised up hun�ng, you know that it is a ritual of death and plenitude, an animis�c rite
wherein a man blows the living heart out of one of God’s creatures and then, if he deserves to be called a
hunter, feels deep, honest gra�tude for the creator’s bounty. The meat on our tables links us to the days
of black powder and buckskin. I can see why millions of urban ci�zens whose families came from teeming
European ci�es through Ellis Island don’t understand the links between Cel�c and Germanic setler roots,
guns, survival, and patrio�sm. Gunpowder is scarcely a part of their lives. Unfortunately, uter lack of
knowledge and experience doesn’t keep nonhun�ng urban liberals from believing they know what’s best
for everybody else—or simply laughing at what they do not understand.

12 To nonhunters, the image conjured by the �tle of this book [Deer Hun�ng with Jesus] might seem
absurd, rather like a nuke the whales bumper s�cker. But the �tle also captures something that moves me
about the people I grew up with—the intersec�on between hun�ng and religion in their lives. The link
between protestant fundamentalism and deer hun�ng goes back to colonial �mes, when the restless
Presbyterian Scots, along with English and German Protestant reformers, pushed across America,
developing the unique hun�ng and farming-based fron�er cultures that sustained them over most of
America’s history. Two hundred years later, they have setled down, but they have not quit hun�ng and
they have not quit praying. Consequently, today we find organiza�ons such as the Chris�an Deer Hunters

The Myth of the La�n Woman

1 On a bus trip to London from Oxford University where I was earning some graduate credits one summer,
a young man, obviously fresh from a pub, spoted me and as if struck by inspira�on went down on his
knees in the aisle. With both hands over his heart he broke into an Irish tenor’s rendi�on of “Maria” from

West Side Story. My politely amused fellow passengers gave his lovely voice the round of gentle applause
it deserved. Though I was not quite as amused, I managed my version of an English smile: no show of
teeth, no extreme contor�ons of the facial muscles—I was at this �me of my life prac�cing reserve and
cool. Oh, that Bri�sh control, how I coveted it. But “Maria” had followed me to London, reminding me of
a prime fact of my life: you can leave the island, master the English language, and travel as far as you can,
but if you are a La�na, especially one like me who so obviously belongs to Rita Moreno’s gene pool, the
island travels with you.

2 This is some�mes a very good thing—it may win you that extra minute of someone’s aten�on. But with
some people, the same things can make you an island—not a tropical paradise but an Alcatraz, a place
nobody wants to visit. As a Puerto Rican girl living in the United States and wan�ng like most children to
“belong,” I resented the stereotype that my Hispanic appearance called forth from many people I met.

3 Growing up in a large urban center in New Jersey during the 1960s, I suffered from what I think of as
“cultural schizophrenia.” Our life was designed by my parents as a microcosm of their casas on the island.
We spoke in Spanish, ate Puerto Rican food bought at the bodega, and prac�ced strict Catholicism at a
church that alloted us a one-hour slot each week for mass, performed in Spanish by a Chinese priest
trained as a missionary for La�n America.

4 As a girl I was kept under strict surveillance by my parents, since my virtue and modesty were, by their
cultural equa�on, the same as their honor. As a teenager I was lectured constantly on how to behave as a
proper senorita. But it was a conflic�ng message I received, since the Puerto Rican mothers also
encouraged their daughters to look and act like women and to dress in clothes our Anglo friends and their
mothers found too “mature” and flashy. The difference was, and is, cultural; yet I o�en felt humiliated
when I appeared at an American friend’s party wearing a dress more suitable to a semi-formal than to a
playroom birthday celebra�on. At Puerto Rican fes�vi�es, neither the music nor the colors we wore could
be too loud.

5 I remember Career Day in our high school, when teachers told us to come dressed as if for a job interview.
It quickly became obvious that to the Puerto Rican girls “dressing up” meant wearing their mothers’ ornate
jewelry and clothing, more appropriate (by mainstream standards) for the company Christmas party than
as daily office a�re. That morning I had agonized in front of my closet, trying to figure out what a “career
girl” would wear. I knew how to dress for school (at the Catholic school I atended, we all wore uniforms),
I knew how to dress for Sunday mass, and I knew what dresses to wear for par�es at my rela�ves’ homes.
Though I do not recall the precise details of my Career Day ou�it, it must have been a composite of these
choices. But I remember a comment my friend (an Italian American) made in later years that coalesced my
impressions of that day. She said that at the business school she was atending, the Puerto Rican girls
always stood out for wearing “everything at once.” She meant, of course, too much jewelry, too many
accessories. On that day at school we were simply made the nega�ve models by the nuns, who were
themselves not credible fashion experts to any of us. But it was painfully obvious to me that to the others,
in their tailored skirts and silk blouses, we must have seemed “hopeless” and “vulgar.” Though I now know
that most adolescents feel out of step much of the �me, I also know that for the Puerto Rican girls of my
genera�on that sense was intensified. The way our teachers and classmates looked at us that day in school
was just a taste of the cultural clash that awaited us in the real world, where prospec�ve employers and
men on the street would o�en misinterpret our �ght skirts and jingling bracelets as a “come-on.”

6 Mixed cultural signals have perpetuated certain stereotypes—for example, that of the Hispanic woman
as the “hot tamale” or sexual firebrand. It is a one-dimensional view that the media have found easy to
promote. In their special vocabulary, adver�sers have designated “sizzling” and “smoldering” as the
adjec�ves of choice for describing not only the foods but also the women of La�n America. From
conversa�ons in my house I recall hearing about the harassment that Puerto Rican women endured in
factories where the “boss-men” talked to them as if sexual innuendo was all they understood, and worse,
o�en gave them the choice of submi�ng to their advances or being fired.

7 It is custom, however, not chromosomes, that leads us to choose scarlet over pale pink. As young girls,
it was our mothers who influenced our decisions about clothes and colors—mothers who had grown up
on a tropical island where the natural environment was a riot of primary colors, where showing your skin
was one way to keep cool as well as to look sexy. Most important of all, on the island, women perhaps felt
freer to dress and move more provoca�vely since, in most cases, they were protected by the tradi�ons,
mores, and laws of a Spanish/Catholic system of morality and machismo whose main rule was: You may
look at my sister, but if you touch her I will kill you. The extended family and church structure could provide
a young woman with a circle of safety in her small pueblo on the island; if a man “wronged” a girl, everyone
would close in to save her family honor.

8 My mother has told me about dressing in her best party clothes on Saturday nights and going to the
town’s plaza to promenade with her girlfriends in front of the boys they liked. The males were thus given
an opportunity to admire the women and to express their admira�on in the form of piropos: ero�cally
charged street poems they composed on the spot. (I have myself been subjected to a few piropos while
visi�ng the island, and they can be outrageous, although custom dictates that they must never cross into
obscenity.) This ritual, as I understand it, also entails a show of studied indifference on the woman’s part;
if she is “decent,” she must not acknowledge the man’s impassioned words. So I do understand how things
can be lost in transla�on. When a Puerto Rican girl dressed in her idea of what is atrac�ve meets a man
from the mainstream culture who has been trained to react to certain types of clothing as a sexual signal,
a clash is likely to take place. I remember the boy who took me to my first formal dance leaning over to
plant a sloppy, over-eager kiss painfully on my mouth; when I didn’t respond with sufficient passion, he
remarked resen�ully: “I thought you La�n girls were supposed to mature early,” as if I were expected to
ripen like a fruit or vegetable, not just grow into womanhood like other girls.

9 It is surprising to my professional friends that even today some people, including those who should know
beter, s�ll put others “in their place.” It happened to me most recently during a stay at a classy
metropolitan hotel favored by young professional couples for weddings. Late one evening a�er the
theater, as I walked toward my room with a colleague (a woman with whom I was coordina�ng an
artsprogram), a middle-aged man in a tuxedo, with a young girl in sa�n and lace on his arm, stepped
directly into our path. With his champagne glass extended toward me, he exclaimed “Evita!”1

1 A musical about Eva Duarte de Peron, the former first lady of Argen�na.

[Return to reference]

10 Our way blocked, my companion and I listened as the man half-recited, half-bellowed “Don’t Cry for
Me, Argen�na.” When he finished, the young girl said: “How about a round of applause for my daddy?”
We complied, hoping this would bring the silly spectacle to a close. I was becoming aware that our litle
group was atrac�ng the aten�on of the other guests. “Daddy” must have perceived this too, and he once

more barred the way as we tried to walk past him. He began to shout-sing a dity to the tune of “La
Bamba”—except the lyrics were about a girl named Maria whose exploits rhymed with her name and
gonorrhea. The girl kept saying “Oh, Daddy” and looking at me with pleading eyes. She wanted me to
laugh along with the others. My companion and I stood silently wai�ng for the man to end his offensive
song. When he finished, I looked not at him but at his daughter. I advised her calmly never to ask her father
what he had done in the army. Then I walked between them and to my room. My friend complimented
me on my cool handling of the situa�on, but I confessed that I had really wanted to push the jerk into the
swimming pool. This same man—probably a corporate execu�ve, well-educated, even worldly by most
standards—would not have been likely to regale an Anglo woman with a dirty song in public. He might
have checked his impulse by assuming that she could be somebody’s wife or mother, or at least somebody
who might take offense. But, to him, I was just an Evita or a Maria: merely a character in his cartoon-
populated universe.

11 Another facet of the myth of the La�n woman in the United States is the menial, the domes�c—Maria
the housemaid or countergirl. It’s true that work as domes�cs, as waitresses, and in factories is all that’s
available to women with litle English and few skills. But the myth of the Hispanic menial—the funny maid,
mispronouncing words and cooking up a spicy storm in a shiny California kitchen—has been perpetuated
by the media in the same way that “Mammy” from Gone with the Wind became America’s idea of the
black woman for genera�ons. Since I do not wear my diplomas around my neck for all to see, I have on
occasion been sent to that “kitchen” where some think I obviously belong.

12 One incident has stayed with me, though I recognize it as a minor offense. My first public poetry reading
took place in Miami, at a restaurant where a luncheon was being held before the event. I was nervous and
excited as I walked in with notebook in hand. An older woman mo�oned me to her table, and thinking
(foolish me) that she wanted me to autograph a copy of my newly published slender volume of verse, I
went over. She ordered a cup of coffee from me, assuming that I was the waitress. (Easy enough to mistake
my poems for menus, I suppose.) I know it wasn’t an inten�onal act of cruelty. Yet of all the good things
that happened later, I remember that scene most clearly, because it reminded me of what I had to
overcome before anyone would take me seriously. In retrospect I understand that my anger gave my
reading fire. In fact, I have almost always taken any doubt in my abili�es as a challenge, the result most
o�en being the sa�sfac�on of winning a convert, of seeing the cold, appraising eyes warm to my words,
the body language change, the smile that indicates I have opened some avenue for communica�on. So
that day as I read, I looked directly at that woman. Her lowered eyes told me she was embarrassed at her
faux pas, and when I willed her to look up at me, she graciously allowed me to punish her with my full
aten�on. We shook hands at the end of the reading and I never saw her again. She has probably forgoten
the en�re incident, but maybe not.

13 Yet I am one of the lucky ones. There are thousands of La�nas without the privilege of an educa�on or
the entrees into society that I have. For them life is a constant struggle against the misconcep�ons
perpetuated by the myth of the La�na. My goal is to try to replace the old stereotypes with a much more
interes�ng set of reali�es. Every �me I give a reading, I hope the stories I tell, the dreams and fears I
examine in my work, can achieve some universal truth that will get my audience past the par�culars of my
skin color, my accent, or my clothes.

14 I once wrote a poem in which I called all La�nas “God’s brown daughters.” This poem is really a prayer
of sorts, offered upward, but also, through the human-to-human channel of art, outward. It is a prayer for

communica�on and for respect. In it, La�n women pray “in Spanish to an Anglo God/with a Jewish
heritage,” and they are “fervently hoping/that if not omnipotent, /at least He be bilingual.”

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