Gender Essentialism in Day of the Triffids (extra credit presentation)


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Extra credit presentation given by Ben Craske, one of my students, at the beginning of lecture 6 for students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

Posted with Ben's permission.

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  • Where do knowledge and beliefs come from?
  • Primarily Bill and Josella.
  • Rescues the damsel in distress cliché. Admittedly the captor may have been panicking and wasn’t an inherently evil character before hand. She see the good in him, and is forgiving, following essentialist ideas of feminine characteristics.
  • Stereotypes perpetuated: men non-emotional and not very empathetic.
  • Pompous bastard
  • Morale being restored depends upon appearances- literally covers up her distress. Ref. to rough house: belittles losing her entire family.
  • Was the book controversial, or the idea that a women could have written a book with such a title the controversial part? Would a man have been hindered by such controversy if they’d written it?
  • Idea of gender essentialism in the idea of women being sexually explicit, even in a soft romantic novel, is distasteful, as she is going against the norm. Moreover, we could debate the implications of a successful woman evoking a reaction.
  • Note the language of Josella is similar to a fairytale, as if she is forming the story itself already. Contrast to the scientific language of Bill.
  • Women working chiefly in the house being passed onto a new generation. What life isn’t she meant for- the post-apocalypse, or the domestic life she’s now entered into?
  • Note the epistemological importance of this: how we acquire knowledge, ie how we understand the text is determined by a male character, sans input from women.
  • Personally, I think the human mind is an incredibly pragmatic and adaptable entity, and this can be seen in selective memory loss to protect ourselves, blind human conviction despite reality, etc. Epistemological function of literature: engaging with texts that demonstrate opinions we may or may not agree with is beneficial, because it expands our own beliefs on the issues addressed in the novel.
  • Gender Essentialism in Day of the Triffids (extra credit presentation)

    1. 1. Gender Essentialismin The Day of the TriffidsPresentation by Ben Craske
    2. 2. Thesis:Even the End of the Worldcannot change genderrelations in The Day of theTriffids.NB: All quotes are from Wyndham, John. The Day of theTriffids. London, Penguin: 1951). Print.
    3. 3. ‘With the old pattern broken, we havenow to find out what mode of life isbest suited to the new. We have notsimply to start building again: we haveto start thinking again- which is muchmore difficult and far moredistasteful.’ -Dr. E. H. Vorless Chapter 7 p. 119
    4. 4. Epistemological Reading• Sections like the quote on the previous slide demonstrate that the text prompts and encourages the reader to think about the reality of a changed world.• Therefore, one important element to the text is Epistemology: - how we acquire knowledge - what it means to know something - to what extent can a person know something
    5. 5. Source:
    6. 6. Essentialism, n.1. Educ. A theory advocating the teaching, on traditional lines and to everyone, of certain ideas and methods supposed to be essential to the prevalent culture (opp. to progressivism n.)2. Philos. The belief in real essences of things, esp. the view that the task of science and philosophy is to discover these and express them in definitions.Source: OED online
    7. 7. Essentialism and Gender• Affecting the perception of gender: - Essentialism would argue that sex results from biological differences between men and women, which also affects gender behaviour. - Many feminists condemn Essentialism, because it implies that there are inherent “feminine” characteristics.
    8. 8. • Feminists see Gender Essentialism as binding because: - Characteristics associated with “essential” male behaviour tend to allow greater “success” in patriarchal societies:a) Aggressionb) Experiencec) Independenced) Non-emotionale) Sexually aggressivef) Competitiveg) Strength
    9. 9. - Characteristics associated with “essential” feminine characteristics may inhibit women from progressing in a patriarchal society:a) Empathyb) Sacrificec) Emotionald) Dependencee) Passivityf) Innocenceg) Nurturing
    10. 10. My ArgumentDespite: - the upheaval and distress caused by the blindness - the threat of the Triffids - new implications of a “post-apocalypse” society (learning new skills, finding resources etc) - implorations by new leader figures to embrace a “new order”The Essentialist ideas regarding gender remain andendure. This is because the characters do notmarkedly change their way of thinking.
    11. 11. Evidence
    12. 12. Josella and Bill’s interaction
    13. 13. Capture• „her hands were tied together behind her back, and a cord tethered them to the man‟s left wrist‟ Chpt. 4 p. 64• „“I think,” she said judicially, “that thought you wouldn‟t have guessed it to look at him, he wasn‟t perhaps too bad a man really.”‟ Chpt. 4 p. 70
    14. 14. Release• „She sipped at, and snuffled over, the first drink. I gave her time to get sorted out…‟• „The drink gradually did good work. By the end of it she was sufficiently recovered for habit of mind to reassert itself.‟ Chpt. 4 p. 65
    15. 15. Appearance• Bill‟s first description of Josella: „She looked as if she had strength if it were necessary, but strength which, in her approximately twenty-four years, had most likely not been applied to anything more important than hitting balls, dancing, and, probably, restraining horses.‟ Chpt. 4 p. 65
    16. 16. • „Twenty minutes or so passed before she came back. Considering the limited facilities there must have been, she‟d made a good job: morale was much restored. She approximated now to the film-director‟s idea of the heroine after a rough-house rather than the genuine thing.‟ Chpt. 4 p. 66
    17. 17. Reputation• Josella‟s career as a writer before the apocalypse endures, and she cannot shake the implications of the book‟s title even after the apocalypse. - „“It was called Sex is My Adventure.” I started, and then smote my forehead.‟ - „Two large circulating libraries had banned it, probably on the title alone.‟ Chpt. 5 p. 90
    18. 18. • The reactions of others are very telling, pre and post-apocalypse: - „“I seem to have been keeping up a permanent defensive ever since against people I don‟t like…”‟ (Josella) Chpt. 5 p. 91 - „“Well, really, Mr Masen, I can scarcely think she would be the sort of person to care for the kind of community we are building here.”‟(Ms. Durrant) Chpt. 10 p. 170
    19. 19. • However, it is her own response to the controversy which is telling: „“It sort of twisted everything,” she complained. “I was writing another book to try and balance things up again. But I‟m glad I‟ll never finish it- it was rather bitter.”‟ Chpt. 5 p. 91
    20. 20. Mind-set• Josella wanting babies - „“And after all, most women want babies, anyway… I‟m talking about real women, not those in the magazine-movie-make-believe- world.”‟ Chpt. 7 p. 122
    21. 21. • What legacy should be passed onto David, their child:Bill: „“I‟ve collected a mass of biochemical books… Ishall teach David all I can, and he must hand it on.”‟ Chpt. 15 p. 243Josella: „“do you think we should be justified instarting a myth to help them? A story of a world thatwas wonderfully clever, but so wicked that it had to bedestroyed- or destroyed itself by accident?”‟ Chpt. 15 p. 245
    22. 22. Tynsham Manor and ShirningFarm: a fresh start?
    23. 23. Gendered language- Tynsham Manor• Coker‟s rant regarding the sewing machine, and his opinion on women not understanding engineering or mechanical devices: - „“Failure to use them is not a virtue to be praised: even in women it is a gap to be deplored.”‟ - “Men have played up to it by stoutly repairing the poor darling‟s vacuum cleaner, and capably replacing the blown fuse… Tough practicality complements spiritual delicacy and charming dependence- and he is the mug who gets his hands dirty.‟ Chpt 10. p. 175
    24. 24. Gendered Roles- Shirning Farm• „Josella was kept busy, mostly in the house, and Susan was learning to help her.‟ Chpt. 14 p. 226• „“Oh, Bill, Bill, I wasn‟t meant for this kind of life. If you weren‟t here I‟d…”‟ Chpt 14. p. 228• „my foraging expeditions‟ Chpt. 14 p. 225• „ambitious plan‟ Chpt. 15 p. 229• „It was a heavy, tedious job‟ Ibid.• „I was endeavouring to learn the a-b-c of farming‟ Ibid.
    25. 25. Why does GenderEssentialism persist in Day ofthe Triffids?
    26. 26. Epistemological Explanation• „There was, too, a feeling that as long as I remained my normal self, things might even yet in some inconceivable way return to their normal.‟ Chpt. 3 p. 53• „The old doctor had been only too right when he stressed the difficulties of mental adaptation.‟ Chpt. 11 p. 189
    27. 27. Question of Narrator• The reader only understands the text through the interpretive frame of a male narrator.• Josella has her own exploits, challenges and problems to overcome, yet the reader learns much less of these than the male undertakings in the narrative.
    28. 28. Conclusion• The characters, opinions and events displayed in Day of the Triffids demonstrate that “old world” values are indeed difficult to change.• Therefore, the text shows that Gender Essentialism was difficult to shake, because the characters did not evolve, develop or change epistomoligcally.
    29. 29. Broader implications of this message• Are there some Beliefs or Truths that are so deeply embedded, that they are impossible to change?• If they are, are we, as able thinking human beings, capable of changing the way we think, even when we contemplate „Thoughts of the Unthinkable‟?