Written by Dominique Hétu
A Comparaison Between "a real life" and Les fées ont soif
Alice Munro uses the short story and Denise Boucher the play to tackle patriarchal domination, to show how women need to get out of clichés to be whole and independent. In Munro’s “A Real Life” and Boucher’s Les fées ont soif, characters rather than plot represent the impact of patriarchy and marriage on women. Through their protagonists, both authors “write against the grain” and picture women’s lives in Canada and, in the case of Les fées ont soif, the Quebec women’s relation to religious myths. Both works lay claim to women’s social emancipation and independence, and prove that literature and Feminism are often put together to reach freedom.
First of all, both literary works present three women protagonists who symboliza all women, or who can represent every part of a woman. In “A Real Life,” Dorrie, Millicent and Muriel represent three different perspectives on marriage; the institution Munro used to show how patriarchy oppresses women. Dorrie is the one who is the least bit concerned with marriage. She does not put as much value in it as Millicent and Muriel. That is why she is marginalized and pitied. Millicent and Muriel are, in fact, caught within the limits imposed upon women. They represent clichés of femininity, and thus cannot see or understand why Dorrie is so reticent to make the big leap. This realistic aspect of the short story differs from that of Boucher’s play. Indeed, in Les fées ont soif, the protagonists are the Virgin, Mary and Magdalene, three archetypes that, according to Boucher, convey the limits of women’s personalities and rights in Quebec (Boucher 39). Still, as the characters in “A Real Life,” these mythic figures are used by Boucher to show how limited women are. For example, the character of Mary represents the mother and the wife, just as Millicent in Munro’s short story. For her, the act of making love does not mean anything; the sexual act if more of a duty than a pleasure: “Les femmes ont été exilées de la jouissance de leur corps. Celles qui jouissent quand même vivent sur du temps emprunté et un honneur volé” (39). She is confined to domestic work and to serving her husband. She is isolated through marriage, as Mary, mother of Jesus, was mostly defined through her son. The women’s identities are thus not unique, but rather based on the men in their lives. Likewise, Magdalene is marked by all the men she has had, as Muriel suffers from going from man to man, seeking a stable union. Both are victims of the normative pressure to marry. Boucher, in using these mythic figures as allegories of woman, puts emphasis on the controlling religious aspect of Quebec’s society, and on how the Church helped in establishing an oppressive patriarchy in the province. Likewise, Munro’s characters are more subtle representations of women’s limitations, but they still show how marriage, as a religious ceremony, is women’s main preoccupation and turning point in their lives. Her protagonists make the reader interrogate what marriage does for and to women.
In addition, Alice Munro and Denise Boucher “write against the grain.” They go beyond marriage, beyond the man and woman union to see the real impact or influence it has on women’s lives. For example, Alice Munro shows how the three protagonists’ relationships with men affected the friendship they share. She clearly indicates how most women, once they marry, move towards their husband’s values. For Muriel and Millicent, marriage is the beginning of their life: “He’ll take you everywhere! He’ll make you a queen!” (Pickering 1020). However, to get married is as if Dorrie was killing a part of herself that lies in her father’s and brother’s house. So, Dorrie breaks the rules of feminine behaviour. She doubts what marriage will do for her, rather than being passive and accepting her fate: “'I have a life'” (1019). Just like Boucher’s characters, Dorrie is an active persona.
However, Munro’s narrative shows the reader what happens after marriage rather than presenting solutions or ways to break free from patriarchal oppression, as in Les fées ont soif. In fact, the aggressiveness of Les fées ont soif, the play’s strong rebellion against patriarchy, has that impact. Its strength also typifies the feminist period in Quebec (1974-1979). The play is an attempt to break free from the image of the docile woman: Boucher has made her characters swear, scream, sing, play masculine roles. The author is not only “writing against the grain;” she attempts to break free from the traditional image of women; from the model of virtue religion imposes. She implies that women no longer want to endure.
Both works then show an evolution in Feminist criticism. Written in 1978, Les fées ont soif was produced, as mentioned before, during the strongest feminist period in Quebec. It is thus obvious that its pugnacity and manifesto style are not found in Munro’s “A Real Life,” written in 1992. The symbols are not as trong or as violent in Munro’s short story, but her work is still effective. The reader understands and interrogates why marriage still has this oppressive tendency. It also shows how religion in Canada has control over people’s behaviours: “'Give me Bible,' Millicent said. 'I will swear on it.' Dorrie actually looked around. She said, 'I don’t know where it is'” (1019). There are strong references to religion and patriarchy in both works. Gthese two paradigms have indeed worked hand in hand for centuries. For example, Millicent and the Virgin represent the virtye, Muriel and Magdalene the easy women, likely to satisfy every desire. This shows how Boucher’s archetypes fit in every ordinary woman. Munro’s short story proves that in 1992, these models of women portrayed in Les fées ont soif are still present and still prevent the feminine gender from living a genuine coming-of-age.
Finally, “A Real Life” and Les fées ont soif discuss the patriarchy that
has a hold over women in the country. The latter was obviously written to break
the models, the archetypes that most women are caught in. As for Munro’s short
story, the ordinary lives of her characters shows how marriage allowed them to
bond and also separate, for Muriel and Dorrie left after getting married. In
both works, we see how religion helped in establishing a strong patriarchy and
how oppression can happen at any stage of life: from the ordinary chores and
daily events to spiritual and physical experiences. It should thus be important
to question those images, those models that the Virgin, Mary, Magdalene,
Millicent, Muriel and Dorrie symbolize in order for women to break free from
Christian and patriarchal paradigms.
Alice. “A Real Life.” Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction.
Ed. James H.
Pickering. 10th ed. New Jersey: Peason, 2004. 1007-1022.
Boucher, Denise. Les fées ont soif. Montréal: TYPO, 1989.