by Jessica Gagné Wright



I will describe the gender roles that are present in the story Three-Wheeler written by Bobbie Anne Mason. Both the protagonist Mary and the boys have two distinct roles.


At the beginning of the story, we meet Mary the protagonist. She is portrayed, to us, as a hag, a bag lady and a lone woman with an aging body. She is an artist and a potter who has just moved into a house that she has inherited from her uncle. On page 955, we meet two young boys: Abe and Jeb who are Mary’s neighbours. We see instantly that there is conflict between Mary and the two boys. The boys have killed some birds and Mary associates herself with the dead birds because naturally, women are supposed to be smaller, weaker and frailer. The boys who have killed the birds are portrayed as the hunters, whereas, the woman is portrayed as the hunted. This is a symbolic conflict because men should be strong and have power although these males are only boys. From this perspective, the story initially follows the natural path of a traditonal plot line where the men have power and the female is a passive object.


Later on in the story, the roles and the power are reversed. Mary becomes the boys’ employer because they need money to help out their mother who has lost her job. “We’re worky-holics…we need to help out at home `cause mama’s lost her job and has to get oddities… That’s not it Abe, its com-oddities.” (Mason 2001) Although the boys fall into the role of the male hero, the one who brings in the money and supports the family, they are nonetheless in a weaker position than Mary, who is their employer. Mary is now the one who has the power.


Another episode of inverted gender roles is between the boys’ mother and father. Their mother works while their father sleeps all day “Papaw’s at our house... He sleeps all day.” (Mason 2001) Normally a man would be the one to bring in the money and support the family.


The last moment in the story where we can see a reversal of roles is at the end. Mary embarks on the three-wheeler. “She straddled the three-wheeler, grabbed the handles, and tested them. She aimed at a line of open-mouthed boys, little pups who jumped as she headed for them. She gunned the overgrown tricycle across the bumpy ground through the trees... she drove the three-wheeler out into the road, picked up speed and waved good-bye.” (Mason 2001) Normally, a woman would not be given as much power in a story with a traditional plot. If the story had followed the tradtional plot line, the boys would have been the ones to ride the three-wheeler at the end of the story. Although they are young, they would have been the ones to have the power. The story ends with Mary imaging that she is on a Harley and she sees an owl. The owl represents wisdom and Mary associates herself with it, the wise woman who has outlived the others.


 Bobbie Anne Mason wrote this short story in 2001, years after the feminist criticism mouvement of the 1960’s. For this reason only, we know why the story does not follow the traditional plot line. In many stories that are written in the 21st century, woman have a lot more power. In this story as in many, the gender roles are inverted and the woman, in the end, is not perceived as the passive love object, that was so clearly portrayed to us in many stories that were written before the 1960’s.