Gathering Blue

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Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Art and Creative Instinct Theme Icon
Self-Interest versus Compassion  Theme Icon
Power and Freedom Theme Icon
Pain and Maturity Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gathering Blue, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Men, Women, and Gender Roles Theme Icon

At many points, Kira notes that her society is strictly divided along gender lines. Women can only perform certain jobs and go certain places. Many of them work by gathering food for the village, and others spend their time weaving. Men, on the other hand, hunt for food for the village. On the day of a hunt, they brag and argue and fight with each other. This isn’t a case of “separate but equal”; clearly the men have more power and freedom than the women of the village. We can see this when Vandara and Kira go to court before the Council of Guardians. There seem to be no women on the Council (whereas there are at least three men on it, including the chief guardian), and Vandara learns from the chief guardian that she has no rights, presumably because she’s a woman. It’s also mentioned many times that women aren’t allowed to learn how to read.

For the most part, Lowry doesn’t suggest that there are any innate behavioral differences between the sexes. (On the few occasions when she does suggest this, she’s being humorous—for instance, in the scene where Kira gets irritated at Thomas for being too interested in the construction work, and thinks that all men are the same). Men and women aren’t born wanting to hunt or weave, respectively—the village teaches them to want to do these things. Matt’s behavior in the second half of Gathering Blue suggests how the village tells men and women how to behave. Matt is a wild, rambunctious boy who, like most of his peers, wants to be a hunter. At one point, he finds himself a spear and joins the men as they prepare to hunt, observing and imitating all the typical behavior of men: fighting, bragging, etc. It’s only because Kira and Thomas stop him that he doesn’t participate in the hunt. Later, Matt shows that he’s moved past the desire to hunt and fight. He brings Kira a gift—a blue cloth—and volunteers to take Kira’s father, Christopher, back to his home.

For the most part, masculinity as it’s practiced in the village is a case of “monkey see, monkey do”—boys learn how to be men by imitating men. Nothing says that boys must grow up to be hunters and fighters—with the right guidance and education, their character can be more compassionate and mature. Perhaps the best way to fight gender roles while remaining in the village is to become an artist. As a weaver for the Council of Guardians, Kira has much more contact with men—Jamison, Thomas—than she has previously. Moreover, her contribution to the Gathering, the robe, isn’t seen as inferior to Thomas’s contribution, the staff. The only criterion for art is its quality—the gender of the artist doesn’t matter.

In the village of Gathering Blue, men are arrogant, violent, and controlling, while women are weaker and less educated. With education and art, this unfair, arbitrary arrangement can be changed. It’s worth remembering that Lowry herself didn’t begin her career as a writer until the age of 40, after she’d raised four children and completed a college degree and a Master’s degree—she can testify firsthand to the importance of art and education for women.

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Men, Women, and Gender Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Men, Women, and Gender Roles appears in each chapter of Gathering Blue. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Men, Women, and Gender Roles Quotes in Gathering Blue

Below you will find the important quotes in Gathering Blue related to the theme of Men, Women, and Gender Roles.
Chapter 9 Quotes

When he read the word hollyhock aloud with his finger on the word, she saw that it was long, with many lines like tall stems. She turned her eyes away quickly so that she would not learn it, would not be guilty of something clearly forbidden to her. But it made her smile, to see it, to see how the pen formed the shapes and the shapes told a story of a name.

Related Characters: Kira (speaker), Thomas the Carver
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Kira watches as Thomas the Carver reads from a book. Kira, as a woman, hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--her community forbids women from educating themselves in any meaningful way. Although Kira can't understand the words she's looking at, she gets pleasure from the pictorial quality of the letters--the fact that certain words and letters look like the things they're describing.

The fact that Kira hasn't been allowed to learn how to read--something we weren't aware of until this moment--reinforces the repressive, sexist nature of her community. Women, because they're physically weaker, are considered less important than men--they can't hunt, so they're certainly not worth educating. And yet Kira's ability to partially grasp the meaning of language, even if she doesn't understand the specific words, shows that her intelligence and creativity are stronger than the restrictions the community has placed on her existence.


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Chapter 10 Quotes

Kira had not been much in the world of men. They led very separate lives from those of women. She had never envied them. Now, as she found herself jostled by their thick, sweat-smelling bodies, as she heard their muttered angry comments and their shouts, she found herself both frightened and annoyed. But she realized that this was hunt behavior, a time for flaunting and boasting, a time for testing each other. No wonder Matt, with his childish swagger, wanted to be part of it.

Related Characters: Kira
Page Number: 111-112
Explanation and Analysis:

Kira lives in a society with rigorously enforced gender roles. Women are forced to care for children, gather fruits and berries, and weave; men, on the other hand, are sent out to hunt for food in the forest. As Kira witnesses a hunt for the first time in her life, she begins to see the problem with her community as a whole. Kira's village is led entirely by men: the all-male Guardians run the village's government, and men have the prestigious job of obtaining food. In the men themselves, this society encourages stereotypical "masculine" traits like aggressiveness, competition, and violence. Furthermore, the masculinity of Kira's community is so pervasive that it gets passed down from generation to generation: here, for instance, Kira that Matt is being trained to think of adulthood as a pattern of violent, argumentative behavior.