While gender roles are not directly discussed in the novel, strong differences exist between Albom’s depictions of female and male characters, to the point that gender roles become an important theme. The primary difference in the portrayal of men and women is that the novel’s female characters are nearly all defined by their relationships to male characters, while male characters are defined by their goals, occupations, and actions. Several male characters are mentioned as not having wives (like the Blue Man and Mickey Shea) or their potential wives or children are hardly mentioned (like with the Captain and Dominguez), whereas every adult female in the novel is described as some man’s wife or mother (Marguerite, Eddie’s mother, Ruby). To Marguerite, happiness is defined by her role as wife and bride, so much so that she chooses a heaven full of endless weddings around the world. Every depicted memory of Marguerite’s life is in relation to her hopes and disappointments with Eddie, her husband. While Eddie’s life contains many relationships and internal struggles that aren’t associated with Marguerite, it appears that Marguerite’s central defining relationship is with Eddie, and both her joys and struggles center around him.
Female characters in the novel also exhibit similar traits—they tend to be nurturing, caring towards others, and preoccupied with children and husbands. Male characters, meanwhile, are more often preoccupied with achievements and actions. Eddie spends his life trying to leave Ruby Pier to make more of himself as an engineer, while his wife spends her life focusing on taking care of Eddie and trying, in vain, to bear children. In heaven, the Captain remembers battle and dedicating his life in service to his country, while the Blue Man remembers his struggle to escape poverty and find his place in society. Both Ruby and Marguerite, however, remember their struggles to find peace with their husbands.
Another part of this gendered dichotomy is that females in the novel tend to be the victims of danger or violence, while males are the source of danger and violence. Eddie’s mother comforted and loved him, whereas his father beat him and withheld affection. There are no instances of female characters causing pain or violence to other characters. Tala is the ultimate bystander of violence, as a female child killed in a war in which all the fighters are male. Marguerite gets into a terrible car accident while driving to save Eddie from his gambling addiction, and this accident is caused directly by teenage boys throwing glass bottles off a bridge, and indirectly by Eddie’s reckless behavior. Mickey O’Shea attempts to rape Eddie’s mother, and when Eddie’s father walks in, he blames his wife and adds to her experience of violence by jerking her around.
In heaven, Ruby tells Eddie the story of Mickey’s attempted rape, but explains that Mickey deserved to be forgiven because he had done many good things to help Eddie’s family. Ruby also encourages Eddie to forgive his father for physically and mentally abusing him as a child, as she shows Eddie that his father was capable of kindness. The principal female characters, however—Eddie’s mother and Marguerite—don’t need to seek redemption, as they never commit seriously hurtful or violent acts. Men are thus the only characters depicted as capable of both good and evil. Because of all this, it could be argued that Albom only truly humanizes his male characters, while his female characters remain flat, idealized, and locked into gender roles.
Gender Roles ThemeTracker
Gender Roles Quotes in The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Later, she will walk him along the pier, perhaps take him on an elephant ride, or watch the fishermen pull in their evening nets, the fish flipping like shiny, wet coins. She will hold his hand and tell him God is proud of him for being a good boy on his birthday, and that will make the world feel right-side up again.
Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.
Eddie privately adored his father, because sons will adore their fathers through even the worst behavior. It is how they learn devotion. Before he can devote himself to God, or a woman, a boy will devote himself to his father, even foolishly, even beyond explanation.
How can he explain such sadness when she is supposed to make him happy? (…) She looks beautiful wearing the print dress Eddie likes, her hair and lips done up. Eddie feels the need to inhale, as if undeserving of such a moment. He fights the darkness within him. “Leave me alone,” he tells it. “Let me feel this way, I should feel it.”
That was my choice (…) A world of weddings, behind every door. Oh, Eddie, it never changes, when the groom lifts the veil, when the bride accepts the ring (…) They truly believe their love and their marriage is going to break all the records…