Feed on

“Why aren’t they flying?” I asked

“Their wings are clipped,” my grandfather said.

That was alright with me. They clearly weren’t in any pain and they could still hop and they would never fly away from me.

Robert Olen Butler’s “Mr. Green” brings light to harmful aspects of a patriarchy through the growth of the narrator as she goes through life. In the passage above, Butler utilizes birds to express the narrator’s natural acceptance of misogynistic oppression, pointing out how this aspect of society has become normalized. Through the grandfather’s reaction to each species, we learn the characteristics misogyny favors in women: easily pleased and worshipful, doe-eyed and submissive, but a woman too clever or “content to only be with their own company” steps away from this path, and therefore should be scorned and disregarded.

After identifying the patriarchal theme, it’s clear that the birds are symbols for femininity. Colorful and vain, chatty and quiet. We experience the first moment the narrator realizes women are expected to be inferior to men, and while her reaction at first is powerful, described as  “… a recoiling, like I’d stepped barefoot on a slug, but how can you recoil from your own body?”- there isn’t an absolute rejection of her grandfather’s statement. As she grows, she continues on a path set by a patriarchal society, aware of these faults but unable- or unwilling- to change.

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