Neil Gaiman Questions and Answers

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How do the narrator challenge what can be considered traditional or stereotypical views of male and females and their social interactions within “How to Talk to Girls at Parties"?

The narrator challenges stereotypical views of males and females in "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by presenting the boys as hapless victims and the girls (who turn out to be aliens) as predators. In traditional science fiction stories, it is usually the other way around.

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In the short story "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman, the narrator tells of a party that he and his friend Vic attend at which they meet a number of lovely but extremely strange girls. They are both 15 years old. Vic, according to the narrator, whose name is Emm, is experienced with girls and picks them up easily with his ready banter and winning smile. Emm, on the other hand, is more like a typical boy of 15. He is acutely conscious of and interested in girls, but he gets shy around them and doesn't know how to talk to them.

While out looking for a party someone told them about, the boys accidentally discover a different party and get invited in. Vic quickly attaches himself to a girl named Stella, while Emm wanders from room to room. He talks to some girls but doesn't understand the answers they give him. It is soon obvious to readers, if not to Emm, that the beings he is speaking to are not human girls but aliens that have temporarily assumed the shape of girls. They travel through the universe as they take various shapes and appearances to fit the environments they visit. They are unaccustomed to human forms; one of the girls says it is her first experience "embodied in a decaying lump of meat hanging on a frame of calcium."

Even though there is clear evidence that these girls are not what they seem, Emm seems to be in a state of denial due to his deep need to get close to a girl. He has been mesmerized and almost completely put under some sort of spell by one of the aliens when his friend Vic appears and frantically pulls him away and convinces him to escape from that place.

In assessing the male and female social interactions in "How to Talk to Girls at Parties," it is important to remember that there are no real male/female interactions, but rather male/alien interactions. The narrator does not identify any human girls at the party. All the girls are shape-shifting aliens. The narrator's deep hunger to interact with girls and his reticence to approach and talk to them are, as mentioned earlier, typical of teenage boys his age. The girls certainly act and talk weirdly, but then, they are not really girls.

If Gaiman challenges traditional male and female stereotypes, it is in the context of what is usually found in a typical science fiction story, especially from the pulp era of science fiction. The covers of early science fiction magazines display pictures of scantily-clad women in distress, being pursued and captured by alien monsters. In this story, there is a switching of prey and predator so that the boys, who would traditionally be the heroes, are instead the victims, and the girls (or so they appear) are the predatory monsters.

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