The Beggar Maid

by Alice Munro

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How does Rose's internalization of traditional gender roles affect her life in "The Beggar Maid"?

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They effect her life in a negative fashion. Note how even at the beginning of their relationship, Patrick takes traditional gender roles and assumptions and carries them to extremes. They meet, after all, after Rose had been groped by a strange man, and it is Patrick who takes the role of male defender of Rose and becomes righteously indignant, compared to Rose's nonchalance. Note what the text says about Patrick:

He had many chivalric notions, which he pretended to mock, by saying certain words as if in quotation marks. "The fair sex," he would say, and "damsel in distress."  Coming to his carrel with that story, Rose had turned herself into a damsel in distress.

Patrick's notions of chivalry, as much as he may mock them, convey the strict idea of gender roles that he has. His actions of picking up Rose early when they go out on dates and his ideas of ownership and relationships that Rose gives in to shows the way in which the notions of what it was to be a woman at that time were so tightly restrained and limited. Throughout the story, Rose finds herself conforming and adapting her identity to the way in which Patrick wants her to act, being the "damsel in distress," a weak figure who needs a strong male protector. The major negative impact of this is that Rose marries Patrick; a relationship which ultimately ends in divorce. At the end of the story, in a rather poignant moment, Rose and Patrick, now divorced for about ten years, bump into each other. Rose is about to throw herself at him once again until Patrick sees her and makes a face at her. She recognises in that face loathing and hatred, and this is enough to make her realise what she is doing and to recognise that she was just about to again conform to gender roles rather than live her own life as she has now learnt to do. She is happy that this face stopped her making contact with him. Gender roles therefore are shown in the way that Rose adopts the traditional roles associated with women at the time. This impacts her negatively because she becomes trapped in a relationship where she is not allowed to be who she wants to be.

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