(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler is concerned with the shifting roles of changing society in the twentieth century United States. Ian Bedloe finds that he must become an androgynous figure, drawing on both his male and female characteristics in order to fulfill all the demands his family and society make upon him. Far from being liberated from responsibility and obligation, Ian finds that he must do even more than his father and forefathers before him. He must learn to be mother and father, breadwinner and nurturer, anchor and sail, for Danny and Lucy’s orphaned children.

His sister-in-law Lucy, however, fails to transcend her traditional, dependent female role and survive. Poverty, lack of education, and responsibility for three small children pull her down and finally defeat her (a situation Ian comes to identify with more and more as he himself struggles to fulfill the role of single parent).

Ian’s parents’ (Doug and Bee Bedloe’s) post-World War II optimism proves to be simplistic and outmoded (as are the separate spheres of their traditional marriage). More and more, they feel forced to retreat from present realities that do not fit their upbeat, worn-out philosophy. The foreigners down the street allow Doug to escape into their happy-go-lucky student world, playing with new American technology and complex American life. With them, Doug enjoys the luxury of suspending serious concern and everyday reality—which all must face when they return home.

In Tyler’s Saint Maybe, characters must learn to survive, cope, and face life head-on in late-twentieth century American society. Those who succeed are most often androgynous figures such as the tall, bold, resourceful Rita di Carlo, Baltimore’s resident Clutter Counselor; Ian’s wards, Agatha and Daphne, who are independent women who take on new roles without losing their care...

(The entire section is 772 words.)