Student Question

Does Anne Tyler accurately depict family life in "Saint Maybe"? How does its 1960's setting influence the plot?

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No, she presents fundamentalism under a shady light in which the love and forgiveness you get from a Higher Power is proportional to your willingness to accept guilt and work your way up to forgiving yourself. In other words, the Church of the Second Chance (as I perceive it) does a good job at making people move forward from the depths of guilt.

However, it is arguable that what they are doing is a perfect example of a classical conditioning exercise in which they tell the individual to do a certain set of actions and sacrifices so that,when the individual finally does them, those activities become sort of a "free ticket to Grace".

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The aspect of gender roles in the 1960s is revealing in the story because these were times when lots of things were beginning to change, and some families desperately tried to not "rock the boat" at home,considering things were starting to sort of rumble in society with civil rights movements, the War, population angst,etc.

Hence, a family which began say in the mid 50's would still want to retain the All American ideal of comfort and joy that is part of the ultimate American Dream. To go from an "Apple Pie" family to a family that has seen suicide, abandonment, and conflict, Anne Tyler has correctly and effectively produce that sense of dysfunction that many families suffer and try desperately to hide it.

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Anne Tyler is known for her skilled and nuanced portrayals of American family life, and Saint Maybe is no different.  It tells the story of Ian Bedloe, an unremarkable young man who feels responsible for the deaths of his older brother, Dan, and sister-in-law, Lucy.  As a form of atonement, Ian takes over the care of his brother's children, but comes to realize they are a blessing rather than a punishment.

Set in the sixties, the novel does indeed pivot on issues of gender and family values.  Divorce, while legal, was still something to be ashamed of.  Lucy was a divorced single mother with two children when she married Dan, and the conservative Ian disapproves.  He accuses Lucy of infidelity, which leads to Dan's suicide. This overly dramatic reaction to Lucy's past shows how women were expected to be perfect wives and mothers, and any deviation was punished.

Through her portrayal of Ian's growing connection with his nieces and nephew, Tyler shows in this novel that non-traditional families can be just as strong and loving as the traditional nuclear family.

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