Traditionally, specific qualities, characteristics and roles have been socially and culturally assigned to males and females on the basis of gender. In traditional patriarchal societies, females have been assigned domestic and demurred roles, dependent from their male counterparts to succeed in life, where as males are generally expected to be physically strong, brave and unemotional. The short story The Altar of the Family by Michael Wilding features a young boy, David, who initially challenges traditional gender stereotypes but is brutalized by his insensitive father who’s obsession in preserving ‘Family Honour’ is taken too far. Mr Murray treats his sons feminine behaviour as unacceptable and crudely insults him with harsh remarks such as “poofter” and “moping..poet.” Because society rejects those who step outside their allocated roles, femininity is sacrificed to maintain family honour but in doing so, a facet of David is also drained and he is left “empty”. Mrs Murray’s character reinforces traditional gender stereotypes of a prim, proper lady and child nurturer who is demurred and suppressed by her sexuality. She has a traditional patriarchal relationship with her husband and in doing so is marginalized, silenced and “dem . . .
” This clearly raises question about the roles fathers have to play to define to their sons; what it means to be a man. The play on the masculine name “Bredon” to which the family had settled and built reinforces a patriarchal family with traditional beliefs and values. This would appear to encourage the reader to reject particular versions of masculinity. Although we condemn Mr Murray for his behaviour and the conduct towards his son, Wilding uses him as a vehicle that represents a microcosm of society at large with its traditional beliefs and values. However we are able to relate to David and sympathise with him being the victim of unruly injustice. Symbolism is used by Wilding to signify Mr Murray’s disgrace and shame of his...
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