testimony of pilot

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Barry Hannah’s “Testimony of Pilot,” takes place in Mississippi during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, a period of time where gender roles played a big part in the way people were expected to live their lives. Men were expected to be athletic, masculine breadwinners, while women were expected to conform to the societal norms of mothers and housewives. Women were not yet given the same rights as men, and were therefore deemed inferior to men. In his short story, Hannah accurately conveys the pressure adolescents in that era felt to conform to societies pre-conceived gender roles. Arden Quadberry, one of the main characters, is faced with a harder time as a child because he is not the manly athletic type. Readers are first introduced to Quadberry when he is about eleven years old, and even at such a young age; Arden already seems different than the other neighborhood boys. William, the narrator, not only notices Arden’s slightly odd appearance, but also the saxophone he lugs around with him. To the other boys, saxophones, as well as all other woodwind instruments were feminine due to the meticulous sucking and licking required to moisten the instrument’s reed. One of the first comments another neighborhood boy makes is that Arden’s saxophone “sounded like a girl duck.” (Hannah 233) Even as Arden progresses in to high school, he is ridiculed and called “Queerberry” (Hannah 237) by one of his peers. In pre-civil rights and pre-women’s rights campaigns in America, boys who were not jocks were seen as homosexuals. Arden’s masculinity is most definitely not asserted when he reveals that he does not want to be alone with a beautiful girl who had consumed alcohol just a few hours prior. Almost any other guy, especially the narrator, would jump at an opportunity like this. Society’s view of Quadberry changes drastically when he goes away to school and decides he wants to become a jet pilot in the Vietnam War.

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