Free Essay On Rite Of Passage Struggles And Symbolism In “DOE Season"
In the short story “Doe Season”, the protagonist Andy is an introspective and serious nine year old tomboy who is experiencing an internal struggle as she transitions into adulthood. Andy is conflicted and torn between the familiar world of childhood and asexuality, and navigating the strange new territory of adulthood and being a women. A traditional rite of passage story, the author uses nature symbolism to represent the internal struggle associated with coming of age. The woods are a childish domain where Andy feels safe and comfortable, while the ocean represents adulthood, sexuality and death.
The story is told from Andy’s first person perspective, using italics to emphasize important thoughts and ideas. Andy faces a number of struggles throughout the story that help her discover her emerging identity as a strong and independent woman.
Societal gender roles and norms are a problem for Andy, who is most comfortable as a tomboy. The major antagonist is her fathers friend Charlie Spoon. He does not approve of a girl hunting, and believes hunting and the woods are a male sphere, “where the women don’t want to go” (Kaplan 391). Andy is confronted by Charlie Spoon and his eleven year old son Mac about her gender and interest in a male dominated pursuit. She is grilled about her name; is she Andy or Andrea, a girl or a boy? Mac asserts that “she ain’t a women.” However, Charlie Spoon says “she damn well’s gonna be” (Kaplan 491). As in any society, there is pressure in the male dominated woods to conform to the traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Andy is an anomaly. She tells them she is a girl, and her father seems to be supportive and accepts his daughter for who she is, without pressuring her to conform to traditional gender roles. Her father tells Charlie Spoon that Andy is along on the hunting trip because she wants to be, just “like you and Mac. No difference” (Kaplan 385). To him, there is no difference between Andy and Mac, which shows that Andy’s father is progressive, not like Charlie, and his parenting style may help explain Andy’s independence and strong personality. He is also proud of her masculine traits. She is a good shot, has endurance, and can gather firewood. He assures Charlie Spoon that “she’ll be no bother” (385). Andy’s father also appreciates her curious talents, like attracting wild animals. Andy has to deal with Charlie and Mac’s external disapproval of her interests in traditionally male dominated activities. Furthermore, Andy is conflicted internally about gender and womanhood. Being a woman assigned to traditional gender roles can be boring. Men get to go out in the woods, shoot guns and enjoy each others company. Traditionally, women cook, clean and stay home. Andy’s mother plays a small role in the story. At the beginning she is “yawning and not trying to hide her sleepiness, cooked them eggs and French toast” (Kaplan 384).
A secondary struggle for Andy is accepting her implicit natural sexuality. Mac is two years older than her, and when they are in their sleeping bags for the night, he asks her a sexually suggestive question that makes her feel “uncomfortable” (Kaplan 389). He is teasing her, and likes her, in the conflicted away pre-teens exhibit sexuality. She decides that if he presses his luck, she will kick him. Mac quickly switches the topic to hog-dressing and gutting a deer. The two themes of death and sexuality are two very adult topics, closely related symbolically in literature and film (Schouten 412). Mac may also be experiencing his own coming of age growing pains. This quick interaction portrays Andy as a strong person, who is coping with sexuality in her own way. She may like Mac too, it is hard to tell. He is, however, ultimately just a bunch of “noise” (Kaplan 491).
Hunting and killing are traditionally male “sports” (Marshall 188). The narrative, themes and symbolism of “Doe Season” is built around “mirror images” of woods-ocean, male-female, life-death, light-dark, which are part of the “cycle of life” (Pollock 196).
There are two worlds explored in “Doe Season.” There is the familiar world of the of the woods, which seems to “stretch on forever” and represents innocence and childhood (Kaplan 491). It may be cold, but Andy knows what to expect in the woods. The wild animals come to her, and they “are always the same woods” (Kaplan 384). The ocean represents adulthood, death and sexuality. She had only been to the ocean once, but it “frightened her”, was “huge and moving” and everything “lay hidden” (Kaplan 387). Andy’s mother loveed the raw sexuality of the ocean, swimming out past the breakers and encouraging Andy, “calling her to come in” (Kaplan 386). Her mother is a mature and sexualized person who “swam and splashed with animal like delight” (Kaplan 386). However, Andy “wouldn't go further than a few feet into the surf” (Kaplan 385). While her mother is comfortable and natural in the ocean, Andy is clearly not ready to be a women. Moreover, when Andy's mother goes into deeper water “her mother's swimsuit top had come off, so that her breasts swayed free” (388). When her mothers breasts are exposed by the wild forces of the ocean, Andy is embarrassed, even though nobody else is around. She is not yet ready for sexuality. Even the sound of the ocean “made her head ache” (Kaplan 388). While the woods are familiar and nurturing territory, the ocean is a wild unpredictable and scary place. These are the two landscapes that dominate Andy’s imagination. The woods are childhood, which she is leaving, and the ocean is the wild expanses of adulthood, which are anything but comfortable or predictable. When Mac makes a sexually suggestive comment, sex spoils the safe environment of the woods. When Andy kills the doe, death is introduced into the woods, ending her age of innocence. The woods are no longer a safe haven. Andy was hoping by that adopting a male persona and gender roles, she could avoid the feminine ocean and stay forever in the masculine woods. She was trying to deny her own nature and instincts, like the deer who are shot because they “don’t believe what they know” (387). Although she knows she is a girl, she embraces masculinity and tries to impress her male companions and prove her worth. She carries her own backpack, drinks strong black coffee, and gathers firewood to prove she can be like the rest of the men. Andy is afraid to embrace womanhood, and as an rite of passage story, the reader is able to witness her transformation into a new stage of life.
According to reviewer Jeri Pollack, “Doe Season” follows a traditional literary “rite of passage’ narrative which marks a new, different and significant phase in an adolescents life. It has three parts. First, the young person is separated from the comfortable environment of home, frequently in a “wild” setting. Andy is taken to the woods. Second, there is a task to be performed or obstacle to be overcome, often including interactions with a “totem” animal. Andy kills the deer and then dreams of the consequences. Finally, there is an eventual reconciliation and return to society with a changed status. Andy leaves the woods as Andrea, she has dropped her masculine charade, and has embraced her female sexuality and emerging womanhood. The references to blood throughout the narrative are closely aligned with rite of passage initiation themes by suggesting the beginning of the menstrual cycle, which is the physiological transition of a girl becoming a woman. The story, however, mostly focuses on Andy’s psychological transformation. This intuition process, often found in literature, is a form of “identity reconstruction” that is important for young people to progress to the next stage of life (Schouten 412). It can be a struggle, but is part of normal human development.
In “Doe Season”, Andy’s childhood identity as a strong and independent tomboy is the “doe” being hunted. She feels she made a horrible mistake by shooting the doe, and it clearly symbolizes her lost innocence. After some initial confusion and a surreal dream that symbolizes her conflict, it really is dead, not just wounded. At the end of the story, she no longer responds to her boyish nickname Andy, she is Andrea. Andy is dead, and the rite of passage is complete. Andrea is a dynamic character. At the beginning of the story, she is a strong and independent girl, with her own personality. She is intellectually curious and adventurous, confident exploring the woods, but not necessarily the ocean. However, by the end, she has grown and evolved into a young woman.
Ultimately, the rite of passage is complete and Andy has faced her struggle against her internal conflict. She is initiated into the adult world of sexuality and death. Andy has spent a great deal of emotional energy thinking about the worlds represented by both the woods and the oceans. Her metamorphosis is complete, she has matured and passed the “test,” becoming Andrea. In the process, the author has effectively explored a deeply human and universal experience faced by everyone, both male and female, when they begin to enter the adult world.
Kaplan, David Michael. Comfort. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Viking, 1987. Print.
Marshall, Ian. "Tales of the Wonderful Hunt." The ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 1993-
2003 (2003): 188.
Murphy, Patrick D. Literature, nature, and other: Ecofeminist critiques. SUNY Press,
Pollack, Jerri. “Doe Season” in Werlock, Abby HP. Companion to Literature: Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story. Infobase Publishing, 2009.
Schouten, John W. "Selves in transition: Symbolic consumption in personal rites of
passage and identity reconstruction." Journal of consumer research (1991): 412-
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