The other day in class, we briefly brought up the idea of performance and its tie to identity and how identity is portrayed. We started thinking about Judith Butler’s essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” and the idea of gender as performance. I know these ideas are present in The Avian Gospels, but I wanted to delve into their role a little bit more. Does gender appear as a spectacle — as something acted — in this text? And how does this affect the characters and the way they interact with their surroundings? To me, the idea of gender as a display links to the discussions we’ve had about the cliches present in the early part of this text, and particularly with the characters of Katherine and Charlie. Katherine is the veritable archetype of a demure, submissive, and naive young female when we first meet her. Is this performed? She seems to reflect everything female. And because of this, we agreed, she seems to be cliched, with little true substance. Conversely, Charlie – as we’ve been learning — did not align with the masculine paradigm. He was quiet, sweet, and more inclined to dream and create art than engage with the acts of toughness and bravery that we seem to tie, always, to what it means to be a man. This changed because of his parents; they intervened to re-direct his actions, and sent him to war.
In fact, I’m interested in the idea that the Judge and Mrs. Giggs in fact are involved in catalyzing the “proper” performance of gender of their children. With Katherine, they coddle her and feed her false information about the world around her — so she is driven to naivete, to an innocence and weakness. And these are all traits that are often tied to the female figure. When certain events cause Katherine to break from her parents and gain awareness she diverges from this archetype and her actions no longer reflect strictly “female” qualities. And meanwhile, Mrs. Giggs begs her to stay inside, to stay safe, to stay quiet; in a way, she is rallying for Katherine to properly perform her gender. With Charlie, his natural tendencies swerve from “maleness” — the Judge, in particular, criticizes and commands him, so that outwardly his display might be more in line with his gender. Around Charlie, the Judge espouses honor, bravery, and strength — all qualities tied to the performance of the male gender. Considering the tension between each of these children and their parents, there is a noticeable discordance between the “ideal” performances (wholly male or female) that are touted by the Judge and Mrs. Giggs and the inherent tendencies, the true selves, of Katherine and Charlie.