Understanding the Behavior of the Opposite Sexes in How to Talk to a Hunter and Woman on a Roof
The understanding of attraction between opposite sexes and the impact they have on each other has qualities of both mystery and accessibility. These complex issues are elusive and cannot be fully comprehended. Only small pieces of knowledge about them have been captured in literature, in scientific and analytical studies, and in individual's search and speculations.
Two literary works by Pam Houston and Doris Lessing explore some aspects of this puzzling and complex issue concerning relationships between men and women and their behavior. In her short story, "How to Talk to a Hunter," Houston describes different ways women position themselves in relation to men, and points out the contradictions that the main character experiences, while trying to coexist with the man she is in a relationship with. Lessing in her narrative "Woman on a Roof" portrays the behavior of men towards a free and independent-thinking woman who sunbathes on the roof near the one they are working on, and remains indifferent to their attention and provocations. These real life examples described by the two authors are reflected in the theoretical analyses of male and female behaviors and models of the differences in the perceptions of opposite sexes documented by Carol Gilligan in her essay "Woman's Place in Man's Life Cycle" and Carolyn Steedman in her extract "Histories." The two literary works by Houston and Lessing supported by the analytical theories of Gilligan and Steedman describe the life as it is, where the harmonious coexistence of male and females is not present, where the forces that attract two individuals are stronger that their minds, and where the behavior of the out of norm women evokes anger and frustration in men.
Two very different women depicted in Houston's and Lessing's fiction stories are placed in different positions in the progression of the narratives. Houston's main character has an active role. She is the one who searches for meaning, tries to understand the man she is in a relationship with, and looks for the answers to questions that bother her. The reader accompanies her in these explorations as a silent and invisible witness. In contrast, in Lessing's work the sunbathing woman is a blank space. Everything we know about her is through the observations of men working on the roof adjoining hers and their discourses about her. She does not lead the narrative; instead her silence invites the reader to ask questions, understand and analyze the behavior of men.
Through the narrative positions assumed by the two female characters, the reader is made aware of the different social positions and behaviors that define them. Houston portrays a woman whose views are shaped by social and cultural conditions according to which women "attract men by whose name she will be known, by whose status she will be defined" (Gilligan 396). Despite...