Petrified Man

Petrified Man Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Do the women have any redeeming qualities?

    Though these female characters are largely unsympathetic—what with their gossipy, selfish, catty, and envious personality traits—it is important to remember the context in which they exist. Regardless of their power over their husbands, they are still relegated to the role of wife and mother. They are still judged on their appearances and their adherence to social norms. They live in a small town where deviant ideas and behaviors are not at all welcome. Their "power" is flimsy, in fact, for while they might enjoy dressing down their husbands, they have no real power. They have to have sex and procreate with their husbands, they do not get to pursue certain careers, they could be raped, etc. The fact is, being a woman in 1930s-1940s America, especially in a small Southern town, is no easy feat. Thus, perhaps the reader can keep these things in mind, while not excusing the characters' meanness, and come to appreciate at the least Mrs. Pike's iconoclasm and perceptiveness, Leota's sassiness, and Mrs. Fletcher's stubbornness.

  2. 2

    What is the point of Billy Boy?

    In his article on the pedantic approaches to the story, scholar Marshall Toman explains that a lot of times students have a bit of difficulty understanding Billy Boy's role. Toman explains that the child affects the reader's ultimate perception of the women, reinforcing what has become clear thus far: "Billy Boy serves not only to highlight the repression of male assertion (he is continually told to stop one of his actions) but also, and more important, to underscore the women's error, that their tactics are self-defeating."

  3. 3

    Who are the real "freaks" of the text?

    By the time the reader gets to the end of the story, and especially after hearing Billy Boy's parting shot, it is clear that the women are the real "freaks" in the tale. The freak show purports to have aberrations of nature, and attendees marvel at the exhibited figures' deformities and abnormalities, but Leota and Mrs. Fletcher and Mrs. Pike reveal themselves as the twisted, ghastly ones. They are full of envy, deceit, pride, ignorance, and selfishness. They delight in controlling their husbands, witnessing the foibles of other women, and elevating themselves. They care little for the four women in California who are raped, but rather lament Mrs. Pike's good fortune. They are the ones whom we should look on as unflattering specimens of humanity.