Gender Matters at Half-Circle Sea Hold

Gender Matters at Half-Circle Sea Hold

Carole Ann Penney '07 English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2004

In her novel Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey's very outspoken and passionate main character, Menolly, resides in a community driven by tradition and the elders of the society. When the town Harper dies, Menolly, as his apprentice, must take on his role of teaching the children of Half-Circle Sea Hold their tunes until a replacement Harper reaches the Hold. Since the role of Harper is traditionally held by a male, Menolly's father, Yanus the Sea Holder and a main authority of the Hold, makes it clear to all that the Hold will be disgraced if the new Harper were to discover Menolly's gender. Menolly is plagued by her passion for music and the fact that she is forbidden to play her tunes. She must keep her musical talents secret, causing her to feel alienated and misunderstood by the members of the Hold, as illustrated in this passage:

That evening Menolly was quite content to take a bowl of soup and disappear into a shadowy corner of the big kitchen rather than be noticed again. She kept wondering why she was being singled out for so much misunderstanding.

Her thoughts kept returning to the sin of having strummed a few bars of her own song. That, and being a girl and the only one who could teach or play in the absence of a real Harper.

Yes, she finally decided, that was the reason for her universal disfavor. No one wanted the Harper to know that the youngsters had been schooled by a girl. [McCaffrey 42]


1. How does McCaffrey use the characters, plot, and structure of the novel to bring out the subject of gender equality and gender roles within the world she creates?

2. Does McCaffrey find a way to voice her own views on this subject? How might the time that the book was written effect this view? How does the genre of the novel affect McCaffrey's ability to express these views?

3. How does McCaffrey show opposing sides of the issue of gender roles and gender equality?

4. How does the structure of Half-Circle Sea Hold community contrast from that of Benden? What importance does this hold for Menolly?
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Last modified 2 February 2004