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Analysis of the Play “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing" by Tomson Highway

Updated on July 1, 2017

This hub approaches the play “Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing" by Tomson Highway from a gender perspective. Gender relations are one of the themes presented in this play and this paper focuses on this aspect. In this respect, the paper considers that since the dreamer in the play is a male character, the framing of the dream in the play effectively addresses the theme of identity crisis for indigenous/local men. These men were traditionally alienated from their specific tribal responsibilities and roles which were quite different with that of their women counterpart. Within this context, the male character does not appreciate nor understand the value of women. In other words, women are considered as lesser beings by the male character in the play. The aspect of dream in this play has been effectively used to analyze indigenous masculinities which were typical of the society within the context of Tomson Highway’s play.

Highway has reinforced the theme of male chauvinism through various characters. For instance, one of the chief male characters, Zachary is seen as consuming a lot of alcohol, engaging themselves in sexual violence and denigrating women. The play’s opening line “Hey Bitch” which are uttered by Joey Big directed towards his partner Nataways Gazelle presents a clear indication that men in that society harbored a disrespectful and trivializing perception towards people of the opposing gender. Despite the fact that the events surrounding Zachary are depicted as occurring in a dream, they are as stressed by the author also relevant to other men in the community. This explains the reasons why the author emphasizes on the need for the men to strike a balanced relationship between them and women and the society at large.

The possessiveness of male Chauvinism by the Creek community men where the play centers happens to be so strong to the extent that men find it impossible to anticipate that this can change. The play’s opening line “Hey Bitch” (Highway, 1989, p. 16), points to the climax of the tension of the gender relations inherent in the Creek community. When majority of men learn that women are going to take center stage as leaders, they are filed with a sense of powerlessness, anger, confusion due to lack of comprehending the feminine realities and women in general. In other words, they consider this change of things as a curse to their community.

When there is no one to control the behavior of men, then they are bound to commit injustices and other bad acts than not only ruins the lives of others but also themselves. For instance, Big Joey refuses to take parental responsibility and recognition of his son Dickie Bird because he suffers from a fatal syndrome. Interestingly, Dickie Bird, the son of Big Joey is himself involved in awful acts, excessive alcoholism, and a rape ordeal. This occurs when Bird’s father is watching and when asked why he allows this to happen without intervening, he points out that “I does not like either of them, I hate the boy because he is fuckin a bitch” More so, he argues that the fucking power had been taken away by women and hence they should be disciplined accordingly (Highway, p. 120).

The need for a controlling authority in the Creek community has been reinforced in the play through various characters. For instance, some of the male characters in the play such as Zachary suggest that Dickie Bird should be controlled; otherwise he may continue killing people (Highway, 83). This also reinforces the idea that men in this society had lost their conventional values which had subsequently led to communal dysfunction and dispiritedness. The dialogue gives a suggestion that the violent outbursts, behaviors and actions of Dickie Bird could have been effectively controlled or prevented by good parenting or mentorship, aspects that he lacked since his childhood. This therefore implies that despite the existence of male chauvinism, and a sense of power, many were abdicating their responsibilities, thus making things to be disorganized since no one was in charge.

Most of the male figures in the play try as much as possible to deny their role in the misfortunes surrounding the birth of Dickie Bird. Instead, most of the blame goes to Big Joey, his father. For instance, St Pierre informs Dickie Bird: “there is no way I can forgive your father for allowing your mother to do this to you” (Highway, 57-8). Interestingly, Pierre also goes on to admit that there were also other men who were in the same place with Black Lady Halked upon the birth of Bird while no one was ready to assist her (p. 57). This dialogue stresses that men had totally lost their sense of responsibility and place in the society, thus giving women a reason to rise to the occasion and “fill the gap”. However, this creates friction between men and women as evidenced by the discussion of Starblanket challenges Nanabush that “if God is both a man/woman in Cree but in da Englesa he is a man, how comes she still gottacun...” (p. 113) to which she responds “a womb” (p 113). Within the Cree tradition, the womb signifies connectness and commonality among all people. This suggests that in order for the community to live harmoniously, all the community members irrespective of gender have to work together and in unity to solve the inherent problems. The constant struggle for authority and power had therefore no meaning in today’s society.


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