Study Guide

Turtle Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Few would argue that "Turtle" is an overtly feminist poem, but some readers detect a subtle critique of traditional female roles in society. There's no getting around the fact that Kay Ryan chose to make the turtle a "she." But maybe you think it's a stretch to conclude that the poem develops themes about women and femininity. Fair enough. Still, just so you don't miss all the fun, try to keep an open mind as you follow the discussion below.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. Do you think the situations depicted in "Turtle" are representative of challenges often faced by women? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think of the speaker of "Turtle" as male or female (or neither)? Why? 
  3. What effect, if any, does your assumption about the speaker's gender have on your reading of the poem?
  4. Try changing all the feminine pronouns in "Turtle" to masculine pronouns; then, read the poem again. Does changing the turtle's gender affect your response to, or understanding of, the poem? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Come one, come all! Though "Turtle" has a female protagonist, the poem's central themes of freedom and confinement are equally relevant to men and women. The poem suggests that, in a competitive society, mental toughness as well as physical strength are necessary requirements for success.

Nope! Ladies only. On one level, "Turtle" can be read as an allegory of women's struggles to escape the inequities of traditional gender roles. Emotionally loaded words hint at the vulnerability of women in male-dominated society and the enormous effort required to overcome gender-based barriers.

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