Masculinity and Femininity among DPs

Happy DP Couple with NCWC Staff Person

A young DP couple chats happily with an NCWC staff person; Bruce M. Mohler papers

In these documents, the masculinity or femininity of DPs is often submerged within the structure of the family. Displaced persons are more likely to be depicted as responsible, good parents, or good workers than as attractive women and men, and there seems to be no mention of Displaced Persons marrying American citizens. This, of course, would situate them in the American hierarchy of gender roles, and possibly create other problems, such as whether a male DP who married a female American citizen could be considered to have authority over his wife. A cartoon in a Polish-American magazine (show?) depicts a refugee couple in modified Eastern European peasant dress, the woman with a kerchief on her head, embracing their children as they gaze happily towards the “golden door” of America opening for them. They are not unattractive people, but neither are they glamorous.  

  • Why might de-emphasizing their masculinity or femininity make the DPs seem less threatening? Why might excessively   masculine or feminine refugees and DPs have a de-stabilizing effect within American society?
  • Can you think of any cases when masculinity or femininity was an issue among other immigrant groups?

In Flannery O’ Connor’s short story “The Displaced Person”, there are two married couples, the Polish Guizacs themselves, and the Shortleys, another couple who live and work on a farm owned by Mrs. McIntyre. Only the Shortleys, however, are depicted as interacting flirtatiously or affectionately with one another. Mrs. Guizac, whose first name is never given, is described as being “shaped like a peanut” but otherwise wearing the same clothes that any American woman would. Mr. Guizac is described as being short, slight of build, active, slightly sway-backed, and wearing glasses. (Not sure the proper way to cite O’Connor’s story here. The page in the edition I’m using is 195). The de-stabilizing effect the Guizacs begin on Mrs. McIntyre’s farm stems from them being a source of competition for labor, and not a source of competition for potential partners.

One important exception to the rule of DPs not being considered as potential partners occurs within Flannery O’Connor’s story, however. Unbeknownst to the owner of the farm, Mr. Guizac offers to arrange a marriage between his teenaged cousin in the DP camps of Europe and Sulk, one of the African-American sharecroppers, on the condition that Sulk help to pay for her passage to the United States. Mr. Guizac is free of American conceptions of race and so this seems a perfectly logical deal to him, since his cousin is desperate to leave the bleak DP camps. To the proper Southern lady Mrs. McIntyre, however, this deal seems shocking and unheard-of, and is one of the elements which eventually causes the DP family to fall from her favor.

  • Do you think Flannery O’Connor’s story is an accurate reflection of how people in American society generally viewed DPs, or do you think she exaggerated or took literary license with history to get across the point of her fictional story?
  • Would Mrs. McIntyre have been comfortable with Sulk and Mr. Guizac’s agreement if both parties were white? Is the issue here only one of race, or do you think that Mrs. McIntyre, and possibly other Americans, would be inherently uncomfortable with using marriage as a device to bring DPs over from Europe?
  • Why do you think the authors of these documents preferred charitable action and self-help as ways of facilitating the DPs’ journey to America?


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