Marilyn Schiel’s Levi: A Representation of Freedom
Freedom is perhaps the most valued privilege in society today. It is an entitlement that no one has the right to take away, although some will try, yet the boundaries of freedom are not defined. In the story Levi’s, Marilyn Schiel discusses growth,
responsibilities, and opportunities of freedom that come with age due to gender. She feels that being born a female in what seems to be so obviously a man’s world has kept her more sheltered, and she is left with a feeling of mediocrity. When she gets a pair of her older brother’s Levi’s, she feels like a new person. Not only do the Levi’s symbolize freedom, but they also represent her growing maturity and the fulfillment of her desire to feel engaged in her own life and to have responsibilities to match her male counterpart.
Like many authors of her time, Schiel wrote this passage as an indirect way to challenge gender stereotypes in the 1950s. “Levi’s” was written during a post-war time in America. During World War II in the 1940s most of the men were off fighting in the war leaving women with new tasks in society. To compensate for the lack of male figures in everyday life, they would work manufacturing plants, work in hospitals as nurses and doctors, and tend to their families. Women had become the epicenter of both the workplace and the family. These roles, however, were forgotten when the men returned home in the 1950s. Schiel uses the symbol of pants to describe the gender roles in society. To Schiel, the jeans weren’t just any ordinary item of clothing; they represented a freedom that was gradually replenished during her childhood. In the beginning of the essay, Schiel describes how she felt the jeans allowed her brother to do many of the things she couldn’t. The jeans permitted him to carry a BB gun all the way to the cemetery to shoot at squirrels while she could only shoot caps at imaginary black-hatted cowboys in the basement. This attitude was very prevalent in society during this time. Women felt that because of their gender, their roles in society were devoted to family and the home life.
After getting the passed down Levi’s from her older brother, Schiel feels a sense of worth in the world. This is proved when she gets a chemistry set and carpenter tools on Christmas Eve. It states that her brother was impressed because she did not get the traditional dolls and play cookware that little girls normally receive .She feels as if she not only has a new respect but she has more chances to put herself out there and live life to the fullest. She accomplishes this task when she gets a bike without training wheels. Although her mother had to talk her dad into it, this proves that she has a growing maturity level due to the dangers of bikes without training wheels. Although she falls several times, she always gets up. This shows a lot about her character and determination. Eventually, she can ride with as much ease as the boys, and she is then able to follow them down the railroad tracks to the pond where they fish. Also, it says her mom now supports her and makes her peanut butter sandwiches to take with her on her new journey.
This is very different from before she had those jeans on. She was only allowed to stay in driveway and be under strict control. She would always watch her brother as a kid and admire what he was allowed to do or where he was allowed to go. Now that he actually began to accept his sister in his activities, which he had never probably dreamt of before, shows the boost in the bondage between the two. Also, this helps her to cope with the fact that she was not born a boy but still has the capability to do most of the things that boys can do.
Parallel in time to Schiel’s eventual inheritance of the jeans, women’s roles in the 50s were gradually evolving and gaining new respect. Her transition from living a life of restrictions and rules in the small social network which she lived in mimics the whole countries eventual shift from the invisible housemaid to the female colleague and intellectual equal. The jeans, although they do carry a strong and definite symbolism of freedom, seem to embody even more powerfully the need for acceptance in the community and the search for personal individuality rather than as a shadow of someone else’s accomplishments. Schiel depicts quite well the effect the simple denim pants have on her own estimation of self worth, as well as other’s calculations of her strength and place in society. The jeans give her an inner sense of esteem which is radiated in her overall presence. This confident and powerful poise can be discerned by all those around her and, in turn, positive reactions result as a product.
While in this passage Schiel attributes her new found carefree way of life to a hand-me-down pair of Levi denim jeans, perhaps her message goes a bit deeper. It is not the clothes that she wears that sparks people’s curiosity in this female who otherwise would be found knitting or cooking, but the confidence and strength that she herself exudes when she is in them. It was the beginning of her evolution from being a woman to being Marilyn Schiel, an individual. Once she began perceiving herself as a distinct being than it was not hard for others to see the same thing. This story is not as much about finally having freedom from the prior confinements of what society expects as it is having the ability and intuition to escape. Acceptance is not found by conforming to the rules and expectations of society; even though that is the means most use to get there. True acceptance can only come by the manifestation of a person’s uniqueness. When we can honestly portray ourselves in the best and worst light and still be welcomed into society on account of our eccentricity, it is then that we are truly acknowledged and received.