In the novel Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby unknowingly stumbles her way into a life of crime, sex and drugs in the ghettos of Montreal. In the absence of a proper parental figure, she regularly turns to men such as Alphonse (a well-known pimp) at her lowest points. Yet it becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses that Alphonse is grasping control over all aspects of Baby’s life. Throughout the novel, Heather O’Neill paints a picture of a modern day patriarchal society in which the lives of women such as Baby are heavily influenced and often controlled by men.
Patriarchy is still common, even in modern times. Retried from: https://clarespark.com/2015/10/07/the-patriarchal-family-what-could-possibly-go-wrong/
Baby’s extremely submissive nature towards the man she is in a relationship with is characteristic of a patriarchal society. Baby seems predisposed towards pleasing Alphonse, even if it means inconveniencing herself. After Baby begins prostituting herself for Alphonse, she reveals that she wasn’t getting any money out of it: “I gave Alphonse all the money I made. Since I would have been scared to death to do it without him, I figured he deserved the money”(228).The fact that Baby believes Alphonse is entitled to have everything that she is earning highlights their one-sided relationship dynamic. Later, Alphonse hits Baby for annoying him, causing her to struggle to hold back tears: “I didn’t want to let Alphonse know that he had made me cry”(291). Coupled with the physical abuse is the fact that Alphonse’s psychological control over Baby has reached a point where she feels the need to suppress tears after being hit.
Due to her submissiveness towards Alphonse, it is rare that we would see her exercising any sort of power or control during their interactions. However, Baby did eventually take a stand for herself when she decided to avoid Alphonse altogether, thinking that he meant “nothing to (her)” (248). But she couldn’t avoid him forever, and after finding Baby, Alphonse comforts her by giving her a gift: “I felt like jumping into Alphonse’s lap when he said that he had a present for me. The girls in my school were jealous if it”(256). Despite Baby’s best efforts to leave, Alphonse would always find a way back into Baby’s life, further demonstrating his complete control over her.
Of course, there was a great deal more to this patriarchal society than Alphonse. I found that Jules was often downright misogynistic towards his daughter on more than one occasion. After Jules discovers a pair of new socks in Baby’s room, he concludes that she must have been with a boy: “You’re a god damn liar and you’re a whore. If you start with guys now, you’ll be all used up and no guy will want you”(156). Baby’s father immediately assumes that his daughter was having sex and calls her derogatory names. Yet the careless use of this sort of language was not exclusive to Baby’s father. After Baby angrily leaves her friend Theo (from the community center), he calls after her: “You whore! Why you got to treat me like this? White whore” (125). This sexist language is actually used so frequent throughout this novel seems ingrained in the culture. Ironically enough, Baby only sought out Alphonse after her father had torn her apart in the above quote, as she eventually does the very things her father falsely accused her of.
Finally, any female character in this story that isn’t a prostitute seems to conform to the stereotype of the caregiver mother. One example is Isabella, who worked at Baby’s first foster home. Her role was completely limited to looking after children and doing household chores. The roles of women in this society, from what the reader could see, was limited to either caregiving or being a sex object.
Through her depiction of this highly patriarchal society, I think O’Neill is trying to show that just because we have evolved into a modern era, does not mean that feminist issues are behind us. These issues are still present today, and there are undoubtedly females who have to go through exactly what Baby did on a regular basis.
O’Neill, Heather. Lullabies for Little Criminals: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.