Date of Creation
Departmental Honors Thesis
In this thesis I wanted to explore the ways that masculinity has been written in history through the genre of fiction. The first chapter discusses traumatized white masculinity in Kurt Vonnegut's novel SlaughterHouse Five and Oliver Stone's film Born On The Fourth of July. The second chapter deals with the female Black experience in response to the white patriarchy in Toni Morrison's novel Home and HBO's television series LoveCraft Country. And finally chapter 3 deals with mythologized masculinity redeemed through violence in Martin Scorsese's film Taxi Driver and Frank Miller's comic book series The Dark Knight Returns. In looking at fictional narratives based on historical events, authors have the ability to design characters in a way that either perpetuates certain standards of masculinity or intentionally reject the expected narrative. This paper attempts to understand a socially constructed masculine expectation developed through the American wars of the 1900s that continue to be prevalent in American society today. In my research I focused on soldier and veteran narratives in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, predominantly through World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
The 1950s prioritized tradition and order that came through in strong paternal figures within family systems that mirror a larger social dynamic of trust in the United States. The "traditional" -- or at least advertised-- relationship between father and son consisted of the heroic father who fought in World War II with a son expected to continue fighting for his country in Vietnam. After building up a very simplified understanding of the “american-family” that emphasized exceptionally reduced gender binaries, the following decades came to present a very polarizing understanding of the traditional family structure, individualism, racial liberation, and violence that had previously been ignored. Largely fictional retellings of war narratives or even embellished historical accounts, focused on the heroism of the soldier without recognizing the implications of war and violence. These social movements at play challenged a system that predominantly white middle class families thrived within, destabilizing the “norm.” The political and cultural trauma at the end of the Vietnam war caused Americans to reflect on the United States's social and governmental framework while also contemplating individual identity. During this period, Americans underwent an identity crisis. Traditional notions of morality, the nuclear family, and trust in democracy broke down causing Americans to divulge in questions of self. An important note in this identity crisis is the rise of mass media, propaganda campaigns, war films, and comic books that reinforce a toxic patritized notion of masculinity that was constantly being consumed by Americans.
These historical narratives come through in fictional literary and film narratives that reinforce this way of thinking and understanding social structures that contribute to performative masculinity that I am analyzing in this thesis. The idea that patriotism and violence made a man a hero later reinforces contemporary notions of toxic masculinity which again is seen in fictional renditions of this time period. Through my research I came to recognize the prevalence of the gender binary within these narratives and the effects gender expectations have on trauma narratives that include not only white soldiers and veterans but also the perspective of Black and white women and Black men. I use fiction as windows into the psyche of the past in interpreting art as historical documentation to how masculinity is performed and written. These windows allow for a better understanding of the trajectory of gender roles through war-ridden America and how they contribute to forced, categorical, fantasized masculinity. In working with multiple mediums such as film, narrative, and graphic novels, as well as genres such as science fiction, historical fiction, dark comedy, fantasy, and drama, I am able to understand how performative masculinity presents itself in various genres. Including this wide array of mediums emphasizes the depth and diversity of trauma narratives that force performative actions onto men and women operating within these constructs.
O'Scannlain, Shea, "Fantasized Masculinity Performed in American War Narratives" (2022). English Honors Theses. 12.