Analyse And Compare How Masculinity Is Represented English Literature Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Literature produced within Western Culture has for centuries categorised gender as a concrete absolute; females beholding a passive and submissive role, and thus the male as the prevailing sex. Masculinity, however, is defined in both Wide Sargasso Sea and The Red Badge of Courage, as a product of a 'process'; thus masculinity is not thrust upon man, but he must go through a process of self-justification in order to attain patriarchal power and status. Rochester's voice, in Wide Sargasso Sea not only forms an identity for the Colonialised female, Antoinette, but further is a tool in which Rhys develops his own identity (or more pertinently, with-holds it). Silence encompasses the gaps in Rochester's repartee; his ability to fully express himself. It is clear that Rochester relies on the word of law to express his power, yet in many circumstances this does not suffice to communicate his emotions. Rhys incorporates the 'matriarch' into her text, and thus poses the question as to whether the account of the 'other' (being Rhys) widens the boundaries of male self-actualisation, and thus alters the 'masculine' stereotypes in society? The matriarch also poses the question; is male dominance attainable without forcing the female to circum to patriarchal power through 'natural order'? Rhys novel therefore encompasses the 'other'; and thus I will explore this in reference to power and possession of the male, as a direct parallel to possession of a literal place. Crane depicts a lust for the status of heroism, yet naivety prevails and one must learn through experience. Both texts, although contrasting in their depiction of the process of masculinity, both concur that it is the journey to self-articulation, and finding ones purpose in society, that is the key to understanding patriarchal values.

Masculinity is presented in Wide Sargasso Sea as a culmination, and a state, of pride, control and ownership. Money, as it is much repeated throughout the text epitomises the position of Rochester; his wealth bound from his endeavours in England and his current 'development', or perhaps more fittingly his marriage to Antoinette, is influenced at first entirely by the prospect of inheriting Antoinette's mothers' property. Masculinity within this instance is characterised by action and persuasion. The marriage negotiations are developed by males; Rochester, his father, Antoinette's father and her half brother Richard Mason. Stereotypically, therefore, Rhys' presents action, being the negotiations and the confirmation of marriage, being a male prerogative and consequently, due to Antoinette's uncertainty; apathy, being a female characteristic. The situation in which Rochester has been forced (arguably, by his father) requires him to attain a new position, and thus perspective on the people of whom surround him; that of a representative of the withstanding law and patriarchal structure of the Caribbean, and furthermore a seemingly more 'alien' role to him, a husband. Rochester relies on his previous knowledge; his trusted and proven structures that he knows. During Rochester's conversation with Christophine he threatens; "I will have the police up, I warn you. There must be some law and order even in this God-forsaken island." [1] Rochester is highly uncertain in himself, I would argue, and thus more prominently in his 'masculinity', due to his compulsive need to state the law when he feels threatened. Rhys' establishment of Rochester, if one examines him as a detached character, seems incredibly ambiguous; when confronted with a situation in which he must project his own authority, he is merely able to regurgitate vocabulary which is not necessarily his own.

In congruence to Rhys depiction of Rochester as particularly stern and callous when faced with opposition, he is also devoid of the warmth and chivalry of the typical 'masculine' figure. As in Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, the inspiration behind Rhys' projection of the ulterior narrative of the "Mad Woman in The Attic" [2] , Rochester is, although still projected in light of Jane's narration, a man of warmth and compassion of whom is acting upon societal pressures. These attributes of Rochester are no longer fitting, however, in context of Rhys' novel and perhaps most interestingly, his most recognisable trait of lusting possession and renaming this prize; in the novel, marrying Antoinette and re-naming her 'Bertha', is congruent to the Colonisation of the West Indies at the time, in which possession and re branding was common. Therefore Rhys', although re-modelling ones perspective of Mr. Rochester, is more so using his 'masculinity', as an allegory for the possession of The West Indies. Columbus, for example, took possession of the Bahamas and renamed it San Salvador, but the place already had a given name 'Guanahani', and native inhabitants. Antoinette as a child is aware of her identity; she says "I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, née Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1839." (Rhys, 'Wide Sargasso Sea' p.44). This is the only time she acknowledges her full name, she even recognises her split identity due to her mother's second marriage, yet it is this, in contrast to the un-consented re-branding of Antoinette, that Rhys truly depicts the irrevocable status of the English male as the 'coloniser'; in this case the 'coloniser' of the female native. [Add quote where he re-names her]

In stark contrast to the cold and callous presentation of Rochester, Crane suggests, ironically I would pose, that war is not only as a defining moment of masculinity, but it is also highly romanticised and simplified. Henry Fleming's early conceptions of manhood are simplistic and highly adolescent. In parallel to the 'adult-adolescence' of the lieutenant, prior to Fleming's experience of War, his view of its content is understandably sheltered. Fleming believed that "a man became another thing it battle" [3] yet it is not defined what exactly man would become until Fleming's clouded view of war and heroism is dispersed and his journey to self- justification is near complete. The desperation posed by Crane, of the male protagonist, to reach the status of a hero, a masculine figure, is so great that his view of heroism seems to be clouded by his credence that patriotism leads to heroism. Fleming knows that he is one of a vast quantity, and his apparent certainty that a man changed in battle is merely a hope. Crane depicts in his text, a male whom is uncertain, yet realises that the only way to find out his path in life and appear courageous and heroic is to experience battle and war first hand. This is in congruence to Pizer's argument that "the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively watch his legs to discover their merits or faults" [4] Thus, with this in mind, it is evident that Crane uses the form of Bildungsroman in order to deploy a struggle, and a journey of an adolescent male to the point of self-actualisation.

Rochester is characterised by Rhys as beholding characteristically 'British' controlling and law-abiding qualities. Although this does, to some extent, epitomise the stance of the British male in the West Indies, I would profusely argue that in fact Rochester is more so characterised by what he does not say in the narrative as opposed to the typicality of the small amount he does say. Jane Eyre, the inspiration to Rhys text, perfectly characterises the unqualified importance of gendered speech, and whether it be the projection, or diversely, the with-holding of this speech and silence in Jane Eyre, allow Jane to express her feminine distress yet more importantly her engendered position in society as the non-submitting female. Rhys forms a silence within Rochester's personal narrative through not only his feelings toward his alien surroundings but further his repressed feelings toward his father; he writes "I know now that you planned this because you wanted to be rid of me. You had no love at all for me," (Rhys, p.97). He is forced, due to cultural restraints, to conceal his feelings; to bury his sadness due to the inevitable emasculation of denying the coercive power or patriarchy; in this instance the literal patriarch figure; his father. Like Bronte, Rhys denies the male the power of expression; most notably through his forced submission to the "Law of the Father", and consequently, ridicules his own masculine capability. Ironically, Rochester himself recognises his own spoken insufficiency where he questions his own ability to express himself truthfully- "How old was I when I learned to hide what I felt? A very small boy. Six, five, even earlier. It was necessary, I was told, and that view I have always accepted" (Rhys p. 61). Rochester's self-oppression at such a meagre age of five or six suggests that perhaps, unlike Crane's depiction of a journey to self-justification which is inevitably resolved, Rochester has remained, mentally, at the age of five or six, in his ability to express himself fully, and thus when faced with asserting his own masculinity as a grown man, he must always regress back to the age in which he was forced to stunt his own oral ability.

Rochester's masculinity and patriarchal position are, inevitably, determined by the societal patriarchal order. Rochester's position, however, is unsteady and consequently tentative; as Crane depicts in The Red Badge of Courage, masculinity is not a notion which is tied to the male in society, but a fragile development which appears to be attainable through acts of bravery and heroism, be it war, or acts which society deem necessary, thus where silencing the 'hysterical' female is depicted as an act of masculinity. Silence in Wide Sargasso Sea, in distinction to Bronte's depiction, is more so, within the female, an act of defiance toward the outsider, as opposed to the constraints of society upon the female, as in Jane's illustration. Language, in the repartee of Christophine, is seen as a barrier, yet her defiance of English and consequently her choice to speak only Patois is evidently a resistance of Rochester's desire to enforce power and control upon her. Christophine is the matriarch- a figure which threatens to emasculate the patriarchal male. [Insert quotes about Christophine; compare her 'masculinity' to Rochester's]

Despite Rhys' presentation of Christophine as a defiant and engendered 'matriarch', a highly juxtaposing patriarchal figure is posed in the form of Rochester's father. One must ideally take this into account when assessing the comparison of gender within the text, as where it may at times appear that Christophine is a tool for comparison and hindrance of Rochester's control and masculinity, and thus an important character in order to pose the question as to whether 'masculinity' can be present without first forcing the female to submit, Rochester's father poses a very contrasting and powerful character. Although his anger is apparent toward his father's inevitable association with Antoinette's position, Rochester fails to ever address this to his father. Instead, he pens numerous accusations; "You had no love for me at all" (Rhys, 97), of which his father never sees. Like the suppressed female in the text, Rochester submits to his father's tenacity. Rochester's position can be seen to parallel quite closely the position Antoinette has been placed in, under his ownership; her dependence is described; "I could see Antoinette stretched on the bed quite still. Like a doll. Even when she threatened me […] she has a Marionette quality." (Rhys, p.90) the image of the Marionette doll is particularly pertinent as it encompasses the control which the patriarchal figure holds at all times, be it Rochester or his father. The 'doll' is lifeless, and forced to act submissively and correctly, and like Rochester whom says "[I] played the part [I] was expected to play […] I must have give a faultless performance" (Rhys, p. 45), he has learnt to act in a certain 'pleasing' way. The male here is not depicted as masculine and over-powering, but in fact feminine and submissive. It could, however, be argued that although Rochester is submitting to this order, his acknowledgment of the patriarchal order (his father being of a more certain position than him) suggests that masculinity is defined almost certainly, here, and thus Rochester's decision to be 'silent' is one of amicable choice- he is aware that silence is not an action of submission but recognition of the "Law of the father"; the decisive masculine role.

Similarly, Stephen Crane suggests, through his narrative, that the most salient element of the journey to self-actualisation is defining 'masculinity' and consequently achieving it. Where Rochester seems to have defined for himself that the ultimate negotiation of masculinity is power and the exertion of control over his wife, Fleming believes that masculinity is not so much a projection of control, but instead of conformity and thus consequently losing control of a situation, in the instance of a battle. Masculinity, to him, is what he sees in his comrades who are 'built for war'; he says that "he was not formed for soldier." Thus musing "seriously upon the radical differences between himself and those men who were dodging imp like around the fires" (Crane, p.34) The word 'imp' commonly refers to a 'goblin' like urchin. The goblin exerts animalistic, inhumane qualities; or more pertinently, something of fantasy and child-like imagination. Zoomorphism, here, creates an animalistic, savage view of the men whom he admires; his aspirations to become a 'man' and be deemed masculine and heroic are stemmed from the image of men whom are described in a fantastical manner. Crane, therefore, has not only created an image of masculinity which is perhaps warped and unreal, but more pertinently it is an image which is child-like; Fleming's internal struggle and desire to be a valiant soldier coincides with a very adolescent view of man.

Masculinity, again, appears warped and erroneous through Fleming's view of an officer whom he encounters. Crane explains that "[he] displayed the furious anger of a spoiled child. [He] raged with his head, his arms, and his legs" (Crane, p.27). The behaviour displayed is not of a brave and heroic man, someone whom has gained the status of 'masculinity' through his endeavours and altruistic actions in war to defend his country, but an impotent and selfish man whom is driven to gaining child- like qualities, perhaps through a belief that in his status he has gained 'masculinity'. Similarly, Crane explores further adolescent qualities in the Lieutenant; "he was like a babe which, having wept its fill, raises its eyes and fixes upon a distant toy" (Crane, p.20) The adolescent qualities of the patriarchal figure encompasses the disparity between Crane and Fleming's viewpoint. Henry sees men like the lieutenant as the epitome of masculinity, but the figurative language used evokes the image of an infant with a toy. Again, the view of the young soldier is warped by his internal struggle and turmoil to become a 'man', yet the officers whom he admires and bases his actions upon do not act in a heroic and manly way, but instead seem to have regressed to displaying a lack of control over their actions. What is perhaps most interesting here, I feel, is the dichotomy between what Crane presents as irony in the actions of the Lieutenant and Officer, and the genuine awe that Fleming displays towards his elders. Crane presents a satirical image of war, where Henry truly feels this is what he must do to gain status. This is very similar to Rhys' spilt narrative; her own viewpoint seeping through the inner narrative of Rochester.

Intriguingly, Henry seems to develop a more keen sense of awareness once he is distant from the crowd of soldiers of whom he has based upon his ideals of masculinity. When he is secluded and exposed to the revulsion of the corpse in the forest he begins to recognise his own cowardly and naïve qualities which have not been changed through Crane's satirical presentation of war. Ironically, it is not in being told and watching, but through experience, that Henry gains a stronger sense of self. The use of nature in the text, to present image of transformation; from "lead" rainclouds, to "gold" rays of sun, it seems that this, being at the latter of the text, signals that a metamorphism within Henry has taken place, and thus he has finally become a man. Although Crane, essentially, criticizes the notions and stereotypical ideals of patriotism and manliness, he at the same time embraces the proposal of masculinity through the presentation of Henry's turmoil through his experience, crisis and consequential survival.

Wilson, or more notably "the loud soldier", is used by Crane as a tool of cultural stereotype. Not only does he express his opinion sans consequence, but he further appears to dominate the other men around him. Wilson's character seems to develop, however, as the novel progresses. He appears to become more vulnerable and his self-assured façade begins to ebb away. He is constantly sure that he will fight; to Henry he claims "I said I was going to do my share of the fighting- that's what I said. And I am, too. Who are you anyhow?" His constant rhetorical questioning and paced speech projects his erratic and obnoxious behaviour, yet similar to the bewildered yet highly self-assured protagonist, Holden Caulfield, of J.D Salinger's short novel The Catcher in the Rye, the adolescent displays unwillingly his naivety and confusion through constant questioning of the world, mainly through experience. This is most notable through Cranes repetitive use of question marks, thus alerting the reader to his bewilderment. It is here, upmost, that the form of Bildungsroman is evident, and thus the change of character in Wilson as he progresses in his adolescence and experience maintains this. Wilson hands Fleming a yellow letter, in fear of death in battle; this unmasked apprehension toward something he previously lusted for, projects the naivety and infantile qualities that display Wilson not as "the loud soldier", but beneath this façade, a man whom is merely trying to assure himself of his manhood, through a stereotypical path of becoming a 'man'.