Masculinity in Literature

The word masculinity can be loosely defined as covering the qualities that are usually attributed to men such as boldness and strength. The question, however, is what does it mean to be a man. What are the expectations of society of men in the areas of being leaders, soldiers, parents, workers, marriage partners, etc., and are those expectations achievable and realistic. There is a highly charged and political controversy about the causes of the male identity crisis that is experienced by many young boys and men. This discussion has led to a direct adverse response against the women's rights feminist movement.

According to the Collins Dictionary masculinity means possessing characteristics considered typical or appropriate to a man. This term is not exclusive to man, but can be used to describe any human or even animal that has the elements of being masculine. In many cultures there are certain characteristics that go along with masculinity. They include physical powers such as strength and fitness, wisdom, honor, courage and, in some societies, even righteous behavior.

Masculinity can manifest itself in literature and especially in ancient literature, where the man was always depicted as the strong one and was always the hero. It was usually the masculine or "macho" man who became the king, leader, judge or general. Masculinity is exhibited in ancient literature that dates back to 3000 BCE. It contains both explicit statements of what was anticipated of men in laws, as well as implicit suggestions and passages which refer to masculinity involving gods, myths and heroes. The Bible relates the commands that King David gave to his son Solomon on his death bed. He told him "...be strong, and be a man" (I Kings 2:2). The clear definition of being a man or masculine is to be strong. Men all through history have gone to great lengths to prove their masculinity.

Another example of masculinity in ancient literature is in the Code of Hammurabi, where the woman is always mentioned as being subjugated by the man. A clear reference to this idea is in Rule 128, which says: "If a man takes a woman to wife, and has no intercourse with her, this woman is no wife to him."

Traits such as equality and integrity are masculine attitudes and principles in relationships between one male and the other, and strength, virility and vigor are attributes in the relationship between male and female. Ancient heroic legends that depicted those who lived by these principles and had these attributes are found in the Iliad and the Odyssey and in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Each of the heroes in the stories exhibited the qualities and masculine traits of wisdom, respect and courage. They also revealed the masculine trait of taking risks when nobody else was ready to do so.

Medieval literature revealed a type of masculinity that was mainly Christian, brave, courageous and noble. In medieval writing, men were portrayed as being very generous, ethical and courageous. A example would the famous legend of King Arthur, which contains many medieval ideas of masculinity. It shows the chivalry of men when it mentions the exalted place for women in romance and courtly love.

Ernest Hemingway's Garden of Eden is full of hints about masculinity and male domination and is a reflection on his own life and behavior and phobias, especially his antipathy toward homosexuals. It is not known if Hemingway engaged in different sexual experimentation; nevertheless, there does not appear to be any justification for his treatment of women and gays.

Crossing the demarcation line in literature between the sexes has proven to be unpopular and costly to the male definition of masculinity. Using the definitions of masculinity, the writings of male authors have given women's groups food and fire to go after the male gender as a whole and those writers in particular. In the eyes of the feminists some male writers are execrable for their uncivilized definitions both of the feminine gender and of masculinity.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Boys Don't Cry? Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S.
Milette Shamir; Jennifer Travis.
Columbia University Press, 2002
Ragged Dicks: Masculinity, Steel, and the Rhetoric of the Self-Made Man
James V. Catano.
Southern Illinois University Press, 2001
The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male
Andrew P. Williams.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Shakespeare on Masculinity
Robin Headlam Wells.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Wounded Hearts: Masculinity, Law, and Literature in American Culture
Jennifer Travis.
University of North Carolina Press, 2005
Gothic Masculinity: Effeminacy and the Supernatural in English and German Romanticism
Ellen Brinks.
Bucknell University Press, 2003
Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism
Richard Dellamora.
University of North Carolina Press, 1990
Men of Letters, Writing Lives: Masculinity and Literary Auto/Biography in the Late-Victorian Period
Trev Lynn Broughton.
Routledge, 1999
Can't I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison
Susan Neal Mayberry.
University of Georgia Press, 2007
Masculinist Impulses: Toomer, Hurston, Black Writing, and Modernity
Nathan Grant.
University of Missouri Press, 2004
Updike and the Patriarchal Dilemma: Masculinity in the Rabbit Novels
Mary O'Connell.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1996
Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction
Philip Holden.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Fixing Men: Castration, Impotence, and Masculinity in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Meloy, Michael.
The Journal of Men's Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, Winter 2009
Soldier Boy: Forming Masculinity in Adam Bede
Reed, John R.
Studies in the Novel, Vol. 33, No. 3, Fall 2001
Romantic Masculinity in Edgeworth's Ennui and Scott's Marmion: In Itself a Border Story
Beesemyer, Irene A.
Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 35, No. 1, Winter 1999
Studying Masculinity(ies) in Books about Girls
Harper, Helen.
Canadian Journal of Education, Vol. 30, No. 2, October 2007
Young Masculinity and "The Other": Representations of Ideal Manliness in Twentieth-Century English Boys' Annuals
Farley, Pauline.
Thymos, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2008
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