Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

On Men and Masculinity in Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow and K. Sello Duiker's the Quiet Violence of Dreams (1)

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

On Men and Masculinity in Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow and K. Sello Duiker's the Quiet Violence of Dreams (1)

Article excerpt


This article is an attempt to analyse the representation of masculinity in the novels of two black South African authors, namely Mpe and Duiker. It is significant that, although both provide us with an urban perspective on masculinity, in the case of Mpe the focus is on black heterosexuality, whereas Duiker writes about black homosexuality. Issues discussed are: What is masculinity? How is it constructed? Is there a revision or affirmation of stereotypes?


Hierdie artikel het ten doel die ondersoek na die representasie van manlikheid deur twee swart Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers, te were Mpe en Duiker. Wat die ondersoek insiggewend maak, is die feit dat beide oor 'n bepaalde stedelike manlikheidskonsep skryf. In die geval van Mpe word 'n perspektief gebied op swart heteroseksualiteit, terwyl Duiker eerder fokus op swart homoseksualiteit. Wat is manlikheid? Hoe word dit konstrueer? Word stereotipe sienswyses van manlikheid bevraagteken? Hierdie en ander kwessies word te berde gebring.

1 Introduction

The aim of this article is to examine the representation of masculinity in two novels by black South African men, namely, K. Sello Duiker's The Quiet Violence of Dreams (2001) and Phaswane Mpe's Welcome to Our Hillbrow (2001). In the case of Duiker's novel, the emphasis is on the experience of a young gay black man in an urban context (Cape Town), whereas Mpe presents the experiences of a black heterosexual in an urban context (Johannesburg).

Connell (1995: ix) points out that in the last five years, in particular in the capitalist world, "men's gatherings, magazine and newspaper articles on masculinity have multiplied". Yet criticism has also been expressed, however, against a focus on masculinity and issues concerning men as a form of inquiry, in particular from those who feel that the exclusive emphasis on men's issues will merely perpetuate existing sexist assumptions. One example is the following: "All men benefit from sexism. We live in a patriarchal society. It operates in men's interests" (Flood 1990: n.p.). This also explains why feminists tend to treat the notion of an alleged "crisis in masculinity" (Morrell 2005: xi) with suspicion:

   [Such a crisis in masculinity] is regarded as a Trojan horse
   intended to roll back the advances of women under the pretence of
   concern for the declining fortunes of men. [We] acknowledge that
   the fortunes of some men have changed for the worse but note that
   their responses to changes are not uniform. Some have seemed able
   to respond positively to opportunities to live more harmoniously
   with women, children and themselves, while others have experienced
   crises of identity.

Morrell (1998: 7) says that even though gender studies have always been equated with women, "gender analysis involved both women and men" and, he concludes:

   Masculinities studies forced the restatement of gender
   understandings and relations to include men and women. Agreeing
   with the feminists that men oppressed women, they acknowledge that
   masculinity was something constructed.

In post-apartheid, post-1994 South African society it is interesting to study masculinity, albeit it from a fictional perspective, especially if one takes into account that one of the founding provisions of the new Constitution guarantees a society based on non-sexism. As a result the new constitutional democracy in South Africa leads, according to Reid and Walker (2005: 1) to changes in the "gendered ordering of society" and the former patriarchal society has "given way to new ideals of equality between men and women, which are enshrined in the Constitution." Furthermore, this has "unseated gender hierarchies" and provided the space for what Reid and Walker (p. 5) see as "the construction and expression of new masculinities". Ratele (2004: 2) believes that in order for men to accept democracy, they have to "go against a long history of social and economic relations, a global history that goes far beyond apartheid and 1994". …

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