Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

White Masculine Desire and Despair in the Good Doctor by Damon Galgut/Wit Manlike Begeerte En Wanhoop in the Good Doctor Deur Damon Galgut

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

White Masculine Desire and Despair in the Good Doctor by Damon Galgut/Wit Manlike Begeerte En Wanhoop in the Good Doctor Deur Damon Galgut

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to examine the representation of masculinity in Damon Galgut's novel "The good doctor", and in particular the interaction between the two male characters, namely Frank and Laurence. The character Frank suppresses his feelings of intimacy towards the younger Laurence through his machismo and his cruelty towards the latter. The question arises whether there is a homoerotic relationship between the two men in this postapartheid setting, or whether it is merely a mutual attempt at finding intimacy and closeness in their bleak existence. Furthermore, following Horrell (2005), the concepts of desire and despair with regard to white masculinity as portrayed in the novel will be examined.

Opsomming

Die doel van hierdie artikel is om die voorstelling van manlikheid in Damon Galgut se roman, "The good doctor", te ondersoek, maar in die besonder die interaksie tussen die twee belangrikste manlike karakters in die teks, naamlik Frank en Laurence. Die karakter Frank, onderdruk sy gevoel van intimiteit jeens Laurence deur middel van sy machismo en sy wreedheid teenoor Laurence. Die vraag wat gevra kan word, is of daar 'n homoerotiese verhouding tussen die twee mans is in hierdie postapartheidsopset en of dit maar net 'n wedersydse uitreik na mekaar is om uit hulle uitsiglose bestaan te ontsnap. In navolging van Horrell (2005) sal wit manlike begeerte en wanhoop soos uitgebeeld in die roman ook ontleed word.

1. Introduction

In an interview with Sampson (2003), Damon Galgut, the author of The good doctor, points out that central in the novel is the "ambiguous relationship of [the] two men", namely Frank Eloff and Laurence Waters: "The clash at the heart of the book is really one between souls, if I can put it that way ... Frank hates Laurence not because his politics are different but because he is different." In his review of the novel, Hope (2003:27) regards Frank Eloff and Laurence Waters as "opposite sides of the same coin" and both Wheelwright (2003) and Van Niekerk (2003:15) suggest that the relationship between the two male characters is "subtly homoerotic". Van der Vlies (2004) feels that the "clearly homoerotic relationship" between the two men "is awkwardly marginalized" and concludes that Galgut seems "unsure of how to wring post-apartheid significance from the residual (but uncomfortably suppressed) gay sub-plot". When asked about this ostensibly gay sub-plot of the novel, Galgut (De Waal, 2003) pointed out that he did not want to write an overtly gay novel. To him the underplaying or subtle suggestion of homoeroticism is much more effective as a literary strategy. Elsewhere he suggests "there are gay male elements in [his] work but they are not [his] central concern" (Wilmot, 1995:131). In her analysis Van Niekerk (2003) views The good doctor as an allegorical novel and considers Waters as Eloff's alter ego.

It is against this background that I wish to offer a sustained gendered analysis of the representation of masculinity in Galgut's novel The good doctor.

2. The contextualisation of desire and despair

In her discussion of a selection of South African novels written by white men, Horrell (2005:1)writes that

   [...] metonymic inscriptions of pale masculine subjectivities are
   represented and exposed. Within and throughout these texts, written
   by 'liberal' novelists since the opening of the hearings of the
   TRC, a process of confession, a wrenching of conscience is being
   performed. The telling of these stories--both those which narrate a
   historically and socially inflected coming of age, as well as those
   which pore over the shrivelled dreams of aging men--are indicative
   of an apparent and queasy withdrawal from power, an uneasy, shamed
   and perhaps sour submission to the political and social systems
   operating in the 'new South Africa'. These texts suggest that this
   representation of masculinity is essential to the continued
   occupation of formally colonised space by men of European origin
   [. … 
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