Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Multiple Reconstruction out of Crisis: Masculinities in Bellow's Novellas

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Multiple Reconstruction out of Crisis: Masculinities in Bellow's Novellas

Article excerpt

Abstract

Saul Bellow's novels mainly focus on social lives of contemporary urban American men. Taking his four novellas covering the second half of the 20th century as an example, this paper aims to reveal in change of social structure and cultural contexts how masculinity is in crisis extrinsically or intrinsically, and how social factors such as work and marriage assist in fashioning it. Through positive dialogues with social changes and cultural turn, Bellow deconstructs the masculinity as well as establishes a new democratic gender order and harmonious gender relations to reconstruct multiple masculinities.

Key words: Saul bellow; Masculinities; Reconstruction; Novella

INTRODUCTION

American novelist, winner of Nobel Prize, Saul Bellow (1915-2005) mostly writes his works after World War II, whose protagonists are mainly men, covering sociological themes of contemporary urban American men's work, economic status, marriage, family, sexuality, love, friendship, race and so on. Chinese scholar Qiao Guoqiang writes in the essay American Saul Bellow Studies in the New Century that, "since the 60s of 20th century", critics mainly focus on Bellow's "thoughts of continental philosophy", and his "liberalist humanism as well as the notion of common people with divinity", nonetheless, they . .. .. , ... rarely PaY attention to split subjects, culture positioning and issues of gender" (p.18). Although three waves of feminism improve the development of gender studies, gender §tudies toward Bellow>§ noyels are stagnated till now. Feminists point out, deeply influenced by the Jewish patriarch, Bellow depicts "a male homosocial world", and his novels are of "stereotypes of misogyny" (Cronin, 2001, p.15); Bellow "imposes some limitations on his portrayal of women characters, as we mainly perceive them through the minds of his male protagonists who often overshadow them" (Aharoni, 100); his novels are lack of women characters and the only woman character Clara in A Theft "bears close resemblance to Bellow's male protagonists" (Cronin, 1995, p.319). Thus men in Bellow's novels seem to be a homosocial unity, as the feminist critic writes, "the Bellow protagonist is unarguably a descendant 0f the eighteenthand nineteenthcentury romantic individualists and, more recently, the great Victorian male autobiographers" (Cronin, 2001, p. 11).

However, scholars of masculinity studies think masculinity is dynamic and multiple, which relates to difference5 subjectivity, power and identity. It is both the ... , . , ..... . . ,, objective reality and the cultural illusion. The origin of comes from the dichotomy, regarding the representatives of men and women as a series of binary which expands the "sexed/biological" differences such as differences of "particular reproductive organs and genetic markers" to that of "corporeal, cognitive, emotional, and social capabilities"(Atkinson, P-4)- Nevertheless, as the deconstruction of meta-narrative in the postmodernist context after WWII, masculinity, the cultural discourse closely related to modernity, is not only influenced by the emancipation of women, progress of science and technology, commodity fetishism, change of labor market and multiculturalism, but also itself full of division, fluidity and uncertainty. Poststructuralists point out power and resistance can be both repressive and productive to each other, and the traditional hierarchy of gender order is replaced by a cyclic new one where the power of various masculinities and other social elements interact with each other. Moreover, the masculinity begins to transit to masculinities and male subjects are facing to refashion new masculinities. Therefore, the conclusions mentioned above by some feminists toward Bellow's researches seem to be contradicted to theories of masculinity. Then, what kinds of masculinities does Bellow construct in his novels? Do they happen to vary with the change of social structure? What factors will influence the construction? …

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