Armed Forces: Masculinity and Sexuality in the American War Film

By Robert Eberwein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Wounds

This chapter focuses on men who display the effects of psychological and/or physical wounds and limitations. In some cases, the films show how war and battle cause the damage; in others, the narratives present characters who are already impaired in one way or another. In both cases, the resulting effects on the characters' masculinity and behavior have significant ramifications for those whom they love or those whom they lead. The most common dangers to masculinity and sexuality from psychological and physical damage center on forms of impotence, symbolic or actual. The inability of a man to function sexually because of a physical injury is potentially a sign of failed masculinity. Correspondingly, someone whose masculinity is in question because of his behavior runs the risk of being thought of as ineffective sexually.

Interest in traumatized soldiers' psychic as well as physical problems begins during World War I. Both Elaine Showalter and Joanna Bourke have documented the impact and influence of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis on the early treatment of shell-shocked veterans in this war.1 Although representations of psychoanalytic treatments have appeared in films about psychologically and physiologically damaged veterans in film, more often than not psychoanalytic theories show up indirectly, in terms of understood concepts and principles rather than in depictions of analytic sessions between doctor and patient. For example, the concept of the fear of castration, originally introduced by Freud to explain aspects of male psychosexual development in terms of the Oedipus complex, has been appropriated within some films as something already understood rather than as something discovered through analysis of a patient.

While earlier films about World War I present some memorable examples of psychologically and physically wounded soldiers, none of them appears to be specifically connected to the issue of sexuality. For example, as we saw, Jim Apperson (John Gilbert), the hero of The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925), loses his

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Armed Forces: Masculinity and Sexuality in the American War Film
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - Definitions 1
  • Chapter One - Paradigms in the Silent Era 16
  • Chapter Two - Beyond Triangles 33
  • Chapter Three - Disavowing Threats 53
  • Chapter Four - Wounds 72
  • Chapter Five - Drag 87
  • Chapter Six - “don't Ask, Don't Tell” 102
  • Chapter Seven - Bodies, Weapons 114
  • Chapter Eight - Fathers and Sons 137
  • Conclusion - Buddies, Then and Now 148
  • Notes 155
  • Selected Bibliography 181
  • Index 187
  • About the Author 197
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