Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers

By Sarah Gleeson-White | Go to book overview

3
The Masquerade
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,
The Member of the Wedding, and
The Ballad of the Sad Café

I have suggested in the previous discussions of embodiment and sexuality that gender in McCuller s's fictional worlds is nomadic. But how doe s this dynamic work? McCullers employs the powerful trope of the masquerade to explore such nomadism, in terms of both the suspension and the foregrounding of gendering practices.1 Suspension, specifically of hierarchic categories, is an effect of cross-dressing and transvestism, where the dress of the “other” gender is worn. The foregrounding of gender processes is the exaggerated mimicry of one's “own” gender, normally understood as natural. Both tactics—suspension and foregrounding—resist the normalizing effects of “appropriate” gendering and thus challenge notions of gender as essential and natural.

In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin writes that “[t]he mask…rejects conformity to oneself [and] is related to metamorphoses, the violation of natural boundaries [and] to mockery…. [S]uch manifestations as parodies, caricatures [and] eccentric postures…derived from the mask. It reveals the essence of the grotesque” (40). The image of the masquerade is linked with the fashioning of the self. For instance, in the nineteenth century, literary images of the mask as cross-dressing were related to a romantic yearning after a prelapsarian androgyny. In the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf's Orlando and other modernist texts played with the notion of the fluidity of gender positioning: i n Orlando, for example, the dictum is that one can change selves as one might clothes. Sartorial transgression2 is a strategic and liberating gesture for women in particular. Sandra Gilbert argues that the image of costume is a powerful expression

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