Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis

By Sally Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
MASCULINITY AS EMOTIONAL CONSTIPATION

Men's Liberation and the Wounds of Patriarchal Power

In The Water-Method Man, published six years before The World According to Garp, Irving created a protagonist who literally embodies the emotional and social crisis afflicting straight, white, middle-class men who, in an America drunk on “liberation,” are desperately trying to come to terms with that intoxication. While much of American culture is celebrating the free flow of released energies, Fred “Bogus” Trumper is a study in repression. Unable to “commit” to a long-term relationship, he is emotionally stunted, seemingly incapable of expressing his desires and emotions honestly, and, consequently, tends to engage in self-destructive behavior. He can't finish his Ph.D. dissertation, can't commit to his new girlfriend (having virtually begged his first wife to leave him with their young son), and can't quite settle into his new career. He is stuck, blocked, and paralyzed. But it is not only his psychology that militates against the flow of emotion, life, and affiliation; Irving creates a somatic equivalent of Bogus's emotional state by giving him a penis that doesn't work properly. It, too, is blocked, making urination painful and sex,“typically, unmentionable” (12). After years of balking at having an operation to unblock what his urologist refers to as his “narrow and winding road” (12), Trumper has the operation and, miraculously, finishes his dissertation, agrees to marry his girlfriend (who has just had his child), settles into a job, and makes peace with his first wife and his son. Having gotten his plumbing unblocked, his emotional passages follow suit.

Irving's somatization of Trumper's emotional blockage is based on a construction of masculinity that has a long history in American culture and one that is epitomized in the apparently unimpeachable truth that men aren't permitted to express their emotions. This truth, rarely contested, is linked by a complex and fascinating logic to the equally uncontested truth that male sexual energies must be released lest men implode from the force of their suppres

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