Portrayal Of Masculinity In Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn And The Red Badge Of Courage - Fractured Identities: American Literature From The Civil War To World War II - Essay

1594 words - 7 pages

Marthe Tanghe
GL/EN 3472
Fractured Identities: American Literature
from the Civil War to World War II
Portrayal of masculinity in ​Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ​and ​The
Red Badge of Courage​: Two opposite sides of the spectrum.
The representation of gender in literature has been studied in depth in the last half a century.
We seem heavily engrossed in how gender portrayal can mean so many thing in novels; it can
reveal plot points, character behavior and even the author’s societal beliefs. It is also useful to
see masculinity and femininity represented in literature to see how it compares to real life
constructs and behaviours. In this short essay, I want to explore the representation of
masculinity in ​Adventures of Huckleberry Finn​ ​and in ​The Red Badge of Courage​, first by
exploring the literal meaning of “masculinity”, and then by comparing both portrayals and
differentiate them.
To start, let’s ask what these novels have in common. They are both post-Civil War novels
that feature a young man as its protagonist. There are plenty of male characters in these
works, but very few female ones, which might impact on how we study gender portrayal, as
Marthe Tanghe
the relationship between men and women is a very important aspect of what defines
So, what is masculinity? According to Wikipedia’s article on the subject, a good definition
would be: “Masculinity (also called manhood or manliness) is a set of attributes, behaviors,
and roles associated with boys and men. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition
of the male biological sex. Standards of manliness or masculinity vary across different
cultures and historical periods.” As the definition mentioned, masculinity is not a fix thing, it
should rather be called a spectrum. Despite this spectrum, there is a dominant representation
of masculinity in media, literature and real life, even if it isn’t the most prominent one
displayed by everyday-men. This masculinity is called Hegemonic Masculinity by Connell:
“What emerged from this matrix in the mid-1980s was an analogue, in gender
terms, of power structure research in political sociology—focusing the spotlight on
a dominant group. Hegemonic masculinity was understood as the pattern of prac-
tice (i.e., things done, not just a set of role expectations or an identity) that allowed
men’s dominance over women to continue.”​ (Connell, page 832)
Hegemonic masculinity is what we might call “toxic masculinity” in a casual setting. This
new term has been used in modern discussions (mostly on the Internet) about feminism and
sexism. It represents the most aggressive and violent version of common characteristics
attributed to masculinity. It can also be referred as “being a macho”.
In contemporary American and European culture, [hegemonic masculinity] serves as
the standard upon which the "real man" is defined. According to [R. W.] Connell,
contemporary hegemonic masculinity is built on two legs, domination of women an...

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