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Shame, Masculinity and Desire of Belonging

Reading Contemporary Male Writers

Aneta Stępień

This study considers male shame in contemporary writing by men, examining why shame is often considered a female emotion and therefore denied in men. The author’s comparative approach to the private experience of shame in novels by Hanif Kureishi, Philip Roth and Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki demonstrates the extent to which shame conditions male behaviour, protecting the powerful hierarchies existing between different kinds of masculinities. Using different conceptual analyses, the author exposes the damaging nature of the culturally sanctioned demand that men be «real men», which is often simply a call for violence. The book also examines shame more broadly as a means of social control, whether of women in patriarchal cultures or of people of different ethnic, sexual and class identities. Treating shame as both an individual and a social emotion, the author draws on perspectives from scholarship on shame in postcolonial, gender and feminist studies.

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Preface and Acknowledgments


When I shared with my male friends that I was working on a book about male shame, as a response I often heard: ‘Do men have any shame?’ Some offered to become research subjects, which made me think they must have stories they would like to share but, perhaps, they were never given a chance to share them. These two reactions are very symptomatic of what I found in the novels of Philip Roth, Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki and Hanif Kureishi. At first sight, the behaviour of the fictional characters in those texts seems shameless; they have ‘no shame’ in revealing the most intimate details about their bodies and sexual lives. Yet, after going deeper into the stories, a different narrative emerges. It occurs the characters are not so much shameless as they are trying to be perceived as such. At the forefront of these fictional narratives is shame, which relates to the pressures created by a pervasive ideal of masculinity constructed from the specific racial, class, ethnic and national positions of these characters. Because of that, this book, although dedicated to analysis of shame in fictional narratives, draws from a cross section of different fields, namely literary, gender, social and sociological research and postcolonial theory, to untangle the complex meaning of shame. The theoretical research on shame, e.g. Donald Nathanson’s The Many Faces of Shame, Elspeth Probyn’s Blush: Faces of Shame or Leon Wurmser’s The Mask of Shame, demonstrates that shame is concealed in various guises, with shamelessness,...

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