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A Dangerous Fiction

Subverting Hegemonic Masculinity through the Novels of Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe

Louise Colbran

Masculinity is one of the key issues at stake in contemporary writing and gender studies. In their novels, Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe both consistently make masculinity a prominent thematic and ideological concern. This study is the first full length scholarly work to take their work and their treatment of masculinity as its focus. How do these American authors critique the representation of masculinity within popular culture in Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland, A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities? How do popular images of masculinity function for individual men and the way they experience their masculinities?
A Dangerous Fiction investigates the ways in which Chabon and Wolfe strip masculinity of any illusion of an essential nature and expose it as something highly culturally dependent and explains how these novels suggest to understand masculinity in the contemporary world.


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Introduction 9


9 Introduction This study will explore the representation of masculinity in selected novels of Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe. By critiquing social con- ceptions of masculinity through an evaluation of popular culture icons, Wolfe and Chabon foreground the constructed nature of what is con- sidered masculine. Their works highlight the daily performance of masculinity and the vigorousness with which it has to be defended in order to appear ‘natural.’ In the novels under consideration, both au- thors cite material examples of figures who act as masculine exem- plars within the culture in which they are written. By extension, both Chabon and Wolfe engage in a dialogue with that culture, drawing these figures from it and critiquing them, in order to propose a radical break from, and sometimes even a reimagining of, masculinity for the advantage of individual men and the contemporary world they inhabit. Concentrating on Wolfe’s A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities and Chabon’s Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland, this study will interrogate five key arenas of masculinity within the novels by tracing the function of fig- ures such as the author, the sports star, the superhero and hero, as well as the popular tendency to contextualise gender within a spiritual paradigm. Finally, the discussion will focus on the way in which hegemonic masculinity is challenged by both authors’ presentation of that form of masculinity in contemporary American society as an elaborate form of escapism. By canvassing these types of...

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