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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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CHAPTER TWO: Playing at Being Men: Sport in Wolfe’s A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities and Chabon’s Summerland 65

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65 CHAPTER 2 Playing at Being Men: Sport in Wolfe’s A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities and Chabon’s Summerland Sport performs a number of functions in contemporary Western soci- ety. It not only promotes health and fitness, but provides a focal point around which a community can bond, it can be a valuable tool in the enhancement of the self-esteem of the individual, and it provides an arena in which one can perform one’s strength and stamina and strive for unique ability. All of these functions can have an undeniably posi- tive value; however, they also have their equally destructive content, particularly in the field of gender. As David Whitson notes, sport “ri- tualises aggression and allows it to be linked with competitive achievement and, in turn, with masculinity” (27–28). It is an arena “in which other kinds of physical prowess have become devalued and in which direct aggression is officially legitimate” (Whitson 28). In this way, representations of sport and sporting prowess offer a particular insight into the simultaneous representation and construction of a dominant and ultimately restrictive masculinity. Wolfe’s A Man in Full and The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Chabon’s Summerland, are texts that critique masculinity as it is popularly understood in contemporary America, through their repre- sentation and evaluation of sport in that culture. A Man in Full con- structs a picture of an aging sporting hero in Charlie Croker, while Bonfire portrays characters currently attempting to achieve their ideal physicality....

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