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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 THREE: Not So Super-Men: Superheroes and Heroes in Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland and Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities 109

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109 CHAPTER 3 Not So Super-Men: Superheroes and Heroes in Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Summerland and Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities The superhero has been a pervasive concept ever since his first ap- pearance and it seems that today, as much as ever, the culture feels the need for strong individuals who offer salvation. The concept of indi- viduality is central to the superhero and is one of his most seductive characteristics in its promise of autonomy and self-determination. This selfhood is encapsulated in the well-known images of Superman in his Fortress of Solitude and Batman in his Batcave. Both are symbols of the hero in isolation, a theme that saturates the superheroic model. Both Chabon and Wolfe represent superheroes and heroes in their novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Summerland, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, critiquing the kind of masculinity that such figures perpetuate. Further, both novelists explore the concept of the competition between individuality and the social nature of identity in their novels and discuss the need for the ‘hero’ to acknowledge his social existence and the necessity for social connection in heroic ac- tion. Michael Chabon’s third novel, Kavalier & Clay, is saturated with references to popular culture, the author mixing fact and fiction, ‘lit- erature’ and comic books, to create a playful and profound world of meaning. The novel involves the creation by Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay of a superhero and, as a result, the figure of the ‘hero’...

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