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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 FIVE: A Grand Illusion: Hegemonic Masculinity as Escapism in the Novels of Chabon and Wolfe 195

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195 CHAPTER 5 A Grand Illusion: Hegemonic Masculinity as Escapism in the Novels of Chabon and Wolfe The ultimate symbol for the masculine tendency for escapism is found in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in his extensive citation of the persona of escapologist Harry Houdini. Escape provides a useful metaphor through which to view both Chabon’s and Wolfe’s constructions of masculinity in their novels and is a valuable resource with which to elucidate the novels’ criticisms of dominant masculinity. Barbara Ehrenreich has characterised men’s sexuality throughout history as a process of flight from commitment (169). My argument goes a little further in suggesting that it is not only sexuality that displays this flight but also gender, that very fun- damental organisational factor in society. The particular focus of this argument is the variety of masculinity that has ascended to hegemonic status. The focus on individuality in the concept of masculinity repre- sents a flight from social existence and accountability, as Stoltenberg argues: “Normal masculinity, it sometimes seems, is characterologi- cally unable to coexist with a functioning self-awareness of ethical accountability” (202). This chapter begins with an introduction to the idea of escapism and masculinity through a discussion of the figure of Houdini in Kavalier & Clay, and goes on to explore the concept of escapism and its connection to masculinity in other novels of Chabon and Wolfe. Further, I argue that both authors attempt to curb or thwart escapist desire by re-embodying masculinity. The bodies of the men...

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