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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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Conclusion 241

Extract

241 Conclusion Michael Chabon and Tom Wolfe both engage with the subject of mas- culinity in their novels and critique masculinity as it is conceived in contemporary America through their incorporation of popular culture into their novels. American popular culture becomes a way in which to evaluate the ‘meaning’ and effect of masculinity on the general population and, simultaneously, popular culture and its vision of ‘masculinity’ provide an insight into the American Zeitgeist. Generally, for Wolfe, masculinity is not an identity. It is merely another form of status in a status-obsessed society. It is shallow and performative, but above all else, it is entirely dependent on the social and cultural world for its meaning. Wolfe’s novels illustrate the fact that ‘masculinity’ is a way an individual interacts with the society around him. As a result, for Wolfe masculinity is a profoundly politi- cal construct, which not only has consequences for the masculine in- dividual, but for the rest of the society around him. The implication of Wolfe’s novels is that ethics have to become a part of any vision of masculinity before it can cease being destructive to the individual and those around him. Wolfe’s novels remain problematic, however, in that Wolfe cri- tiques masculinity in contemporary America without actually commit- ting himself to any sort of solution. Even though Wolfe’s novels, themselves, encourage the reader to engage in multiple possible read- ings, as was seen in Chapter 1, by purely critiquing, Wolfe maintains his projected celebrity image as a...

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