Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Title

Playing the Game: Violence and the Revolt Against Normative Masculinity in John Updike's Rabbit Run, Norman Mailer's an American Dream, and Phil Andros's $Tud

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

M.A. in English

First Advisor

Jaime Harker

Second Advisor

Martyn Bone

Third Advisor

Deborah Barker

Abstract

This thesis will examine two high-brow examples of Cold War literature by white male authors, Norman Mailer's An American Dream (1965) and John Updike's Rabbit, Run (1960), and examine them through the lens of the lesser-known gay pulp $tud (1966) by Phil Andros. Although $tud's gay hustler protagonist Phil seems to be a progressive, even transgressive example of an alternate masculinity, he is actually heavily invested in the binary strictures of normative masculinity and therefore works to uphold or reinforce normativity. $tud, therefore, is not about deviance from a masculine norm but rather a meditation on the ways that American masculinity is already perverse in its violent subjection. Phil does not necessarily represent a ‘new gay ethic’ as argued by John Preston's introductory essay, but rather, unexpectedly, embodies something fundamental to Cold War masculinity. As such, he serves as a lens through which we can examine the characters of Updike and Mailer in order to better understand the pathologies of white masculinity in the characters of Cold War literature. I will argue that the identities of all three protagonists in question, Rabbit, Rojack, and Phil, are primarily defined by their violent relationships with and among other men, and that these relationships serve to bind, reinforce, and tear away their masculinities. As the Cold War pressure to uphold and contain the domestic sphere conflicts with the traditional associations of manhood with the virility of frontierism, these characters violently resist and flee from heterosexual (domestic) normativity. They queer expectations of normative masculinity by subverting their roles as husbands and fathers and by seeking transgressive and violent sex. Ultimately, $tud's Phil Andros achieves a means to an end of his masculine charade in the form of sexual masochism. He is figuratively and literally stripped bare by a black master, which is perhaps the logical fruition of postmodern binaries of masculinity. Where Rabbit and Rojack see no alternative to the pressures of masculinity other than flight, Phil resists both the containment of domesticity and the pioneering spirit of frontierism.

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