How does Barker present the notions of masculinity in Regeneration?
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How does Barker present the notions of masculinity in Regeneration? Masculinity and its boundaries are two key themes presented throughout 'Regeneration'. Barker explores the notions of these motifs through different characters and their personal lives - whether they be memories from the front line or experiences from their time spent at Craiglockhart Hospital. Recurring images of emasculation range from actual physical emasculation, to images of psychological wounds which have stripped the patients of their sense of manhood. Barker also emphasises that masculinity is not a static concept; the loss of it can be triggered in numerous ways. The hospital patients are constantly haunted by their fears of emasculation through both mental illness and physical injury. Anderson fearfully recalls dreams about being tied up in female corsets: "They fastened them round my arms and tied the laces." The agony Anderson suffers demonstrates a common fear, shared by the patients, of losing any form of masculinity they may have. Anderson continues by questioning Rivers, "I suppose it is possible someone might find being locked up in a loony bin a fairly emasculating experience?" Evidently, Anderson feels that being 'imprisoned' in a mental hospital is degrading to his gender role. Sassoon also exemplifies how the struggle of the patients maintaining their manliness affects them mentally.
from military service". While Rivers concurs with Sassoon, he warns that although "there's nothing more despicable than using a man's private than using a man's private life to discredit his views", it is unfortunately "frequently done". Sassoon is advised to be careful of what he says, and therefore is pressurised to conform to the behavioural 'norms' of society. The novel communicates the common idea of the period, that "Men who broke down, or cried, or admitted to feeling fear, were sissies, weaklings, failures. Not men." It is perceptible that the men are continuously fighting a battle to sustain their masculinity and to veil any signs of emotion during their time at Craiglockhart: "They'd been trained to identify emotional repression as the essence of manliness." In other words, the fundamental nature of being a man is to hold back all emotion and failing to do so may be seen as being twice emasculated. Yet such efforts to preserve masculinity prove to be complicated, since Rivers's job is to force his patients to do the exact opposite. Rivers often contemplates the characteristics - labelled as effeminate by society - needed for his caring profession. He believes that "tears were an acceptable and helpful part of grieving" and that "horror and fear were inevitable responses to the traumas of the war and were better acknowledged than repressed."
Rivers realizes that Prior's aggression is the "closest Prior could come to asking for physical contact." Prior's response shows that he is struggling to hold onto his manliness, because he is not able to hug Rivers or allow himself to be held. Consequently, he feels that the only way to physically comfort himself, whilst withholding his masculinity, is to hurt Rivers. His treatment with hypnosis forces Prior to put aside the masculine gender role, in this case, being unemotional. This form of complete submission to emotions exhibits how men must alter their masculine gender role in order to heal in this novel. In conclusion, concerns over effeminate behaviour are presented throughout 'Regeneration' and are commonly coupled with the idea of the masculine heroism of warfare and the repression of one's emotions during the war. It is ostensible that the patients suffer something universal - they are caught in an intense dilemma between the need to recuperate from the traumas of war and the need to protect their sense of belonging and identity as members of British society. The boundaries between the two traditional genders appear to become increasingly indistinguishable as the patients lose the qualities, which are for them, are essential in their identity as men. Ultimately, Barker's exploration of emasculation in her novel challenges the traditional notions of manliness. ?? ?? ?? ?? Yasmin Layouni
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