Study the short stories of both Raymond Carver and John Cheever, address the theme of masculinity which runs throughout both of the author's stories.

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It is my intention within this essay to study the short stories of both Raymond Carver and John Cheever, in doing so I propose to address the theme of masculinity which runs throughout both of the author’s stories. I shall do this by considering, among other things, such subjects as Post Modernism, Dirty Realism and social climate and how these are applied to the texts Boxes and Elephant, by Carver and The Season of Divorce by Cheever.    

The background in which both Carver and Cheever write, is very significant to the way in which both writer’s male characters are emasculated within the stories. Carver was writing in the decade of the eighties, and as such Reaganite economics had much to do with the way in which the men lost their grip on the hunter gatherer stereotype which had preceded. The traditional role of the male shifted from heavy industrial work to more emasculated work, such as secretarial/office roles, and domestic captivity therefore diminishing their agency. On top of this many men became jobless due to redundancies concerned with this shift from a blue-collar society to a white-collar society, and so this domestic captivity was enhanced. It is such men who Carver writes about in his short stories. The men who have slipped out of this “traditional male breadwinning world”

Cheever again, writes men relevant to the political climate in which he both lived and set his stories in. In the post war era of the fifties, the male role had begun to become redundant, as during the war women were compelled to do work which had been traditionally thought of as male, and as such the myth that women were not equipped to cope with such jobs, was dispelled. Therefore in the post war when all of the men came back from war, there was a new air of female liberation, which they had not had to deal with previously. Given this fact men became emasculated by the new found power of the female.

We can see this treatment of masculinity within Raymond Carvers short story Boxes. The narrator, who unsurprisingly is never named within the story is captive within a suburban world of women and sears catalogues, in which he seems a spectator to his own life. This can be seen through the style of the narrative, in which there seems to be a collapse of male agency. Throughout the story the narrator, seems to be completely inexpressive of his feelings: “I don’t know why, but it’s then I recall the affectionate name my dad used sometimes…” (p. 25) The use of the statement “I don’t know” permeates the text, and shows the narrators lack of voice compared with the expressiveness of the women who seems to surround his life. Contrary to a narrator’s role, he seems to say or think very little, and it is in fact his girlfriend, Jill who has all of the active verbs in the story: “…”this is what we want”, she says. “This is more like what I had in mind. Look at this, will you” but I don’t look. I don’t care five cents for curtains. “what is it you see out there, honey?” Jill says. “Tell me.” (p.25) This is one of the rare occasions when the narrator expresses how he feels about the situation, but he expresses it only to the reader, and again within the story itself he has no voice. Jill’s use of the word “we” expresses her dominance over the narrators character, as it shows that she makes his decisions for him and that he is not his own person but has inescapably become part of a couple, from which he can no longer be distinguished, and as it is Jill who is in the driving seat, the narrator seems to have lost his identity altogether. It should also be noted that the way in which Jill addresses the narrator seems more befitting a pet or a dog than it does someone of equal stature and respect. We can see however through this that she does not regard him as of an equal stature to herself within the relationship, or even his life as a whole.

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Throughout the story the narrator has no contact with anyone of the same gender at all, except those who he sees through his window. It is significant that the men, whom he watches from a distance, always stand in stark contrast to himself. I.e. he is on the inside confined by a “five roomed cottage of his very own” (Boyd), and the real men are on the outside where they are free of the constraints of domestication. Also they are always doing something masculine, whereas when he is watching them he is always doing something feminine or is ...

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