The Eroding Rock Of Masculinty, By Henry James

Submitted By effie94
Words: 1369
Pages: 6

Randa Haakma

The Eroding Rock of Masculinty Women have for a long time been considered second when compared to a man. In the 19th century when feminism, the advocacy of women's rights, became a streaming concept to many women they began to question their given place as just a homemaker and caretaker. These ideas lead to the fight for equality to men in areas of political, social, and economic. In the realist novel The Bostonians written by Henry James the characters struggle between old style views of women's circulation and a new frontier for woman's value. In a later novel McTeague written by Frank Norris the main character is thrown into complication as the equilibrium to his life is disrupted. The interruption in this novel is caused by a growing sense of a woman's empowerment over the male figure. In both books the male charcaters are emasculated in some way by the growing force of feminism and serve to reinforce the threat of change. Marriage, the marking of the end of a conquest for the man, and the beginning entrapment of domestic life for the woman. In The Bostionians James creates an interesting and passionate triangle between the three main characters, Olive, Basil, and Verena. Throughout the story the two characters of Olive, the symbol of new age thinking towards women's value to society, and Basil, the symbol of masculinity fight to win control over the third, Verena, who represents two different things. For Basil she is the the reinforced masculine ritual, where traditionally the woman is just a trade-off showing that the male conquered her; this conquest done through the acceptance of marriage. For Olive she is essentially the future of women, a means for Olive to communicate her ideas without having to actually step up onto a soapbox. These ideas mainly revolve around marriage and how during this time it was considered a form of sexual slavery which removed the freedoms and rights of women. It is thought by feminist radicals represented through the attitude and formed opinions of Olive that marriage should be avoided. This however, is a problem for the male figure during this time period and in this book. Basil's character enters into the novel emasculated. Once a plantation owner, after the Civil War and Reconstruction he was left broke and in control of nothing. The character's circumstances being what they are explains his continued attempts to win over Verena and to woo her into accepting his proposal. By doing this Basil will inherit the right over Verena's body, subsequently gaining back his control and masculinity. His pursuits are a symbolic signifer of mesmerism, sexual impropriety, in which the push-and-tug focus on active and passive dichotomy tracks the sexual critique of marriage. On the other side of the triangle there is Olive, who also wishes to gain control over Verena in order to guide her feminist approach. Olive's aggressiveness in keeping the young woman away from Basil could be viewed as an attempt to save her from what the radical feminists believed to be a flawed system (marriage). It definitely brings the question of whether Verena might be influenced to trade domestic control for another type of control? In the ending of the novel the male figure does come through with the win; Basil effectively gets Verena's hand in marriage and Olive is left to an empty stage with only the podium. As the characters of Basil and Verena leave however, she is upset having the revelation of unhappiness. For Basil this ending represents a victory for the search for masculinity because he successfully was reinstated to his place above women. However, the ending reaction of his newly acquired bride is not one of joy and dims the light of Basil's glory. Knowing she will forever be unhappy with her choice does not and can not fulfill the male's ego of control, and therefore threatens his masculinity in an indirect sense. The author, Henry James, never quite makes his position clear about feminism,