Department of English
Master of Arts of Literature
Initially, this paper traces masculinity in America from the nineteenth century and up through the mid twentieth century in order to define traditional masculinity and identify some of its characteristics. Traditional masculinity, typically demonstrated though aggressive and violent behavior, is currently undergoing cultural and social revisions due to various contemporary ideas. In analyzing American Psycho and Fight Club, two controversial novels written in the past twenty years, the paper makes clear that the protagonists acutely feel the tension that exists between historical perceptions of masculinity and current ideas of what men should be. They react to that tension by exhibiting behavior that is characterized as protest masculinity or ultramasculinity. The problems of waning masculinity, however, are symptomatic of the larger problems posed by a postmodern era as a result of high capitalism. Postmodernism is explored, as are its origins and contexts, through the work of Frederic Jameson and Francis Fukuyama, and its ideas are applied to the characters from both novels. Though Patrick Bateman, the protagonist in American Psycho, is unaware that he lives during the postmodern timeframe, he nevertheless manifests his anxiety to it primarily through acts of violence against women and other assertions of what he believes is traditional masculinity. The narrator of Fight Club and his alter ego Tyler Durden are more aware of the stultifying nature of rampant capitalism than Patrick Bateman; their reactions to corporate capitalism and postmodernism are manifested through violence and eventually efforts at revolution aimed at one of the financial centers of America. The nature of postmodernism as a stultifying and anti-individualistic perception becomes clear through an analysis of each protagonist's job and daily life. It is clear that the postmodern era is socially and psychically disturbing to men, as evidenced by the dual nature of each protagonist's personality and their apparent lack of unifying identities. Patrick Bateman and the narrator in Fight Club create, whether consciously or unconsciously, alter egos that allow them to exhibit their respective masculinities in a culture that no longer accepts such behavior. That both characters manifest extreme versions of masculinity is particularly important to note, and indicative of a primal need to be traditionally manly. Contemporary society attempts to repress the behavior that stems from that need, and even attempts to erase the need to be masculine as well. Neither character experiences any catharsis because of his actions. Patrick Bateman learns nothing about himself, nor does he feel any remorse for the murders he committed throughout the novel. Tyler Durden is dead at the end of Fight Club, and though the narrator lives on, he is confined in an insane asylum, which to him is perhaps preferable to the outside world.
English Language and Literature | Film and Media Studies
McCray, Sean, "Masculinity and the Postmodern in American Psycho and Fight Club" (2006). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 297.