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Four moderns and gender

Dorothy Ellin Dodge Robbins, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A number of works by British modernists James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and American modernists Ernest Hemingway and Kay Boyle, interrupt and disturb our own inherited perceptions of gender, of what it means to be male and female. My study examines and compares how these four authors attempt to regender male and female characters and to what aim. In Dubliners Joyce suggests that gender, as a component of identity, is culturally acquired. One way gender is reinforced is through the reading of gender-appropriate texts. By calling into question the traditional male and female genders, and their reinforcing texts, Joyce leaves open the possibility for the creation of new genders, new behaviors, and new texts. Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out offers a view of a woman's psychic life as she rejects the established roles and imposed boundaries placed upon her gender by Victorian culture. Woolf's exploration of the psychology of a woman provides not only an alternative to Freudian dictates of appropriate behaviors for women, but questions those assigned to men as well. Hemingway's “The Last Good Country” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” offer contrasting depictions of gender-switching couples. In the first story, Littless and Nick develop strengths associated with the opposite gender, while in the second, the Macombers become destructive stereotypes of the masculine wife and her effeminate husband. In The Crazy Hunter and The Bridegroom's Body, Kay Boyle complicates notions of essential genders by reassigning masculine and feminine qualities; strength and weakness, reason and emotion, action and passivity become traits which reside with equal probability in both men and women. Boyle's literary experiments with gender promote the idea, as do those of Joyce, Woolf, and Hemingway, that traditional male and female qualities are socially prescribed, not personally innate. Collectively their stories increase our awareness of the continuing cultural reinforcements of gender in our own age. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Dodge Robbins, Dorothy Ellin, "Four moderns and gender" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9973591.