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Hard-Boiled Masculinities

2005
Author:

Christopher Breu

Hard-Boiled Masculinities

Strips the veneer of the tough guy in modern American culture

Christopher Breu offers a complex account of how and why hard-boiled masculinity emerged during an unsettled time of increased urbanization and tenuous peace, and traces its cultural conception. Examining the work of Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, and William Faulkner, Breu illustrates how the tough male was a product of cultural fantasy, one that shored up gender and racial stereotypes.

Christopher Breu makes a strong and passionate case for taking popular literature seriously as a repository of the collective fantasies about gender, sexuality, and race that bind us to repetitions of stereotypes.

Catherine Nickerson, Emory University

The persona of the American male in the period between the two world wars was characterized by physical strength, emotional detachment, aggressive behavior, and an amoral worldview. This ideal of a hard-boiled masculinity can be seen in the pages and, even more vividly, on the covers of magazines such as Black Mask, which shifted from Victorian-influenced depictions of men in top hats and mustaches in the early 1920s to the portrayal of much more overtly violent and muscular men.

Looking closely at this transformation, Christopher Breu offers a complex account of how and why hard-boiled masculinity emerged during an unsettled time of increased urbanization and tenuous peace, and traces the changes in its cultural conception as it moved back and forth across the divide between high and low culture as well as the color line that bifurcated American society.

Examining the work of Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, and William Faulkner, as well as many lesser-known writers for the hypermasculine pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, Breu illustrates how the tough male was a product of cultural fantasy, one that shored up gender and racial stereotypes as a way of lashing out at the destabilizing effects of capitalism and social transformation.

Hard-Boiled Masculinities

Christopher Breu is assistant professor of English at Illinois State University.

Hard-Boiled Masculinities

Christopher Breu makes a strong and passionate case for taking popular literature seriously as a repository of the collective fantasies about gender, sexuality, and race that bind us to repetitions of stereotypes.

Catherine Nickerson, Emory University

A useful contribution to the study of gender and race in American interwar writing. Crucial insights into our study of American culture and a deeper appreciation for those works we consider classics.

Neoamericanist

A welcome addition to the body of scholarship on manhood in early twentieth-century literature and culture, Hard-Boiled Masculinities is especially effective in tracking how models of manliness were inflected within and between the realms of popular and high culture by processes of racialization and sexualization; it also reveals how those cultural spaces were themselves shaped by pressures of corporate capitalism.

American Literature

Breu’s overall analysis is ambitious, persuasive, and responsive.

Modern Fiction Studies

Breu’s Hard-Boiled Masculinities offers a nuanced history of the rise of the hard-boiled form and a compelling analysis of its socioeconomic and subjective dimensions. The study’s success is attributable to Breu’s estimable familiarity with the genre and its scholarship and to his theoretical approach. Hard-Boiled Masculinities is a delight to read and a must for those who wish to understand the history and performance of masculinity in the United States.

Men and Masculinities