Masculinity

Gaines’s stories “A Long Day in November” and In My Father’s
House demonstrate that being a father is not just a title, but also a
relationship that requires heavy involvement. Gaines asserts paternal
masculinity by redefining the essence and role of fathers in relation to
family life. The traditional definition of fatherhood requires “male
bread winning, moral authority, and undisputed paternity” for a father
to be considered a man (Williams 63) in his household. Gaines advanced
this definition by demonstrating what paternal masculinity has to
include in his portrayal of the characters Eddie and Philip. Although
Eddie is more affectionate towards his family, while Philip avoids
family intimacy, both demonstrate that fatherhood consists of using
marriage as a partnership, raising their children (or the importance of
in Philip’s case), building family intimacy, taking responsibility for
their actions, and protecting the family by holding it together. Gaines
modernizes the traditional notion of fatherhood by illustrating the foil
between fathers Eddie and Rev. Philip Martin.
The definition of fatherhood has changed over the years. The social and
economic factors have played a great role in this. One of the most
important aspects of fatherhood involves raising your children.
Fatherhood is no longer about siring children and letting society bring
up the child. Responsible fathers must be actively engaged in raising
their children. Gaines demonstrates this aspect of fatherhood through
Philip. Philip was a priest at a Louisiana church. He was well respected
by the society around him, and he was a vocal civil rights advocate. To
him, a real man was one who was actively engaged in raising his
children. That was his ultimate definition of masculinity. Philip
demonstrated this in the way he raised his children. Philip ensured that
his children always attended church and school and most parents admired
them as the model children in society
Despite the society’s respect for Philip, he had a tainted past that
included a child, Robert X. One day, Robert came looking for his father.
When Philip recognized Robert as his son, he became confusion. He did
not know how to make peace with a past that had come back to haunt him.
Thus, when Philip noticed Robert, he fell down and collapsed. Philip did
not know how to relate with Robert because he was never there for him
from his childhood. Thus, Philip sought help from women in his location
who gave him different yet confusing advices. This was when Philip
realized that he needed to try and get close to Robert. However, Philip
was determined to be the father that he never was, to Robert. That is
why he tried getting closer to him. This saw Philip try to get close to
Robert and understand him so that he can raise him properly.
When Jefferson, the leader of the civil rights movement was killed,
Philip tried to keep it alive by trying to engage the members actively.
This led him to see himself as an accomplished leader. However, this
rosy idea of himself was crushed by the appearance of Robert. The world
Philip had built for many years came crashing around him. He now had to
face a past that he thought was long behind him. This was made worse
when the other civil rights leaders abandoned him. Philip was a man who
had always believed in raising one’s children and doing so
responsibly. He demonstrated this when he said that he would have to get
to know Robert so that he would know how to relate with him. This made
Philip strive to establish a relationship with Robert so that he could
be actively engaged in bringing Robert up. He did so because he believed
that Robert was his responsibility (Jones 1).
When Philip traveled to his rural home, he was trying to come to terms
with his past. He tried to make peace with the fact that he neglected
Johanna and their three children. When he visited Reverend Peters, he
told the Reverend that he was a weak man who could not be there for
Joanna and their sons. Philip visited Reverend Peters with whom he has a
conversation about fathers losing their sons. Philip told Reverend
Peters that absent fathers were the cause of social ills in the society.
He said that black fathers did not have time with their sons, and that
was why social ills were prevalent in society (Jones 1). This cemented
the image of Robert whom he saw as rugged young man. Thus, he
acknowledged that fatherhood involved playing a role in raising the
children so that they could not become social misfits.
Additionally, Philip failed, in his role to raise his children with
Joanna. For this reason, he lost his masculinity because he was not
there for his children. Instead, his son, Etienne, assumed the role of a
father and helped in bringing up his siblings. Chippo told Philip
“Your Son Etienne became the father when you left” (Gaines 32). This
was because it was believed that families needed strong patriarchal
figures so that the children could be well brought up. Thus, in the
absence of fathers, elder male children took up the role of fatherhood.
This made Etienne appear like a strong male figure in society, in the
absence of Philip.
Gaines also demonstrated the definition of masculinity as raising
one’s children responsibly in “A Long day in November.” Edddie, a
father and a husband, was actively involved in raising his son. Although
he was a busy man who worked, at the plantation, to meet his family’s
needs, he always made a point of spending as much time as he could, with
his son. This was demonstrated in the dedication he had in helping his
son do his homework. Eddie would come home late on most nights. Amy, his
wife, complained about his late coming when she told him, “You are
always away from us because of that car” (Gaines 25). Thus, Sonny,
Eddie’s son, did his homework with his mother in the evening and went
over it with his father in the morning. This showed Eddie’s dedication
in raising his son.
In “A Long Day in November” Eddie was upset when his wife left with
his son. Eddie told his friends at the plantation that he missed helping
Sonny with his homework as it had become a ritual. Eddie liked playing
with Sonny and going over his homework with him. For this reasons, he
was willing to go to any lengths to get his wife to come back to him.
Eddie even went to her mother’s house to get his family back and left
with Sonny. When Eddie went to get his family back, Sonny’s
grandmother started throwing words at him, telling him that he was not a
responsible man. This angered Sonny who did not really like his
grandmother due to her habit of throwing words. Thus, Sonny chose to go
with his father. Eddie even took Madame Touissaint’s advice to burn
his car so that he can get his wife back (Jones 1). This eventually got
Amy to come back to him, and they became a much stronger family that
before Amy left.
Traditionally, masculinity involved, among other things, being the
breadwinner of the family. Men in traditional society were the sole
family breadwinners. The women stayed at home and took care of the
household. Gaines demonstrated this form of masculinity in “A Long Day
in November” when Gaines talked about Eddie’s efforts to earn a
living. Eddie worked in the sugarcane plantation so that he could
provide a living for his family. His hard work was demonstrated by his
ability to own a car at a time when it was hard for a black person to
own one. He worked long hours and came home late from work, on many
occasions. When Amy moved out of Eddie’s home, she contemplated going
back to work in the sugarcane plantation. This shows that she worked
there before she got married but stopped once she got married. This was
an indication that the definition of masculinity was the ability to
provide for one’s family, preferably on your own.
Reverend Philip Martins was also a hardworking man who strived to
provide for his family. Despite the racism that faced the black
community, Philip worked hard on the sugarcane plantations to provide a
relatively comfortable life for his life. He believed that it was the
duty of a man to protect his family, and this included being the
family’s breadwinner. This was demonstrated by the beautiful home that
Reverend Philip provided for his family (Gaines 52). Philip’s house
was said to be the most magnificent of all the houses owned by black
people in the sugarcane plantation. This showed his desire to protect
his family, a role that casts the men as the breadwinners in society.
The house was a shelter for his family from nature because it was warm
on cold nights and this protected his family from harsh weather
conditions.
Masculinity also involved building family intimacy. Gaines used a
conversation between Philip and Billy to demonstrate that it was the
responsibility of fathers to build family intimacy. Fathers were the
unifying factors in society, and if they failed to do so, the young men
became disillusioned and lost (Gaines 61). Billy was described as a
rugged young man, and this was attributed to the divide between him and
his father. Billy told Philip that his appearance with his father at
cocktail parties did not mean that they had a good relationship.
According to him, he did not view his father as his role model. Billy
said that the division between fathers and sons was created since birth
and fathers had to lift themselves up to the level of their sons in
order to bridge this division (Gaines 70). This shows that it was the
role of fathers to build family bonds and maintain a united family.
Philip, himself, struggled with the thought of how to bridge the gap
between him and Robert. That is why he told Billy that it was indeed
true that someone had to try and bridge the division between fathers and
sons (Gaines 71).
Billy also told Philip that nothing would change unless someone decided
to change it. This meant that for fathers and sons to build intimate
relationships someone had to do something about it. In this case, Billy
implied that, for the frosty relationship between him and his father to
change, his father had to do something about it. Additionally, it meant
that, for Phillip and Robert to build an intimate relationship, Philip
had to do something about it. This was demonstrated when Philip wondered
how he would build a relationship with Robert, yet he was dead (Clayton
et al 81). Thus, it was the responsibility of fathers as the male
figures in society to build family bonds.
The special role of fathers in society is further demonstrated in “In
my father’s house,” when Etienne took up the responsibility of being
a father in his family, in the absence of Philip, their biological
father. This was because society believed that each family had to have a
strong patriarchal figure, which played the role of building intimacy
within the family. This intimacy involved family bonds and strong
relationships so that family members would support each other. Thus, a
father was a cohesive figure who held the household together. A man’s
masculinity was determined by his ability to build this intimacy. Thus,
just like Chippo, Philip was a weak man because he was not there to
build this intimacy in his family with Joanna (Clayton, et al 92).
Chippo was physically weak due to years of consuming alcohol carelessly
while Philip was emotionally weak for abandoning Joanna and their
children.
In “A Long day in November,” Gaines portrayed Eddie as the unifying
factor in his family. When his wife walked out on him, together with
Sonny, their son, Sonny got devastated. Sonny would miss his father and
the activities they used to do together, such as going over Sonny’s
homework and playing. Sonny adored his father and wished that his
parents could reconcile. This made him confess to his father that he
loved his mother so that he could convince his father to make efforts to
reconcile with his mother. This made Eddied try and get his family back.
At school, Sonny even peed on himself because of the tension between his
parents (Clark 115). He wanted to go back and live with his father.
Additionally, Eddie would come home late on many nights because he was
trying to repair his car. This upset Amy, who decided to leave him. Amy
felt lonely when Eddie stayed out late, and this is what caused the
family to fall apart. However, Eddie always made a point of bringing
Sonny some candy so that he would make him happy and to try and soothe
his wife’s anger.
When Amy left Eddie, she complained that it was because he did not care
about her and sonny. This made Eddie get devastated, and he even sought
help from other men from the sugarcane plantation. The men advised Eddie
to see Madame Toussaint, who had helped them to reconcile with their
wives. Therefore, he decided to visit her for advice because he was
determined to reconcile with his wife. Madame Toussaint advised to burn
his car, and he followed this advice. This caused Sonny’s grandmother
to assert that he was a real man (Gaines 78). This showed that real men
were those who were willing to sacrifice their material possessions for
the sake of their families. Finally, his wife agreed to come back to
their home and he worked towards building the family’s intimate bonds.
One of the rituals that were instrumental in building family bonds were
their joint family prayers (Clayton, et al 52).
Masculinity was also evident in men who acted as the moral authorities
to their children. Men were supposed to offer moral guidance to their
families as they were the leadership figures in the household. Thus,
they had to maintain proper moral standards at all times. Philip’s
past haunted him because he did not live a moral life. He was a
womanizer who went siring children with women and abandoning them. On
his way back to his old town, he remembered that while he was young, it
was okay for the young men to live immoral lives. This was what caused
him to wonder why his past was now haunting him, yet this was considered
normal in his younger days (Gaines 115). Philip decided to end his
immoral behavior when he had to leave Joanna and their children, because
he felt that his behavior would hurt his family with Joanna.
When Philip visited reverend Peters, he told the reverend that young
black men in society were lost because they have no paternal authorities
to offer patriarchal guidance (Gaines 86). He asserted that men were too
busy, and that was why they were absent in their son’s lives. This was
after Philip met Robert, a son that he never brought up. Robert was
described as a brown-skin young man scraggly and hungry-looking”
(Gaines 4) with “little twisted knots of hair” and “deep,
blood-shot” eyes (Gaines 4), and he even tried to kill Philip. Robert
tried to kill Philip so as to get rid of his bitterness. Eventually,
Robert killed himself. Robert’s actions reflected a lack of moral
guidance in his life. As much as Etienne acted as a father figure in
Robert’s life, the void of lacking a father who would act as his moral
authority still lived with him.
Philip eventually tried to show paternal masculinity through his
involvement in Patrick’s life. Philip tried to forge closer relations
with Patrick, by hanging out with him on a regular basis. Philip also
acknowledged his failure when Robert confronted him by saying that he
was weak, and that is why he abandoned Joanna. This weakness was due to
his inability to stand by Joanna and their children at a time when
Joanna needed him the most. This showed that a man who was not present
in his children’s lives was a weak man. Strong men stayed with their
children and got involved in raising them. Thus, Philip tried to offer
the moral authority that he should have offered to Robert through
Patrick.
Gaines’ description of Robert showed a man who was confused and lost.
He was a young man with no moral authority in his life. The contrasting
image depiction of Philip cemented this lack of moral authority in
Robert’s life. When Philip spotted Robert in the meeting, Philip was
wearing a suit, complete with a grey shirt and tie. This was an image of
a clean man who was well dressed, according to society (Gaines 82). The
contrasting image between father and son showed the important role a
father played in the family. Perhaps if Philip had been present in
Robert’s life, he would be more decently dressed. He would have been a
moral authority and a pillar role model to his son.
Additionally, Billy had no connection with his father. He saw his
father as a representation of the past. Billy had no bond with his
father, and he felt that there was a huge divide between them. Billy’s
description as a rugged young man showed the image of a man who had no
sense of direction. This confusion, demonstrated in his rugged look, was
due to the lack of a moral authority in his life. Billy’s father did
not try to establish a working relationship with his son, and this was
what drove them apart. Billy’s character was also that of a
disillusioned young man because he believed that war was a suitable
means of solving conflicts. The lack of a relationship with his father
was what caused Billy to lack a sense of direction in his life. Billy
lacked a moral authority to look up to, and that is why he was a social
misfit.
In a controversial twist of events, Gaines depicted Eddie as his
family’s moral authority. When Amy returned to her husband, she
claimed that he beat her so as to protect his image (Clark 98). Amy was
concerned that if she did not say this, people would see Eddie as being
incapable of disciplining his wife. In the society, which Eddie and his
family lived, the measure of a man’s masculinity was his ability to
punish his family members. Thus, the man was a moral authority who
punished any member of his family who went against him. However, Eddie
did not beat Amy and was even less concerned about what people would
say. This showed that Eddie was a man of principle, and he took care of
his family with little regard of society’s expectations. Thus, he was
a real man who put his family’s well being, before society’s
expectations.
Masculinity was also described as being an undisputed paternity. A man
only felt like a complete man if his roots with his father were
undisputed. Thus, the lack of a father caused a person to lack an
identity (Clark 82). When Robert confronted Philip, he asked Philip
“What is my name? Do you even know my name” (Gaines 64). This showed
that Robert was trying to establish his roots through a defined
paternity. Robert was also bitter with Philip because he denied him the
chance to have a defined paternity, which would have given him a sense
of identity. Thus, Robert’s masculinity could be defined because he
had a disputed paternity.
In “A Long Day in November,” Gaines said that Sonny did not like
the idea of going to live with Freddie Jackson. Sonny said that he did
not like grandmother’s place because grandmother wanted him and his
mother to go live with Freddie (Gaines 32). This showed that Sonny did
not like the idea of having Freddie as his father because his paternity
was undisputed. Sonny knew his father and he did not want this to
change. He was sure of his paternity, and this gave him a sense of
identity because his paternity was well defined. Thus, masculinity was
defined as the ability to give one’s child a sense of identity through
a clearly defined paternity. This showed that paternity was important in
offering an identity to a child. Thus, masculinity entailed giving an
identity to children. The society believed that a child’s identity was
given by the child’s father (Clark 91)
Masculinity in modern times also involves being affectionate towards
ones family. A man was required to love his family unconditionally as
this offered emotional security to the members of his family (Clark 96).
Philip was not affectionate towards any member of his family. He was a
man who was emotionally withdrawn and aloof. This was demonstrated, by
the way, he treated his family. He catered for their physical needs, but
he never tried to have intimate conversations with them. His past
actions were the cause of this emotional aloofness. This was clearly
shown when his wife complained about the way he treated her. She said
that she was only valuable to him because she cooked, for him she
offered him conjugal rights, and because she was his companion to
church. The lady in question was perceived as a tool for sexual
gratification. This showed that although he provided for his family
materially, he was emotionally absent, and this caused Alma, his wife, a
lot of distress (William 122). The emotional disconnect was also
demonstrated, by the way, Patrick greeted him with a handshake instead
of a hug, which is considered intimate.
Eddie, on the other hand, was very affectionate towards his family. He
tried to create time for his family by helping his son to go over his
homework. Eddie’s decision to burn his car in order to recover his
family also depicted that he valued his family more than his car. In
addition, Eddie said that the house was colder now that Amy and Sonny
were not there. This coldness was emotional because he felt empty
without his family. Thus, his masculinity was evident because of the way
he was affectionate towards his family. Eddie always made time to have
conversations with his wife and son about how they spent their day. He
also taught Sonny how to pray.
Masculinity was also defined by the ability to foster partnership in
marriage. Marriage is modern times is not run by one person. A man and
his wife must form a partnership by having open consultations, in order
for the marriage to succeed. Amy complained that Eddie would come home
late every day because he was taking care of his car. He did not even
care to find out what she thought about the car, which according to her,
was old and worn out (Gaines 31). This showed that she was unhappy with
his lack of consultation with her, about matters that affected the
family. Eddie eventually made his marriage a partnership when Amy came
back to him. He was constantly involving her in his decisions, which
made her develop the feeling of an active member of the marriage than
earlier. Eddie consulted with his wife more often, than his friends.
In Philip’s Marriage to Alma, Philip was aloof and made decisions
without consulting Alma. He treated her like his subordinate, just like
he treated everyone else around him. He did not consult her in his
decisions and to him she was just his accessory and symbol of pride.
For example, he was always happy to show her off in church, but he never
let her speak. This made her unhappy, and she complained about the lack
of partnership in the marriage. However, a sense of partnership was
established when Alma stood by him as he tried to make peace with his
past. Philip took her advices from time to time, and this helped him
deal with his tainted past. For example, Amy advised him not to try and
talk to Robert when he was angry. This shows that marriage is a
partnership especially in modern times and a man cannot just act on his
own especially with regard to family matters (William, 102). Thus,
masculinity involves fostering a partnership between a man and his wife.
Masculinity was defined by a man’s ability to take responsibility for
his actions (William 48). A responsible man was one who could face the
consequences of his actions. The man had to be willing to confront his
past mistakes and rectify them to the best of his ability. The man
should also be able to stand up and own up to his actions no matter
their consequences. Thus, masculinity was about responsibilities and
responsible behavior. This was because every action had consequences
which always caught up with a person.
Philip was depicted as lacking masculinity because of his inability to
take responsibility for his actions in the beginning. As traveled back
to his rural home, he remembered that, besides Joanna, he had other
children with about two or three other women (Gaines 51). He confessed
that he did not know about these children because he had never bothered
to find out about them (Gaines 95). This showed that, despite Philip’s
many achievements in his current life, he had failed as man. He had
failed because he tried to bury his past instead of facing it. Philip
told Chippo that he had tried to build a new life in the city by being a
Reverend and having a family (Gaines 83). This shocked him, and his
perfect world started crumbling when Robert appeared in his life. Philip
was unable to stand up and say that he knew Robert. When he first
recognized Robert, he collapsed in shock. When he finally stood up, he
failed to tell those around him about Robert, his son (Gaines 22). This
showed that he was not yet ready to take responsibility for his actions.
Instead of staying in Louisiana and confronting his past by trying to
form a bond with Robert, Philip fled to his rural home where he took
solace in his grandmother’s home (Clayton et al 72). This showed that
he was a weak man who was not able to take responsibility for his
actions.
When Robert confronted Philip and asked him why he deserted him, Philip
accepted that he was a weak man. Philip explained that he had no courage
to take responsibility for his actions. He said that it took a man to
stand up and take responsibility for his actions, and he was not a man
(Gaines 30). Philip said that he was not a man because he could not take
responsibility of Joanna and her children. He was incapable of
protecting Joanna and her children, and that is why he abandoned them.
Philip acknowledged that manhood was defined by a man’s ability to
take responsibility of his family and protect it. He admitted that he
failed short of being a man because he could not take responsibility of
his actions. Philip also said that his inability to take responsibility
for his actions was what made him stay on the floor when he collapsed
(Clayton et al 67). This symbolized that Philip was a weak man, who
could not stand up and face his past actions.
However, Philip eventually tried to take responsibility for his actions
when he tried to forge a relationship with Robert. He was even willing
to fail the community in which he lived, when he was ready to boycott a
planned meeting so that Robert could be released from jail. Philip also
tried to find Joanna and the rest of his children. He traveled to his
rural home in a bid to come to terms with his past, and that was why he
talked to Chippo, whom he thought, may have known about Joanna. This
trip back home was meant to enable his confront his past and take
responsibility for his actions. Philip tried to confront his actions by
meeting with Joanna and knowing how she was doing.
Eddie, on the other hand, was a responsible man. He was willing to go
to great lengths so as to convince Amy to come back to him. He realized
that his behavior of staying out until late in the evening was what has
annoyed his wife, causing her to leave him. He finally took
responsibility for his actions by seeking advice from the witch doctor
who advised him to burn his car. The act of burning his car symbolized
his readiness to take responsibility for his actions. It also showed
that he was a responsible man who wanted to have a complete family.
Modern masculinity is also defined by a man’s ability to protect his
family by holding it together. A man should protect his family from
destruction by helping to establish strong bonds amongst the family
members. Freddie was ready to take over Eddie’s family, but Eddie
acted fast and takes his family back before it collapsed (Gaines 48). He
also chose to ignore grandmother’s remarks about him because he knew
that she wanted Amy to marry Freddie Jackson, and this would make his
family fall apart. This showed that Eddie could protect his family from
collapsing. Sonny was also happy that his parents had reconciled, and
they had gone back home. This was because he felt protected while he was
at home. Sonny said that he liked his home because he felt safe with his
parents around him (Gaines 131).
Philip, on the other hand, was unable to protect his family with
Joanna. This showed that he did not have a strong sense of masculinity.
He admitted to Robert that, during the turmoil that led him away from
Joanna, it took a man to protect his family. This turmoil was caused by
very harsh slavery that would sometimes make a man choose between his
family and his master. He, however, was not man enough, and that was
why he could not stand by them and protect them. Philip lacked
masculinity in the way he abandoned Joanna and her children. He did not
stay on to try and hold the family together, and offer protection. All
he offered them was three dollars and drove his responsibility away from
him.
In conclusion, it is clear that, in addition to the traditional
definitions of masculinity, masculinity entails much more to be a man.
In modern society, a man has more responsibilities, and this is what
defines masculinity. Gaines shows the modern definition of masculinity
through Eddie and Philip. These two men had different approaches to
their family issues, and this was what defined their masculinity. Eddie
made serious mistakes, but he was eventually able to correct his
mistakes. Philip had a tainted past, and he was forced to face this past
in order to find peace within him. This shows that he has matured as
man.
Works Cited
Clark, Keith. Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and
August Wilson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Print.
Clayton, Obie, et. al. Black Fathers in Contemporary Society: Strengths,
Weaknesses, and Strategies for Change. New York: Russell Sage
Foundation, 2003. Print.
Gaines, Ernest J. A Long Day in November. New York: Knopf, 1985. Print
Gaines, Ernest J. In My Father’s House. New York: Knopf,1978. Print
Jones, Suzanne W. “New Narratives of Southern Manhood: Race,
Masculinity, and Closure in Ernest Gaines`s Fiction.” Critical Survey
9.2 (1997): 17-44. JSTOR. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
Williams, Fiona. “Troubled Masculinities in Social Policy Discourse.”
Ed. Jennie Popay, Jeff Hearn, and Jeanette Edwards. Men, Gender
Divisions, and Welfare. London: Routledge, 1998. 63-100. Print.
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