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Masculinity in The Great Gatsby and The Breakfast Club


In any society, culture may be played out from different dimensions such as through masculinity and femininity. Masculinity entails a cultural dimension in which gender roles become distinct by spelling out characteristics that men should display. Such traits include materialism, assertiveness, and toughness among others. Conversely, women are expected to display tenderness, modesty, and responsiveness. This paper discusses how the American culture depicts masculinity as reflected in media (movies) and American literature in the course readings.

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Masculinity in the US Culture

In Chapter 3 of the book The Guyland, Michael Kimmel discusses the men code in the American context. The book offers an in-depth analysis of modern expectations for men in terms of the manner in which they should conduct themselves. He argues that American culture expects men between 16 and 26 years old not to express their weak points and/or demonstrate sissy behaviors (Kimmel, 2008). The author notes that the American culture associates masculinity with power and wealth capability and potential. Men are viewed as people who should be relied upon to alleviate others from crisis. According to Kimmel (2008), the American culture also expects men to depict aggressive traits. The idea of masculinity is passed on from older men to younger men so that the cultural phenomenon is transmitted across generations.

Messner (2007) asserts that masculinity culture also includes anticipating men to play specific sexual characteristics. In the book Men Lives, Messner (2007) believes that people’s perceptions on homosexuality are influenced by societal ideals, which involve considering some behaviors normal while regarding others as abnormal (Messner, 2007).

Homosexuality is not basically a form of sexuality, but ideally a way of playing gender without necessarily linking it to any sexual act. Consequently, the American masculine culture anticipates homosexual men to behave in a different manner while compared to their heterosexual counterparts without inferring from any sexual preference (Messner, 2007). An arising question is, to what extent are the ideas of Michael Messner and Michael Kimmel on masculinity in the American culture reflected in media genres such as movies and literature?

Masculinity in the American Movies and Literature

The Great Gatsby is perhaps an important starting point in discussing masculinity in the American cultures as reflected in the US media and literature. Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and first published in 1925, The Great Gatsby’s setting is based in Long Island, which is dominated by prosperous wealthy and poor communities of East Egg and West Egg. Nick Caraway, a native of Minnesota and an advocate of Midwestern values, narrates it in the first person. In the novel, he later relocates to New York where he gets involved in bond business.

In the era of writing The Great Gatsby, cultural conventions, which are currently perceived as out of date, died new while ones were ushered from1920s to 1930s. Women are granted the right to participate in voting, something that causes them to see themselves as equal to men and even go to the extent of assimilating masculine ways and fashions into their lifestyles (Fitzgerald & Bruccoli, 2000). In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald documents these changes through an in-depth exploration of cultural changes such as the rise in consumerism, materialism, and greed for wealth in the American society.

In the book, consumerism, materialism, and greed for wealth are normal masculine traits. These traits make men who possess them be considered highly profiled in the society. Indeed, women in the book have lesser or even void of these traits. The traits are also reflected in many US movies. One of such movies is The Breakfast Club.

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Steered by John Hughes, the Universal Pictures movie The Breakfast Club is an awakening teens’ movie. It narrates the story of five students who empty their soul to each other, despite them having nothing in common at first upon meeting at the detention. Consequently, they end up learning that they have more in common than they had initially perceived. As the five students, namely, Allison Reynolds, Andrew Clark, John Bender, Brian Johnson, and Claire Standish, reveal various personalities during their lunchtime talk. Each of the character or a number of characters may be described by personality traits such as creative, aggressive, hostile, secretive, time urgency cautious, suspicious, and competitive.

Andrew and John Bender demonstrate aggressive and factual masculine traits of men developed in the US movie industry. Bender is presented in scene two as a criminal and abusive person who exhibits aggressive behaviors. He is hostile in seeking solutions to his problems even if it is through channeling his anger on innocent people and objects.

In fact, he found himself in detention for setting on a false alarm. In scene two, he abused all her colleagues at the detention initially. However, as the story progresses, he makes its clear why he reacted in the manner that he did. He claimed that the reason why he has a hostile angry behavior is that his father is an alcoholic and abusive man who punished him for spilling paint at the garage by burning a cigar on his arm. On the other hand, Andrew is holding this story with some suspicion until Bender reveals the scar. Thus, he is a person of facts and evidence.


Fitzgerald, S., & Bruccoli, M. (2000). The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Kimmel, M. (2008). Guyland: The Perilous Word Where Boys Become Men. New York, NY: Harper.

Messner, M. (2007). Men lives: becoming 100% straight. Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn and Bacon.

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