Delillo and masculinity

Ruth Helyer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Citations (Scopus)
193 Downloads (Pure)


Don DeLillo's fiction suggests that masculinity, rather than being inherent, is an insecure construction based on dominant societal norms and presented via mediated images. His writing offers a number of hypermasculine characters torn between upsetting and upholding the status quo; they display the inadequacy of stereotypes while suggesting that the concept of individuality is flawed and unsustainable. Literature can potentially aid the embedding of social conditioning; however, it can also provide a critical purchase from which to scrutinize social norms. While it is difficult to identify ideal alternatives in any cultural text, literature at least offers a forum for thinking about difference and boundary breaching. This is what DeLillo's writing does in its treatment of masculinity. Rather than replace one defunct cultural narrative with an equally invalid alternative, it displays the insecurity of masculinity without offering a facile replacement. What the reader instead becomes aware of is an emergent male self-consciousness, which is crucially and increasingly knowing about the performative nature of men's roles. For example, when Jack Gladney, the satirical protagonist of White Noise (1985), muses to himself about what his father-in-law might think of him, he reveals his own feelings of inadequacy, which may or may not reflect what Vernon thinks.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Don Delillo
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781139001854
ISBN (Print)9780521870658
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2008


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