Term of Award

Spring 2013

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature and Philosophy

Committee Chair

Gautam Kundu

Committee Member 1

Caren J. Town

Committee Member 2

Olivia Carr Edenfield

Committee Member 3

Olivia Carr Edenfield


The evolving culture and ethos of American capitalist modernity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was marked by a nervousness, or neurasthenia. Strongly gendered, it was characterized among men by effeminacy and an anxiety about masculinity. Confronted by the eroding ideals of Victorian American self-reliance and independence, a stout-hearted willingness to labor to establish one's masculinity seemed an increasingly doubtful prospect for men in the new modern age. Under the twin influences of industrial capitalism and a market economy and a fledgling women's movement, affecting, especially, the work place, the American male felt nervous, anxious, and emasculated. In response to what Greg Forter calls the feminizing effects of bourgeois modernity, early twentieth-century America saw the emergence of a new form of manhood that is best described by Forter as "hard, aggressive, physically dominant, potent." Under the dispensations of the commercial civilization of industrial, materialistic America, manliness and definitions of manhood were now measured by riches, inherited or acquired through business activities; through athleticism that stressed such masculine attributes as physical endurance, integrity, self-control, and teamwork. Finally, this ambiguously reconceived masculinity was also defined by a complex web of man-woman relationships, based on power and dominance, which was different from the Victorian patriarchal partition of society along domestic and public spheres. Also important was how men established relationships, or bonded with each other, which would enhance their public image as a man. This complex and fraught social history of masculinity, and its connections to the literary culture of the times, find their articulations in F. Scott Fitzgerald. In his life and in much of his works, Fitzgerald takes an ambivalent attitude toward the self-assertive, aggressive manliness of his times. In This Side of Paradise, "Winter Dreams," and "The Swimmers," the male protagonists attempt to exhibit the masculine traits of virility, aggressiveness, and potency, but fall short in some way, either because they are not wealthy, athletic, or do not display a manly dominance in their relationships. Thus, these men form new spaces for themselves in Fitzgerald's re-conceptualized masculinity, that is both informed and enriched by softer feminine attributes.

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