AMERICAN MANHOOD by E. Anthony Rotundo

AMERICAN MANHOOD

Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A fascinating, accessible, and meticulous piece of scholarship, this study of changing conceptions of manhood breaks new ground in uncovering the internal struggles and shifting paradigms that have informed American men's understanding of themselves. Borrowing the innovative techniques of women's history and gender studies, Rotundo (History/Phillips Academy) shines a powerful light on the diaries, letters, and institutions of white, northern, middle-class men. From a Puritan society that conceived of men largely as ranked members of a community, America, he says, was transformed into a place where a man was an individual who created his own place and status. The qualities that were valued in a man were likewise transformed, from an ideal that called for the suppression of aggressive, competitive urges to an image of manliness that valued nothing more. While boys were once seen as separate from men--at times, more like females; later, as a host of antisocial impulses that need to be suppressed--by the end of the 19th century, men (with Theodore Roosevelt as paradigm) were seen as overgrown boys, their boyish impulses being their best part. Similarly, men's relation to women, while never abjuring the underlying framework of gender spheres, has repeatedly shifted to buttress men's superiority. Sexuality, too, Rotundo says, has changed profoundly, and not always in ways we would think: The 18th century lacked a true concept of homosexuality, allowing adult male friends to spend the night in each others' arms--an act inconceivable to most contemporary heterosexuals. While the slice of society Rotundo examines is narrow, what he reveals goes deep. A pioneering work.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1993
ISBN: 0-465-01409-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993