Paul Theroux describes manhood: “The whole idea of manhood in America is pitiful, a little like having to wear an ill-fitting coat for ones entire life” (292).
Webster’s dictionary defines pitiful as pitiable, piteous, pathetic, sorry, and disgraceful. Therefore, Theroux sees American manhood as being pathetic, sorry, piteous, and disgraceful, but this is not necessarily true.
First of all, the time setting of Theroux’s birth plays a small role in why he thinks that way about manhood. He was born in 1941 which means he reached the age of eighteen in 1959. A man had more pressure to keep a family together. Not may women worked so the income of the family was placed on the man’s shoulders. Whereas now the women are more present in the workforce and some of the work load has been lifted off man. The Vietnam War was fought from 1959-1975, and at the time man was pressured into being “manly” and going to war. Men, who rejected the war, were looked on as “hippies” who didn’t quite feel the shoes of manhood. Being a man in that time period was more pressured than an average male today.
Theroux writes about how societies expression “Be a man” insults him. He says the expression means “Be stupid, be unfeeling, obedient and soldierly, and stop thinking” (293).
By calling man stupid he implies that men are looked upon as slow witted, dull, foolish, and irrational. Theroux believes that society looks at men in this manner. However, they do not look at men as being stupid. Society looks at men as being dominant leaders and the strong hold of the world. As the years have passed by, women have been fighting for better jobs and offices, but yet men still hold the most powerful offices and the better paid jobs. In contrast to what Theroux writes, to “Be a man” doesn’t mean to be stupid.
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To be soldierly is to have characteristics of a person who works zealously for a specified cause. Theroux contradicts himself by saying that society looks at man as stupid and soldierly. Obviously these two definitions form an oxymoron, and clearly man can not be both at the same time. Men do work zealously to get good jobs, high office positions, and to maintain the dominant leadership status. For man to be stupid and soldierly at the same time isn’t possible.
Theroux writes about how American manhood is pitiful. This implies that someone has pity on men. Who? Women? Men? Women are out trying to obtain the offices, leadership’s positions, and soldierly status man has. It doesn’t seem like women would have pity on the men who have the status they want. Men compete with each other over offices and positions; so why would they pity each other? It just doesn’t seem true that men are pitied?
Ill means: wrongly, pain, unhappiness, badly, and improperly. Fitted means: designed to confirm to the counters of that which it covers. Coat means: customary garb (external form or appearance) of a profession or class. Theroux put all these words together when he describes manhood as being “…a little like having to wear an ill-fitted coat for ones entire life” (292).
Basically ill fitted coat means a wrong external form or appearance of a profession or class. Man works to achieve status, position, office, rank, leadership, family provider, or insured manhood. When he achieves this he also achieves an external form that fits his profession or class. It is not necessarily true that American manhood is an ill-fitted coat worn for a man’s lifetime.
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Theroux, Paul. “The Male Myth.” Little Brown Reader. Eighth ed.