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The Idea of Masculinity in the Ledge Novel

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“The Ledge” by Lawrence Sargent Hall Paragraph

The idea of masculinity is crucial in the relationship between the fisherman and his son, especially as the facade society has put up is torn away in their final moments. In 1960, when this story is supposed to have taken place, it was post-World War Two and the Vietnam War had just begun. Society encouraged masculinity, and this was to be only expected that the feeling would be magnified in a small rural town, far away from the big cities, where the fisherman and his family live. He is known as a “hard man”, a “big, raw man with too much strength” (370, 369). He is cocky, as he as always mastered the physical world. He is contemptuous of the timid, and his forceful ways has always achieved success in the world of masculinity. In fact, his perception of gender roles and stereotypes leads to his ultimate end, as he ignores his wife’s concerns and goes out anyway, farther than anyone else dared, as an attempted feat of courage and strength. However, this is what makes his so sure that he will die, because he knows his wife will not send a search party after him, for she often contemplates being a widow. The theme of mortality is not allowed by masculinity, but as shown by the implication of the frozen fisherman holding the boot, when he decides not to shoot the boy with his one remaining round to put him out of his misery, and so he can not see his father die, he turns the boy into a man. This is related to the chivalric code and the Japanese version of it, bushido, which says that your life is short and meaningless, and that only the reverence and awe that your descendants feel when they say your name is important. That is why it is important to die an honorable death, to go out in a ‘blaze of glory’. The fisherman wants to appear strong until the end for the son. And as many war veterans will tell you, life and death situations bring out the best and the worst in people, and only in their most trying moments does their true character show. The fisherman is said to be insensitive and to be a hard man but in the end the only thing that matters to him is his son, and how he will remember him. The fisherman, in a way, is a victim of his own pride. He wants the boys to be given a rite of passage, and this is what stops him from turning around when he realizes that he has forgotten his tobacco at home. The tobacco and the alcohol show how the fisherman, the hard man, has become a lazy man, lazy in the comfortableness of routine. He is overly cocky in his abilities, and that led to his eventual demise. The main factor in the privacy on the ledge is the masculinity. The fisherman only breaks down and shows real emotions and feelings when he is alone with the son, where nobody can see him, not even the snow. Society cannot influence him. He is dying with his son, blind in the dark, wave after wave buffeting into him, the water slowly rising with no chance of survival. It is private because it is the end of these lives, where no one can see them, which makes the fisherman afraid, perhaps his first time to ever experience that emotion.

The boy does for his father, the fisherman, “the greatest thing that can be done”, which is not despairing or crying, but just “trusting his father to do all he could, and asking nothing more” (383). The boy knows just as well as the fisherman that they are going to die, but he does not break down like most children would, but he holds his head high and does not disgrace himself in the eyes of the father. In fact, that is the driving force in the boy’s mind, trying to make his father proud. That is why he wants to shoot more birds, and tries to drink the alcohol that his father gives him. He wants to be respected by his father, and the only way to do that is to prove it, which he does by just trusting his father. In that way, he becomes a man in the eyes of the fisherman, a sort of rite of passage that the shooting of the birds might have previously been given the job of (this is partly why it is a private moment between the fisherman and his son). When the boy asks his father if the water is over his boots yet, and the fisherman lies and tells him no (even though the boy probably already knows that the water is in fact over the fisherman’s boots), the boy does not protest or be angry. He simply stays with his father until the very last moment, giving him some small comfort. He simply accepts the fact that he will have to leave his father behind on the ledge when he swims for it. In this sense, he is well mature enough to be a man, a quality highly valued by society, as aforementioned in the previous paragraph. He does not cry out that this is unfair, he does blame his father or his cousin, he simply accepts his fate and moves on, making the most of life with has beloved father while he still has the chance.

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