Friday, February 8, 2008

The Power of Men

When Jake goes to the mailbox he finds a “bundle of multicolored circulars and advertisements” (38). Among the flyers about money problems, alcoholism, and a lack of piety is an advertisement for a panacea drug for “weak manhood” and general laziness (39). These advertisements seem personally intended for Jake, or at least remarkably relevant to his life.

As much as this is a book about race and class, it also tackles gender roles, specifically the idea of manhood. While the reader can appreciate Jake’s agency – his ability to control his own situation – he fells oppressed. In his view, white society has emasculated Jake and his buddies so it is their right to asset their manhood by overpowering the women in their lives. The story begins and ends with Jake abusing Lil and Jake and his buddies spend the time in between rehashing sexual conquests (with cousins, older women, etc), looking at porn Al bought off a yellow man, and trying to score with prostitutes at Rose’s brothel.

But when Jake returns home to beat his wife, Lil fights back. Jake's hold over Lil is no tighter than white society’s hold over him; neither is truly powerless. The difference is that Lil has the strength of will and common sense to effectively rebel, whereas Jake perpetuates his own subjugation.

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