Dubus and Killings the Meanings of Masculinity Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Killings" is set in a blue-collar New England town along the Merrimack. It is a vision of a somewhat isolated community -- outside of time, not supported by a sense of law or order or justice. Murder essentially goes unpunished -- which is why the main character, Matt, takes the "law" into his own hands and murders Strout, the man who killed his son. Matt, used to taking matters into his own hands, as a man from a blue collar town, feels justified in this killing -- just as justified as Strout felt in killing Matt's son, who was sleeping with Strout's estranged wife. While Strout's killing of Matt was based on passion (Strout's passion to repossess his wife and let no other have her), Matt's killing of Strout is based on grief and a desire for vengeance (his son is dead yet Strout is free to walk the streets and make love to a woman). In this context, it is inappropriate to argue that either Strout or Matt is more manly than the other, since manliness (virility) comes from the Latin vir, for man, which is also the root word of virtue (a habit of acting which is good, manly). Which of these characters is good if they both view murder as justified because of their own personal issues, whether possessive or vengeful? The answer is that neither is manly, because neither acts out of a habit of virtue but rather out of a habit of selfishness (Matt's believes he has earned some rest in these his twilight years and Strout believes he had every right to protect what was "his" -- but neither sees the world from outside themselves). This is the central problem of the story -- a lack of real manliness: the men in the story are driven by aims that are not manly; yet the men believe that they are because of mistaken but preconceived notions of manliness being something that relates to what each deserves (Strout "deserves" to have his family back, Matt "deserves" peace and won't let Strout disturb it). Meanwhile, real manliness is missing from the story and is only sensed by its notable absence (for instance, when Matt realizes that he cannot make love to his wife at the end -- he has literally lost his virility upon committing murder). This story will show how Matt and Strout represent different aspects of "modern" manliness but how Dubus shows that actual, virtuous manliness is absent in this small town through a style of writing that is atonal and unorthodox.

Strout's "manliness" is represented by his sexual virility, which bothers Matt (he keeps thinking about Strout being with his woman). It is the main motive for the murder that Strout commits -- he cannot tolerate another, younger man being with his wife. In his view, this is a perfectly acceptable rationale, and he grudgingly accepts his fate in turn, expecting that everyone, including Matt, should be satisfied by the fact that he is going to go to prison for it: "I'll do twenty years, Mr. Fowler; at least. I'll be forty-six years old" (Dubus 390). This, of course, has no bearing on Matt: even the respectful way in which Strout addresses Matt (calling him Mr. Fowler) is grating in a way, indicating that Strout hasn't even enough decency to detest the father of the man he killed. On the contrary, Strout has no grudge against Matt: to him it is as though Matt does not even exist. And this is what is the unspoken violation of the code of manliness in this small town: Strout does not hide himself, does not grovel, does not cower in shame and guilt, does not run from being seen, does not show remorse, does not even acknowledge that his actions might have emotionally impacted anyone else: he thinks only in terms of self. Matt's arrival into Strout's sphere is an admonishment to this selfishness of Strout's: Matt intends to show Strout that "he" is not the center of the universe, that he does not…

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Works Cited

Dubus, Andre. "Killings." Web. 12 October 2015.

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