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How is masculinity represented in "If—" by Rudyard Kipling and "What Is a Man?" by Tom Chiarella?

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In both “If” and “What is a Man?” masculinity is represented as a set of outward behaviors that implicitly assert dominance. In Kipling’s poem, it is summed up in the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip and not showing your feelings. In Chiarella’s essay, masculinity is expressed through learned behaviors that are specifically not female. These are encapsulated in the image of urinating outside, standing up.

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In Kipling’s “If—,” a father advises his son that the true mark of an English gentleman lies in his ability to keep a stiff upper lip and not show emotion. No matter what happens, a true man maintains his composure. For example, a true man acts as if it doesn’t matter if he loses a large sum of money. He also treats all people, whether kings or working class men, with the same courtesy. Feelings stay inside.

In Chiarella’s much longer piece, a wider range of male behaviors is explored, from giving up following sports to giving up opening doors for women. Chiarella experiments in what it is like to consciously abandon typically male activities and modes of being. He bookends his essay with the image of the male urinating into the open air: if he were writing a poem, that would be the controlling image.

Both works deal with elements of what we might call toxic masculinity. Kipling glorifies toxic masculinity in his poem, having little concept that continually stuffing down one’s emotions can lead to mental and physical health problems. Chiarella shows more awareness of some of the damage caused by masculinity: for example, he finds it liberating to give up sports. However, he also finds passive aggressive satisfaction in not opening doors for women.

In the end, both men embrace stereotypical masculinity. While Kipling glories in the stiff upper lip, Chiarella ends his essay by going outside, letting loose a stream of urine, and reveling in the masculinity it represents.

Both essays are disturbing in the way the male narrators root their sense of identity in a masculinity that ultimately asserts dominance, be it through being more emotionally controlled (implicitly) than women or lesser men or in reveling in a behavior (spraying urine) that both potentially dirties up the world and is something women can’t do. Both essays show there is still a long way for men to go in giving up toxic behaviors.

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How is masculinity represented in "If" by Rudyard Kipling and "What Is A Man" by Tom Chiarella?

Rudyard Kipling's "If—" portrays an impossibly stoical individual, who never complains, avoids every extreme, and is a paragon of integrity, consideration, and courage. The last line of the poem contains, for many readers, a bathos which is almost certainly unintentional, when Kipling reveals that the reward for performing all these superhuman feats is simply to "be a Man." The initial capital is intended to make the achievement more impressive: a Man is different from all the mere men who surround him.

Tom Chiarella's "What Is a Man" contains more achievable goals than Kipling's counsel of perfection. It begins with the distinctly mundane perquisite: "A man carries cash." However, this simple statement stands as synecdoche for a host of other values, many of which are explicitly stated later in the poem. A man carries cash because he is powerful and independent. He will not risk the humiliating experience of having a credit card declined, or having to write a cheque. Cash is acceptable everywhere, a symbol of masculine power and authority.

If Chiarella's representation of masculinity eventually comes to seem almost as constricting and as difficult to live up to as Kipling's it is because of the sheer number of rules to which it seems a man must adhere. Many of these are to do with traditional ideas about working-class masculinity. A man must know how to use tools, be able to hold his drink, be decisive in an emergency and be able to "knock someone, somewhere, on his ass," should the need arise. Both Kipling's Man and Chiarella's man must be strong, capable, brave, and know when to put others before themselves. There is some difference in social class between the two, however. Kipling's Man is not necessarily a gentleman, but he is at any rate a leader, quite probably an officer. Chiarella's man has more working-class values and aspirations.

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