Holland seems to have a twofold purpose [in The Man Without a Face]. One is to speak some psychological truth on the matter of homosexuality; the other is to alleviate anxiety and to absolve guilt in the young adolescent reader about his own homosexual inclinations or acts. In order to do this and perhaps to take some of the fright out of homosexual longings, she presents a relationship between an older man and a young boy that facilitates growth. She locates the psychological motivation for the boy's love in his "lost" father…. Holland conveys what is missing in the family by what she includes in McLeod, the father surrogate. And this is, to my mind, a little alarming, for McLeod himself is an old patriarch—somewhat of a marine. It would seem that the moral of this story is the only way Charles can shore up his masculine identity in a family full of oppressive women and transient men is to love this masculine caricature.
McLeod is certainly a moral force to be reckoned with. The man speaks in aphorisms which feel condescending to the reader. We are suddenly in the presence of that nervous grown-up who is terribly anxious about getting his point across. We are forced to recollect our childhood irritation with adults who always knew better. Nonetheless, the point Holland is trying to make seems worthy: homosexual love can be helpful. But her point is interesting in this regard. For McLeod's greatest feat, and he is a man of prodigious feats, is to die—so that the homosexuality can be remembered by Charles as a wonderful but passing phase. The presentation of McLeod raises some important questions. Although he seems secure in his homosexual identity and is himself magnificent, he has been punished severely, that punishment including physical mutilation. McLeod is a tragic hero, an outlaw of sorts—his fate is not one you would wish on anybody. It may be romantic to love him but one would not want to be him. Thus, what Holland implies is that the transient adolescent homosexual is acceptable, but the mature homosexual is doomed.
This story is full of psychology—from the significance of the repressed memory to the intrusive mother whose love threatens Charles' masculinity. Charles' negativistic stance is carefully presented as a defense to his sister's aggressive sexuality. Psychology is most evident in the effect of the father's absence and in the collapsed father of his dramatically re-covered memory. Holland presents with noticeable oversimplification what is psychologically unsound about this family. What is needed then? A firm hand. Someone to set limits and to provide clear expectations. Someone who will not intrude. And a disciplinarian whose love must be won. An idealized man whose vulnerabilities in particular are more like tragic flaws than irritating habits. Indeed a romantic ideal. (pp. 87-9)
Kate Fincke, "The Breakdown of the Family: Fictional Case Studies in Contemporary Novels for Young People," in The Lion and the Unicorn (copyright © 1980 The Lion and the Unicorn), Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter, 1979–80, pp. 86-95.∗