The Construct of Military Masculinity as it Displaces Machismo

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2022

The Time of the Hero, with its militaristic anthem and its critical investigation of masculinity, puts one in mind of those stories which support the warrior code. Many early reviews said that the novel was anti-military but only because it showed the messiness behind the uniforms. In point of fact, the novel takes no position on the military—it simply describes how homosocial networks function within the very hierarchical environment of the military and reflect a pre-established hypocritical ideology surrounding the marriage institution. Each example of parenthood shown to us reveals a fractured state of marriage whose affect on the surviving boys is a further denigration of that institution and of women specifically. Vargas Llosa shows how military constructions of masculinity in mid-twentieth-century Peruvian culture spill over into civilian life and into the lives of young boys. The gender strategy of the novel is very specific: boys become men insofar as they reject feminine sensibilities, reject the mother who is also resented by the father. In such a divisive domestic atmosphere, the authoritarian nature of the military brings order and regulation first to masculinity and then to the household. Before reviewing the novel for the way in which it explores masculinity molded by the military, it would be instructive to note another highly militaristic culture and its literary component.

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One of the major factors that brought about the end of the Great War was the threat of revolution at home. Germany's structural integrity, for example, received a challenge in the form of a working-class colony supported by the remnants of the navy in the north, and various pockets of Polish, Estonian, and Latvian nationalists inspired by Wilson's Fourteen Points and the Russian Revolution. There was also a remaining thread from the Russian Red Army. Chancellor Ebert hired men from the upper class with military training or those who had graduated from military academies and formed the Friekorpsmen to reestablish order—the army was full of the working class and could not be trusted. Their enemies were the disgruntled working classes dissatisfied with the existing order and anyone else who might have caused Germany's defeat. They pursued this goal vigorously from 1918 to 1923 but survived the non-war years to form the core of Hitler's SS. In his 1977 opus, Male Fantasies, Klaus Theweleit records his analysis of a cache of novels written for and about the Friekorpsmen in Germany.

The Friekorpsmen were elite soldiers, well trained, and ruthless in their mission. That the German State used force to put itself back together is not the issue but the mentality and identity they created to do this is interesting to anyone seeking to understand military regimes and their impact on gender roles. The Friekorpsmen, as Theweleit finds, are fresh young men (some just out of the academy) ‘‘whose 'manhood' was half-brutal and half-comical.’’ They developed a subconscious wherein the communist and socialist women were not to be trusted but assaulted, raped, or just killed. Prostitutes were a tolerated necessity for letting off steam. The women to be revered and left nearly chaste were the ‘‘white women"—women of the upper class (oftentimes sisters) who supported the Friekorps mission and served as their nurses. Such sexual tensions fill innumerable novels written for and about Friekorps adventures. The hierarchical sexual taxonomy of the Friekorps melded well with Nazi ideals but the proposition that Theweleit offers showing that militaristic regimes accompany sexual politics helps us to relate the sexual elements in The Time of the Hero to the military manhood being formulated in Peru. Where civilian structures break down or...

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Critical Overview