"Say it, don't do it": male speech and male action in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Alan Sillitoe's 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
explores shifting masculine roles for working and middle-class men in
England following the Second Worm War and the Korean War. I propose a
reading of Sillitoe's novel that focuses on the abilities and the
limits of male speech in the construction of a working-class masculine
gender identity, including how those utterances work to establish
differences and similarities. Furthermore, I argue that male speech
creates and complicates hierarchical relationships between men and women
in the novel. Taking into account the relative economic affluence in
England following World War II, I also look at how these economic and
social issues influenced changing working-class masculine ideals and
responsibilities in England at that time.
Keywords: masculinity, angry young men, British, speech, performativity, Alan Sillitoe
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
(Criticism and interpretation)
Speech (Social aspects)
Masculinity (Social aspects)
Proletariat (Social aspects)
Working class (Portrayals)
Working class (Social aspects)
Working class in television (Portrayals)
Working class in television (Social aspects)
|Publication:||Name: The Journal of Men's Studies Publisher: Men's Studies Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Men's Studies Press ISSN: 1060-8265|
|Issue:||Date: Spring, 2012 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Novel) Event Code: 290 Public affairs|
|Persons:||Named Person: Sillitoe, Alan|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United Kingdom Geographic Code: 4EUUK United Kingdom|
In 1957, British Prime Minster Harold Macmillan posited that
"most of our people never had it so good," in reference to
England's relative affluence post-World War II. According to
Lawrence Black, this economic prosperity was balanced with a growing
sense of pessimism and uncertainty, exemplified by the rest of
Macmillan's statement that questioned "Is it too good to be
true? Or should I have said, is it too good to last?" (p. 2). With
the emergence during the 1950s of working and middle-class groups such
as the Teddy Boys and the Angry Young Men, critics have questioned how
this relative affluence and general economic prosperity in post-World
War II England influenced notions of masculinity. Richard Hoggart, in
his landmark 1956 work The Use of Literacy, warned against a pervasive
materialism (stemming from the Americans, in Hoggart's view) that
was corrupting British working-class culture. According to Hoggart,
England's working-classes were "exchanging their birthright
for a mass of pin-ups" (p. 163). While Hoggart's view is
relatively sympathetic of the emerging youth culture, Nick Bentley
suggests that most media representations of British youth culture in the
50s (and specifically male youth culture) sought to "demonize
criminal behaviour and represent youth as something unsettling and
transgressive, [while also attempting] to re-incorporate youth into
mainstream society and thereby contain any criminal and potentially
subversive behaviour" (2010, p. 19). This focus on youth culture
and young working-class men illustrates the difficulty of defining
masculinity in a changing society that has recently begun to experience
relative steady employment and easily available commodities.
Furthermore, we can begin to see how, despite economic steadiness and
prosperity, and perhaps because of that growing sense of pessimism that
Macmillan expressed, a group of men dubbed the Angry Young Men
articulated feelings of dissatisfaction and discontent in defining their
masculine identity in relation to their economic class. (1)
Interestingly, these notions of dissatisfaction and discontent were expressed primarily through language rather than physical action. In the novels and plays written by authors such as John Osborne, Thomas Hinde, and Alan Sillitoe we find language being used as the primary way of expressing uncertainty concerning masculine gender roles and responsibilities, namely the confusion over how those roles and responsibilities should be defined. An exploration of this effort to define working-class masculinity in Britain's post-war years can be found in Sillitoe's 1958 novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The novel's male characters concern themselves with speaking about sports, violence, and, of course, about women while they split their time almost evenly between laboring in the factory and drinking in pubs. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning's protagonist Arthur Seaton uses speech to establish relationships between himself and other men that are sometimes based on mutual interests (sports, for example) and that are other times based on establishing himself as an individual separate from other men. In constructing a working-class male gender identity, speech is used at times to create camaraderie amongst men, and, in different situations, to establish dominance through difference. I propose a reading of Sillitoe's novel that focuses on the abilities and the limits of male speech in the construction of a working-class masculine gender identity, including how those utterances work to establish differences and similarities. Furthermore, I argue that male speech sometimes creates and complicates hierarchical relationships between men and women. Taking into account the relative economic affluence in England following World War II, I will also look at how these economic and social issues influenced changing working-class masculine ideals and responsibilities in England at that time.
To better understand this confluence of affluence and dissatisfaction we must historically situate the Angry Young Men in an environment of relative prosperity and peace that is in direct contrast with the previous generation's experience of living in poverty, political instability, and war. The post-war years in England are ones in which the average working man found his wages to be higher, his employment more reliable, and the prospect of home-ownership (or at the very least the possibility of affording more consumer goods) to be within his grasp. Added to these factors was the rise of England's welfare state, which Peter Kalliney sees as the motivating force behind the economic prosperity and healthy job-market. Despite all of this positive economic news, there existed a sense of ambivalence that characterized the male working and middle-class position during this time. A reason for this seems to be that, as Kalliney argues, "better material circumstances did not lead to a more equitable distribution of power" (p. 94) and that the anger of the Angry Young Men can be read as a gendered response to this dissatisfaction. In other words, according to Kalliney, the political consciousness of the Angries can best be described in terms of a feeling of masculine ambivalence caused by unequal distribution of power rather than a result of deprivation of food, of housing, or of jobs which were factors that resulted in working-class anger and resentment in previous generations. Whereas the men of this earlier generation may have struggled with providing for their families in terms of necessities or housing, the affluence of the postwar generation results in a struggle over control of those provisions. For example, in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Arthur and his father compete for who is to be the main financial provider in the home. Arthur, temporarily ceding to his father the role of main provider, seeks to control the younger inhabitants of their home, namely his nephew William. In front of his nephew Arthur passes three pound notes to his mother (part of his weekly earnings), and this exchange is instantly understood by William who has his "mouth opened at the pricelessness of it, at the vital Friday-night transaction going on before him, a stupefying amount of money swinging in all its power and glory" (p. 64). To William this exchange illustrates the power held by the money provider, thus beginning his education concerning appropriate male gender roles. Again, this generation (and, as represented by William, the next generation as well), is not as concerned with simply providing necessities as pre-war generations were, but rather they are concerned with being in control of those provisions.
In terms of this rift between generations Neil Nehring argues that "the Angries and their immediate predecessors, the Movement, (2) seem to have genuinely felt themselves cut adrift from older causes of social discontent," (p. 189) and that for them affluence "did have limits and contradictions that left Movement writers ill at ease, though they had difficulty pinpointing what was troubling them" (p. 196). Part of this uneasiness and discontent with the supposed affluence of the time can be understood by Nehring's argument that
If, as Nehring suggests, public discourse becomes limited to conversations and debates about higher employment levels, and the growing influence of mass culture on the nation's teenagers, then what is removed from public discourse are discussions about changing gender roles and shifting ideals concerning male and female responsibilities. Hoggart addresses these exact issues, albeit from a somewhat nostalgic and conservative point of view. In blaming the breakdown of relatively rigid gender roles on the influence of mass culture, Hoggart depicts the idealized pre-war mother for whom "one can have little but admiration" and who is "the pivot of the home" (p. 24), and the working father who is the master of the house whose gender identity is stable because "he is [the boss] by tradition, and neither he nor his wife would want the tradition changed" (p. 34). However, by the 1950s Hoggart finds that tradition had changed. The gendered split between work and home, and between economic provider and "pivot of the home," began with the onset of industrialization in the early years of the 19th century. By the mid-1950s this clear split between the male social sphere and the female domestic became much less clearly defined. The post-World War II generation faced shifting gender roles and responsibilities, and expressed feelings of ambiguity and frustration while trying to establish their gender identity without having a clear understanding of what that identity currently entailed. Furthermore, as Nehring argues, conversations about the tenuousness of the comparative affluence in 1950s Britain, or about the changing roles for men and women were seemingly shut out of public discourse. For the Angries this limiting of public discourse about current economic and social issue began to elevate the importance of verbal and written speech in order to articulate their frustrations. The literature of the Angry Young Men became a medium through which they could voice frustrations and seek out solutions to the discontent and ambivalence they were feeling, and this medium's central focus, obviously, was language.
In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning the male characters find that language functions as an effective way to establish their gender identities, but they also face the limits of what speech can actually accomplish. As an example of the current ambiguous status experienced by men, Arthur Seaton finds himself caught between the previous generation, in which a masculine identity was largely founded upon a man's ability to find employment and provide economically for his family, and the post-war generation where "everyone had work, and regular money had been coming into the house for so long" (p. 77). With the disappearance of more conventional methods of establishing one's masculinity, such as the performance of courage and physical strength through wartime action, and struggling and starving while looking for employment, Arthur symbolizes the Angry Young Men in their confused and frustrated search for new methods of gender performance.
Specifically, it is the notion of performative speech that enables these characters to begin defining their gender identities. Jacques Lacan argued that man's "nature becomes woven by effects in which the structure of language of which he becomes the material can be refound" (p. 578). The construction of gender identity through language is a well-established concept that has been paired with theories of gender performance, and this combination has brought about our awareness of what J.L. Austin called "performative utterances." Once spoken, theses utterances allow the speaker to be "doing something rather than merely saying something" (p. 222) so that one's gender is in part performed and made "real" through verbal statements that construct their gender in this way or that. Judith Butler articulates this concept of gender performance most clearly and intelligently when she argues that we should "[c]onsider gender, for instance, as a corporeal style, an 'act,' as it were, which is both intentional and performative, where 'performative' suggests a dramatic and contingent construction of meaning" (p. 113). For the specific purposes of my argument, I would like to focus on Butler's argument that repetitions of these performative acts are crucial in constructing one's gender, and "this repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established" (p. 114). Furthermore, it is important for my argument that this gender performance "is a public action," (p. 114) as most of the gender performances in Sillitoe's novel occur out of doors, or in public spaces.
Combined with theories of gender construction (specifically through language), R.W. Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity is critical to my argument. Connell defines hegemonic masculinity as the "configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of legitimacy of patriarchy" (pp. 38-39). Furthermore, hegemonic masculinity is "the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position in a given pattern of gender relations" and that it "is always contestable" (76) and always subject to change. The hegemonic masculinity in Sillitoe's novel is one that is unstable as it undergoes a shift from a masculine gender identity that is largely based on physical action to one that privileges speech.
Critical to Connell's concept is the pressure felt by men in any given society to conform to the current hegemonic masculinity. As a result of this pressure a man can seek to conform their gender identity in many ways, including their bodily appearance, their clothing, or their physical movements and gestures, as long as those methods of performance already have socially established meanings assigned to them, and as long as those performances are repeated. While clothing, bodily appearance, and physical gestures play a part in constructing both feminine and masculine gender in Sillitoe's novel, my focus is on how the use of language operates in the construction of masculinity for the male characters who find speech rapidly overtaking physical action as an accepted method of gender performance. First, I examine the ways men seek to construct their gender through language when interacting with other men in largely male-dominated locations such as the pub and the workplace. Secondly, I turn to how that gender performance functions when men interact with women, and seek to both construct and assert their masculinity when dealing with issues such as adultery and abortion.
MEN TALKING TO MEN
The novel begins, fittingly enough, on a Saturday night in the White Horse Club, one of Arthur's favorite pubs. In Sillitoe's novel the pub is one of the locations (the workplace and the riverbank are others) that function as a space where male characters are able to speak freely, and to establish and defend their masculinity. The reader is first introduced to Arthur while he is especially inebriated due, in large part, to the boasts and taunts of a "big loud-mouthed bastard who said he had been a sailor" (pp. 4-5). The sailor, who is referred to almost exclusively as "Loudmouth," had been "throwing his weight about and holding dominion over several tables, telling his listeners of all the places he had been to in the world, each anecdote pointing to the fact that he was a champion boozer and the palliest bloke in the pub" (p. 5). In one sense we see that Loudmouth's masculinity here is established in conventional ways; he has constructed his masculine identity through traveling the globe, rather than being restricted to one geographical area, but also by boasting of an ability to consume large amounts of alcohol thereby proving the strength and endurance of his body. However, even though he seems to have established his gender identity with physical action, it is interesting here to note that up until this point Loudmouth's masculinity has only been established through language while in the pub. Loudmouth's ability to prove his manhood through speech, even though that speech may or may not rest on actually physical action, situates him comfortably in this post-war society where the importance of action is decreasing in relation to the power of speech acts. He "said he had been a sailor," (emphasis mine) thereby making it believable that he had travelled around the world. No tangible proof of these journeys is asked for, or indeed required as his speech becomes sufficient evidence, at least initially. He is "telling" everyone in the pub about these journeys and about his seemingly legendary abilities with drinking so effectively that this "telling" establishes this large, experienced, and strong conception of masculinity for many of his "listeners."
Even though the value of speech has gained more social currency, the novel quickly makes clear that it is not always sufficient for establishing one's gender identity. It is only when another man wishes to establish his own masculinity by challenging Loudmouth's gender performance that speech becomes insufficient, and that material, and in this case, corporeal, proof of one's manhood is required. Ironically, it is a woman and not a man who first disputes the adequacy of Loudmouth's speech-act by telling him that Arthur could probably beat him in a drinking competition. The deficiency of Loudmouth's speech becomes clear as the narrator tells us that Arthur "begrudged big talkers their unearned glory" (p. 5). In this instance Arthur represents an older view of masculinity which insists that a man earn his masculine identity through physical and tangible proof, and not though merely speaking about his accomplishments and abilities. The ability to establish, and thereby prove one's masculinity, solely through speech proves insufficient in the pub, but why is this? The presence of women in the pub seems important to both men, as neither want to appear less masculine than the other. The sailor has entered into, and claimed dominion over, another man's sphere. The White Horse Club is Arthur's territory, and Loudmouth's boastings and proclamations have threatened Arthur's rule, forcing each men to visibly and physically prove their worth in front of the pub's other patrons, some of whom are women.
When Arthur wins this masculinity contest through action instead of speech, the ability to establish gender through language becomes less of an option. As Arthur lays at the bottom of the stairs he feels a man poking him in the ribs and assumes that "the man was endeavoring to tell him something as well, so [Arthur] tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to make an answer, though he did not yet know what the man was saying" (p. 6). Speech becomes difficult, and even others' speech becomes almost unintelligible for Arthur as his physical actions have limited his communicative abilities.
These opening chapters appear to position action above speech, physicality above intangible proclamations, and visible proof over verbal argument. However, as we can see in this chapter, the mixture of male and female patrons in the pub requires more proof of one's gender than language can accomplish by itself. Both Arthur and Loudmouth must physically, and not merely linguistically, prove their gender because the pub affords them a means to do so, and gives them an audience that demands such proof. In other words, the confines of the pub restrict either man from proving his world-traveler persona in any method other than through language, yet their boasts concerning their abilities to drink in large amounts proves insufficient because it can be proven by actually drinking alcohol in the pub.
This desire to prove one's self through action rather than language--and being faced with difficulty in performing those actions--is somewhat of a constant in the literature of the Angry Young Men. There is a sense of anxiety over living in a society that boasts relative peace and prosperity because that is a scenario that makes it increasingly difficult to establish a masculine identity through war or some other aggressive physical action. For example, Jimmy, in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, experiences this sort of uneasiness concerning his generation of men who, according to him, do not seem to have the opportunity to prove their masculinity by virtuous physical means. Jimmy tells his wife that, "I supposed people of our generation aren't able to die for good causes any longer ... we had all that done for us, in the thirties and forties, when we were still kids ... [t]here aren't any good, brave causes left" (p. 84). We see how a sense of diminished importance in comparison to previous generations of men might be the cause of some anxiety. Doris Lessing seems to have thought so, writing that "there are no great causes left to fight for. Jimmy Porter is doomed to futility because he was born too late for the French Revolution ... [but] because other people have done the fighting for Jimmy Porter in the thirties and forties, there is nothing for it but to stagnate" (p. 200).
Lessing goes on to argue that in the male-authored literature of the 1950's and 60's, more often than not women receive the blame for this stagnation. Arthur Seaton's life is consumed with trying to meet women, and trying to have sex with them while also figuring out how not to become too involved with them. Perhaps this near-obsession with women fills the absence of purpose expressed by Jimmy's desire to fight for a good cause. In some ways Arthur's constant fluctuation between working in the bicycle factory and working on seducing women accomplishes what language cannot. In the novel's opening scene we see how speech attempts to take the place of action yet ultimately fails, and physical action must be performed in order to salvage Arthur's masculinity. The pub appears as some sort of replacement-battlefield (albeit one with women present), with Arthur, following the gender battle with Loudmouth, lying on the ground injured but victorious.
While action becomes privileged over speech in the pub, this hierarchy is reversed for most of the novel causing confusion for the male characters who find it easier to physically establish their gender than to construct it through language. This confusion over whether action or speech is more effective can, in part, be attributed to Sillitoe's position as a British working-class writer in the 1950's. Angela Hague argues that at this time "[t]he Welfare State's attempts to equalize wealth and provide greater educational opportunities for working classes led to an entire new generation of writers from working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds ... and their work more often than not reflected the social upheaval which surrounded them" (p. 212). Sillitoe, who was born to working-class parents in Nottingham, was forced to drop out of school at age fourteen in order to help support his family by working at a bicycle factory (just as Arthur does in the novel). Sillitoe is certainly part of this "new generation of writers" to which Hague refers. This new generation's use of the written word to express their identity and to comment on this social upheaval is reflected in the confusion between action and speech that we see in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. This move away from an entirely active working-class life spent working and consuming becomes, for writers like Sillitoe, contrasted with a focus on written or verbal speech made possible through their inclusion in the literary world of the 1950s. It makes sense, then, that we see a constant back-and-forth between the characters' use of physical action and speech in order to establish their identity, and that their desire to move beyond physicality and towards performative speech would be difficult and sometimes contradictory.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning would be simpler if it presented the male characters with no opportunity of constructing their gender identity through a conventionally masculine action such as battle or through enlistment in the armed forces. However, the novel avoids this simplicity by placing the action of the novel during the Korean War, and yet this sort of physical action is ultimately rejected in favor or language. Arthur declines the opportunity of fighting in another of England's wars, or in using any state-sponsored aggressive action in order to prove his masculinity on the grounds that his enlistment in the Army threatens the individualistic aspect of his gender identity. Arthur Marwick points out that Seaton "has a lazy contempt for the older generation of workers who had all the fight crushed out of them by the Depression" but that he has "a more active contempt for [his current] society and all its institutions" (p. 143). Whereas a war may present Arthur with a much more conventional method of establishing his masculinity, he rejects that option because he was forced to enlist and did not chose to do so of his own free (i.e., masculine) will. Arthur argues that he was "clapped into khaki" (p. 138) at age eighteen, and while he is at shooting practice he begins to have fantasies of shooting "the bastards that put the gun into my hands" (p. 141). This rejection of aggressive action as a means of constructing Arthur's masculinity leads him to privilege the power of speech over any action that is not performed voluntarily, perhaps because he feels in control of his speech while his actions, at least in this example, are dictated by the British government after being conscripted into the army.
Arthur argues for the unrestricted ability to counteract any definition of his identity that is forced upon him by another man through his own self-definition achieved entirely through language or speech. He operates under a strict "us vs. them" or, more accurately, a "me vs. others" ideology that enables him to define himself as an individual. In 1964, Sillitoe published an article in issue of Anarchy that attempted to describe the mindset of the poor in Nottingham. Here Sillitoe explains that "[t]he poor know of only two classes in society ... [t]here are them and us" (p. 127) with "them" being the bosses, the rich, and anyone in authority. (3) Namely, Arthur objects to anyone in a position of authority who attempts to define him. In the most direct example of the power of speech in constructing masculine gender identity, Arthur rails against this imposed verbal definition by arguing that
For Arthur, language can be used by another man in defining one's self, but speech can also be used to counter that definition with a statement of your own identity because it is self-controlled. A "bastard" can define him in any way, yet Arthur privileges speech so much that he believes he can define himself in any way he chooses no matter "whatever people think I am or say I am."
As we can see in comparing the opening pub scene with Arthur's experiences in the all-male Army, speech functions in the novel differently when men attempt to perform their gender exclusively amongst other men without the presence or influence of women. In the pub the community of women and other men pushed Arthur and Loudmouth away from using language to establish their gender and towards physical action, but at work Arthur and Brenda's husband Jack can speak to each other alone. Even though there are women present in the workplace, they do not enter into the private conversation between Jack and Arthur, and therefore cannot influence their gender performance in any significant way. The two men talk about tea, food, Brenda and Jack's children, gambling, sports, and politics. The topics are incredibly varied, but with each topic discussed the men find ways to establish dominance and aggressiveness through their speech. Arthur is man enough to not accept the company's tea that Jack accepts submissively, while Jack argues that because the tea is good enough for others it should be good enough for him, stating that "I'm not fussy." Arthur uses this as a chance to establish his authority and dominance over Jack by telling him to reject the tea, and that "Everybody should be fussy. Some blokes 'ud drink piss if it was handed to 'em in China cups" (p. 30).
Language functions differently in the workplace than it did in the pub. With no group of people around to force Jack and Arthur to physically prove their masculinity, the men feel no need to back-up their statements with any sort of action. With gambling, Arthur's losses inspire him to want to "smash that bookie one of these days," (p. 31) while Jack's non-violent attitude urges Arthur to be calm and reasonable. When the topic is changed to politics, Jack warns Arthur (who had called Jack a communist the previous week) that fellow communists would not approve of Jack's belief in luck and superstition. Arthur replies defiantly that "if they don't like it, they can lump it" (p. 31). Similarly, when Arthur joins his cousins in a poker game, the men feel no need to physically establish their gender and use only language to perform that function. The group of men sit and play poker while talking to each other in ways that are similar to Jack and Arthur's conversation in the factory. Just as there were women present in the workplace, Arthur's poker game shares the same physical space as his Aunt Ada, and Cousins Pamela and Jane. In order to insure that the male sphere remains uninfluenced by femininity, the male cousins move into another room and make sure to lock the door "to foil any spontaneous and mischievous migration from the living-room" (p. 81) before they sit down to play their game. Once the room is made all-male we see again how speech alone is sufficient in constructing masculinity. Even verbal threats of physical action are sufficient, as Dave shouts that "[a]nybody cheats in this 'ouse, and they get smashed" (p. 81). Again, no action follows since these words are enough to establish masculine dominance.
In this male-only sphere language functions without the need of action in order to prove its validity, yet this speech-act can work to both construct and challenge one's gender performance. Arthur assures the other men that "I've never cheated in my life, I'll tell yer that now" a performative utterance that establishes the idea that "I am an honest man because I say I am" (p. 82). However, if language is sufficient in constructing one's gender, then language can also be used to challenge that construction. After Arthur claims an honest persona, his cousin Bert uses another performative utterance in order to challenge Arthur's gender identity. Bert argues that one should "[n]ever trust a bloke as says that," (p. 82) a verbal challenge to Arthur that, perhaps because they are in a male-only sphere, also requires no physical action in order to prove its value.
In these scenes we also see how language use differs when men are only talking to other men, and more specifically when language, and not action, becomes all that is needed in establishing masculinity. Slang and cursing increases and the language becomes less constricted by grammar rules. "You" becomes "yo" and men and women become "blokes" and "tarts," thus defining these male characters as working-class through their use of language. Peter Hitchcock looks at the dialogism of Sillitoe's novel and argues that "[i]f we propose that Alan Sillitoe writes a working-class novel in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, it is not because the novel can be reduced to a single class utterance, but because of the way he juxtaposes different language styles within one and the same work" (p. 59). What is important for my argument is not how Sillitoe's novel simply illustrates heteroglossia, but how inside the realm of what we may call "working-class language," language use differs depending on the location of the speech, and gender of the speaker and the listener. Arthur uses slang, cursing, and other characteristics of working-class language regardless of his audience, but we see here that language becomes more embellished when its function becomes imperative. In the workplace or at the poker table language amongst men is sufficient in establishing their gender, and when no physical action is required then more attention is paid to language. The men's speech does not shows signs of being less educated, but more stylized and intricately constructed because more attention is being paid to what is being said.
So far I have examined how masculinity is constructed amongst men when there are women present, and how it functions when women are present but unable to interfere or have any influence. The topics that the male characters feel comfortable talking about with each other have included sports, work, politics, and gambling. In the novel, certain topics cannot be discussed amongst men; chief among them is Arthur's confession that he is having an affair with Brenda, Jack's wife. Earlier in the novel, as Arthur is visiting a pub with Jack, he wishes to steer the conversation away from Brenda, with whom he had sex earlier that evening. In an attempt to relieve his guilt, Jack tries to establish a competitive and aggressive banter with some men playing darts, however he fails to attract their attention. Arthur then notices that "the more Jack drank ... the less he opened his mouth to say things" (p. 55). Jack's decreasing level of verbal communication feeds on Arthur's guilt, as he begins to feel a strong need to confess his sins to him, and wishes that he could,
For Arthur and Jack, sports are an acceptable topic of conversation, while adultery is not. Language use fails Arthur here, and because of this he perceives that both his and Jack's masculinity suffers. He begins to worry that Jack knows about the affair, and this assumed knowledge causes Arthur to think that Jack's masculinity is damaged.
To complicate this further, Jack's position as cuckolded husband is, for Arthur, deserving of disrespect rather than sympathy. Arthur calls these types of men "slow husbands" and describes them as having "something lacking in them" (p. 41). Kalliney argues that Arthur's view positions "slow husbands" as "somehow less masculine, deficient in fulfilling their duties as a husband and a man" (p. 101). For Arthur it is not that he is having an affair with his friend's wife that threatens his own masculinity, but the idea that he has to keep this affair secret and silent. Arthur wishes to make the fact of his affair audible, to speak about it openly and freely, yet he finds that he cannot use his speech in this fashion and must revert back to more acceptable topics for male conversation. In comparing this scene to the novel's opening gender competition between Arthur and Loudmouth, the situation between Jack and Arthur is somewhat reversed. Physical action, by which I mean the act of sexual intercourse between Arthur and Brenda, is not sufficient in establishing Arthur's sense of masculinity. It seems to Arthur that to be able to speak openly about this sexual relationship would solidify his masculine gender, while doing so would contradictorily damage Jack's masculine pride even further. Neither the physical, corporeal act of sexual intercourse nor the ability to speak freely about this act is sufficient for either man's sense of male pride and authority. Instead both men are in an entirely unsatisfactory position between the insufficiencies of physical action, and the frustrating inability to speak about that action.
MEN TALKING TO WOMEN
When men speak to other men, they find frustration and complication when attempting to perform their masculinity through language. Male characters also find it equally difficult and problematic when speaking to women. The nature of this difficulty could rest in Arthur's sometimes simplistic--and other times contradictory--views of women. Avtar Singh writes that "women are for Arthur simply good or bad, attractive or repulsive, creative or destructive, and he has no idea that they can be both at the same time" (p. 47). While he views men, or their masculine gender, to be complex and contradictory, he sees women as being simple and easy to understand, even when he is provided with evidence to contradict this misogynistic belief. For example, upon learning that Brenda is pregnant with his child Arthur responds by enacting a conventional role of male financial provider by attempting to give her money for an abortion; yet he finds this performance of his masculine gender to be inadequate and his masculinity threatened by Brenda's refusal to take the money and saying "That isn't what I meant, and you know it" (p. 70). Arthur's simplistic view of women makes him incapable--or in the very least unwilling--to recognize the current changing gender roles that have given more agency to women. His insistence on performing his gender through actions, such as his attempts to be the money provider, prove unwanted and unnecessary largely because he still views his masculine role in the same way Hoggart describes earlier generations of men.
Finding the role of economic provider to be insufficient and his exact role in Brenda's pregnancy to be unclear, Arthur proceeds to use speech in order to perform his masculine identity in a socially acceptable method. We are told that Arthur "cursed out loud, both because he wanted her to think he was suffering with her, and to force himself into an unhappy mood" (p. 70). According to Keith Wilson, Arthur's vocal outburst is a sign of "a post-industrial mechanization of human institutions that makes apparently anarchic outburst the only possible means of personal expression" (p. 415). In order to further make sense of Arthur's obscene response, we can again use Lessing's assessment of the Angry Young Men as being those who are left to stagnate because all of the fighting has been done for them in previous generations. Arthur, we can assume, understands that in previous generations, where action was valued far more than speech when it came to performing one's masculinity, his offering of money to Brenda would have completed his role in this pregnancy/abortion scenario. However, in this post-war society his role as money provider is neither needed (Brenda had earlier purchased pills with money borrowed from a female friend) nor is it sufficient. "You'd better think of something" (p. 70), Brenda warns Arthur, thereby situating his thoughts and speech in a higher position of importance than his actions. His use of speech in order to curse "out loud" works in place of his actions in order to position him in a role of concerned man, both in appearance, in that "he wanted her to think he was suffering," and in corporeal reality "to force himself into an unhappy mood" (p. 70).
To make Arthur's negotiation between action and speech even more complicated, he decides to privilege action over speech again by stating that he will "see an aunt" who will "know how to get rid of it" (p. 70). Arthur's visit with his aunt provides us with the novel's most complicated example of how male speech is both constructive and limiting in terms of establishing Arthur's masculinity. He talks to his aunt about his male cousins, work, his father, and his clothing. On these topics Arthur talks unrestrictedly, using what Hitchcock defines as working-class language, and what I previously argued was a more advanced, embellished, and stylized form of language that results from an increasing amount of attention being paid to what is being spoken. When he finally comes to the topic of Brenda's pregnancy, at first Arthur can only communicate it in terms of the pregnancy being another man's problem, but the sense of masculine ambivalence comes through despite his minor and transparent deceptions.
Arthur tells his aunt that,
The causes of Arthur's difficulty in communicating to his aunt are many. First, by telling her that the problem is another man's and not his own, Arthur's indirect speech results in a confusion of his own gender identity in that, if his story were true, Arthur would be performing the masculinity of another man who apparently has failed to live up to his perceived male responsibilities by taking care of the problem himself. Related to this, Arthur's frustrations with language in this section also stems from his ability to use that language in order to disavow himself of responsibility for his own actions. In other words, by Arthur placing the responsibility for getting a woman pregnant out of wedlock on another man he attempts here to place speech over action through his belief that if he says "it isn't mine" then, for all practical purposes, he is not the biological father of the unborn child. Secondly, he has ventured beyond the socially-acceptable topics for male speech by bringing up both out of wedlock pregnancy and abortion. Third, Arthur has admitted a failure of his own masculinity by confessing to his aunt that he does not know what to do, and that he needs the guidance of a woman in order to successfully perform his masculine gender. Finally, Arthur's frustrations with language in this section also stems from his inability to use that language in order to disavow himself of responsibility over his own actions. All four aspects of this conversation join together in limiting Arthur's ability to effectively and sincerely communicate his problems to his aunt, while complicating his effort to negotiate a balance between speech and action.
Furthermore, as Hitchcock points out, the word "abortion" does not appear in the text, but is instead replaced by a series of euphemisms. Noting that "many critics to date have overlooked the centrality of Arthur's relationship with Brenda and this [abortion] scene" Hitchcock argues that "with an acumen typical of his masculinist bravado, Arthur puts every name he can to what must happen except the one that is its most powerful signifier" (p. 71). Arthur's inability to name the act again points to the limits of language's ability to effectively construct Arthur's masculine identity, but not in a conscious refusal to use the term, as Hitchcock argues. Hitchcock attributes this reluctance to use the word "abortion" to Arthur's "masculinist bravado" but he fails to see that his avoidance of that term stems from Arthur's inability to reconcile his masculinity with his direct involvement with the termination of the pregnancy. Arthur's hegemonic understanding of masculinity's relation to pregnancy is solely to be a provider, whether that be the providing of sperm cells during the act of sexual intercourse, or the providing of money for the abortion procedure, or even the providing of money, food, and shelter if the decision was made to keep the baby. However, the novel places Arthur in the middle of the abortion procedure, situated firmly in the domestic sphere alongside of Brenda and her friend Em'ler. As Sally Minogue and Andrew Palmer argue, this scene reverses gender roles momentarily as "Brenda lolls in her bath, a modern day goddess ... while Arthur waits in attendance, the obedient but sulky servant" (p. 115). Unable to understand his role in this situation, Arthur attempts to use language as a means of providing help. Arthur offers assistance, but is rejected by Em'ler who tells him that she "can manage all right without your help, thank you very much" (p. 93). Having both his actions and his speech rejected, Arthur stubbornly attempts to provide once more by giving Em'ler money for her help, which she also rejects by telling him "No, I don't want any of your money. You keep it. You'll need it one day" (p. 94).
Interestingly, Karel Reisz's 1960 film adaptation of Saturday Night Sunday Morning reverses this situation and places Arthur outside during the abortion procedure. In the film the women physically remove Arthur from inside the house while he nervously waits outside smoking. Arthur is somewhat immobile outside the home until his cousin Bert arrives at which point both men begin walking around town silently, with almost no speech between them. Arthur Marwick points out that this change was forced upon the filmmakers by the British Censor Board who were offended by "the slap-happy and successful termination of the pregnancy" (quoted in Marwick, p. 144), yet this does not explain the changes made in the scene, notably the exclusion of Arthur from the abortion procedure, and his placement outside on the street where he is given a male companion. (4) While there is no record of why these changes were made by the filmmakers, what this change effectively accomplishes is that it solves Arthur's dilemma concerning his role in the abortion procedure. In the novel Arthur's placement inside the house is ambiguous and uncomfortable as he is unsure of what he is supposed to do, or even what he is able to do in order to assist in the abortion. His understanding of male responsibilities and gender roles does not include a direct presence in the abortion procedure, and therefore Arthur's discomfort in the scene, at least in part, is due to his inability to reconcile his masculinity to his physical presence in the home during the abortion. The film gives him an action to perform (walking around town with this cousin) and separates him from what he sees as a largely female-centered sphere (the insides of the home). Most interestingly, even though the film solves Arthur's gender identity crisis, it also points out the limits of male speech as both Arthur and Bert walk silently, unwilling or unable to talk about the issues of out of wedlock pregnancy or abortion.
Following the abortion scene Arthur is faced with another scenario in which his ability to prove his masculinity through either language or action is threatened, or at least complicated. This complicate arises due to the appearance of a woman whose gender identity is not conventionally feminine, and could be interpreted as more conventionally masculine. While going for a walk Arthur and his brother Fred happen upon the scene of a thwarted robbery in which the woman has caught a man attempting to break into a business in order to steal flowers for his dead mother's grave. The interference of a "uniformed woman" who "had taken command" (pp. 114-115) causes anger and frustration for Arthur who wishes to take command of the situation himself, or at least see the situation in control of another man rather than a woman. The woman asserts her dominance by taking aggressive action when she physically secures the man by his wrist and calls for the police. After attempting to intervene in the matter, Arthur recognizes that his actions are ineffective and turns towards language in order to assert his dominance. In what Singh calls "one of his most virulent outbursts" (p. 47) Arthur and Fred attempt to understand the situation:
"I wouldn't have thought it possible," Fred cried in a hopeless rage. "How could anyone do a thing like that?"
"Because she's a bitch and a whore," Arthur cursed. "She's got no heart in her. She's a stone, a slab o' granite, a bastard, a Blood-tub, a potato face, a swivel-eyed get, a Rat-clock." (p. 119)
Faced with the ineffectiveness of his actions, Arthur takes control of the situation by forcing upon the woman his own linguistic definition of her gender identity. The novel gives Arthur's anger the last word on the matter, and here we can see again how the literature of the Angry Young Men provided an opportunity for them to voice their frustrations, no matter how misogynistic, by giving authority to performative speech. In all of Arthur's dealings with women, a negotiation takes place, successfully or not, between the effectiveness of speech and action. The power and authority found through physical action occasionally fails, and speech is made difficult and sometimes impossible so that there is no clear answer in the novel to how masculine identity could or should be constructed.
In almost every example of men speaking to either men or women, Sillitoe's novel presents similar frustrations that arise from trying to balance action and speech in order to perform one's masculine gender. The political and economic realities of 1950's Britain make the understanding of masculine gender, or rather the understanding of how men should talk and behave complicated to say the least. The post-World War II generation of men were experiencing a move away from Hoggart's simple pre-World War II definition of gender roles that positioned the man as economic provider and master of the house, and with women being defined as the pivot of the home, and towards a murky, undefined set of gender roles and expectations. Whether discussing sports, politics, drinking, sex, or pregnancy the male characters of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning find themselves caught between the often insufficient ability to establish gender through language, and the inability, and sometimes insufficiency, of physical action.
The men and women of the post-war generation were faced with shifting gender roles and responsibilities, and the reasons for these changes were many. With many women entering the workforce and playing vital roles in the economic sphere, a sense of confusion concerning gender roles may have resulted for many man and women after the war had ended. Relative affluence and peace somewhat diminished the importance of action in establishing one's masculine identity namely because it was no longer such a struggle to provide for one's family as it had been in previous generations. Also, increased opportunities for women, both educational and professional, created more notions of gender equality that threatened the type of traditional gender roles that positioned the woman as submissive and home-bound, and the man as sole economic provider.
Texts such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Osborne's Look Back in Anger reflect a feeling of ambiguity and frustration amongst men who were trying to establish their gender identity without having a clear understanding of what that identity currently entailed. The men of the post-war generation experienced a level of anxiety about the effectiveness and importance of speech versus the more traditional methods of action, and the literature of the Angry Young Men became a tool for working-class writers to both examine that frustration and ambiguity, and to position speech as more effective than action. Amongst only men, the male characters of Sillitoe's novel largely depend on speech to both construct and contest their traditional view of gender identity, and, as I have shown, they sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. However, in conversations with women this reliance on speech and/or action to establish their more traditional and conservative gender roles becomes even more problematic because they are faced with the shifting gender identities experienced by the post-World War II generation. This struggle between the effectiveness of speech versus action, and the examination of changing gender roles is certainly not solved by the end of Sillitoe's novel, yet we see how the literature of the Angry Young Men focused on this issue, and used language, effectively or not, to make sense of their changing male roles.
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(1) As Nick Bentley points out, it is important to stress that "although there was a diverse range of youth and youth cultural forms manifest in Britain in the 1950s ... the predominant representation of these groups in the media and social analyses focused on white, working class, male members of those subcultures" (2010, pp. 16-17).
(2) The Movement was a name given to a group of English writers of the 1950s (Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, John Wain, amongst others) whose writing was thought of as largely anti-Romantic, and who focused on simplicity and a directness of style.
(3) Stanley S. Atherton (1979) argues that this "us vs. them" attitude informs most of Sillitoe's fiction, writing that "conflict with them is a working-class habit of mind ... and this belief finds widespread expression in the thoughts, words, and actions of his characters" (p. 74).
(4) Marwick also notes that the Board of Censors demanded that the language of the novel be cleaned up for the film. While this is outside the bounds of my argument, it would be interesting to examine the differences between the written and the spoken word in terms of either's effectiveness. The novel was published with this 'language' intact, but had it removed for the film when that language could be heard and not read.
DANIEL LEWIS, Metropolitan Community College.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the author at email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
the myth of an impending classlessness [brought about by the conception of comparative affluence] effectively delimited public discourse by fixing attention on the most conspicuous indications of significant change--higher employment and wages (relative to the Depression, though), and the accelerated consumer culture, symbolized by the teenager. (p. 185)
He was nothing at all when people tried to tell him what he was. Not even his own name was enough, thought it might be on his pay-book. What am I? he wondered. A six-foot pit-prop that wants a pint of ale. That's what I am. And if any knowing bastard says that's what I am, I'm a dynamite-dealer, Stengun seller, hundred-ton tank trader, a capstan lathe operator wanting to blow the Army to Kingdom Cum. I'm me and nobody else, and whatever people think I am or say I am, that's what I'm not. (p. 147)
shake his hand and tell him everything, tell him how good he thought he--Jack--was, that he had the guts and that he was all right, that he didn't like to see him suffer because of a looney thing like this, of a woman coming between them. Instead he drew him into a conversation about football. (p. 56)
'It's a mate of mine at wok. You see, he's got a young woman into trouble, and he don't know what to do. He wanted me to help him, but I don't know what to do either. So I thought I'd come and see you' ... 'Well' he said, 'ain't there summat as can be done? I meant to say'--but he didn't know how to say it; he had never spoken so openly to her before, and wondered why he had expected it to be so easy--'well, sometimes people do things to stop it. They get rid of it by taking pills or something, don't they?' (p. 78)
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