28 February 2023 at 5:18:22 am
Professor of English
Brian Rugen is a professor of English at Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan. His research interests include literature and language teaching; discourse and identity; and, literature and sport. In his spare time, he enjoys long-distance running, bicycle touring, and learning how to coach baseball in a foreign country.
Masculinity and sport in the short stories of Tom Perrotta
Tom Perrotta; sport; masculinity; identity; character
Tom Perrotta is an American novelist and short-story writer. His novels have received numerous accolades, and two have been made into Academy Award-nominated Hollywood films. He has published two short story collections and has served as the editor for The Best American Short Stories 2012 series. His ability to chronicle the everyday life of characters living in American suburbia has led to comparisons with some of America’s best short story writers, including John Updike, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. One common theme across much of his work is the theme of masculinity and masculine identities, particularly in the context of sport.
Scholarly work on masculine identities in sport has traditionally been informed by the concept
of hegemonic masculinity. Theorists note that there is a hierarchal relationship between different forms of masculinity and hegemonic masculinity represents the normative and culturally dominant form of masculinity in sport. In recent years, however, inclusive masculinity theory (IMT) has been used in the context of sport to challenge notions of hegemonic masculinity, highlighting the social acceptance of men who may embrace identities that have been traditionally seen as feminine, or, less masculine. Increasingly, then, the field has recognized the challenges involved in understanding the complex performance of masculine identities in sport.
In this paper I argue that the short stories of Tom Perrotta, specifically ones about sport, or set within a sporting culture, reflect these very complexities of contemporary masculinities. In particular, I examine three of Perrotta's stories: “The Smile on Happy Chang's Face,” “Senior Season,” and “Me and Carlos.” In these stories, Perrotta has created narrators who not only fashion traditional, hegemonic masculine identities, but also deal with challenges to those masculine identities in violent and destructive ways. Through the character-driven narration in the three stories, different levels of agency and self-awareness are also on display. At the same time, all three stories include characters who challenge traditional notions of masculine identity in sport. And although all three characters remain on the periphery of a dominant sporting culture in each of the stories, I argue that the characters act as foils for the narrator, subtlety critiquing a dominant hegemonic masculinity, while becoming the true heroes of the stories.