“A Man’s Journey”: Masculinity, Maze, and Biography in Carol Shields’s Larry’s Party

Nina van Gessel

Abstract


In Carol Shields’s Larry’s Party, postmodern instability and the “unmasculine” confusion of protagonist Larry Weller’s progress are imagined in a radically new form of biographical text: one whose narrative fluidity and indeterminacy Shields models on the maze. Larry occupies a privileged and mobile social status, yet he fails to enact the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity identified by theorists like R.W. Connell as strength, wilfulness, determination, and competence. Larry thus supports the thesis expounded by theorists Susan Faludi, John MacInnes, Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson, that society’s univalent conception of masculinity should be replaced by multiple masculinities, a phenomenon that is beginning to register more frequently in literature. Larry’s labyrinthine life path and unconventional performance of gender are subversive of both normative conceptions of masculinity in particular and humanist essentialist conceptions of unified, enduring selfhood in general. This postmodern approach to life-writing destabilizes the assumptions of the biographical genre.

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