In the novel, The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe, Guy tells a story of a group of cowboys on their way to finding their stolen horses which show significant comparisons to the inaccurate but followed/Practiced rule of masculinity in the world we live in right now Known as Hyper Masculinity. The unspoken actions of the characters in the novel, show truth to the reader about the mentality of a cowboy in the 1800’s and the common definition of Hyper Masculinity in modern society today. “In my own mind, I think the historical novel is about contemporary issues in disguise” (Wyile) this is a written interview piece about Guy and his writing styles and insight on his novels. This quote by Guy Vanderhaeghe states that the topic or opinions implied in the novels he writes have relevance to the present, and are significant to todays society. Hyper masculinity is “a sociological term denoting exaggerated forms of masculinity, virility, and physicality” (Britannica) with characteristics of viewing violence to be manly, perceiving danger to be a sign of power and sensation, ungentlemanly behaviour toward women, and the rule that showing emotion is the opposite of manliness. These characteristics are seen throughout the novel The Englishman’s Boy and are crucial to understanding and character development in the novel. Harry Vincent is one of the main characters in the 1920’s timeline in the novel, he shows no traits resembling those of a “real man” and masks himself as one to gain respect and fulfil his passion to become a writer. Tom Hardwick is the most ruthless and emotionless man in the novel, and just so happens to be the leader of the cowboy group known as the “Wolfers”, allowing him to influence and be followed by the brute crew he leads. The wolfers are followers of Hardwick and can be considered just as bad, showing a crude resemblance to the traits of hyper masculinity on multiple occasions throughout the novel. Guy’s novel shows that the perception of Masculinity has not changed throughout history, this being witnessed through Harry Vincent’s struggles with public perception, Tom Hardwick’s Portrayal, and the wolfers group actions.
In the more recent timeline of the novel, Harry Vincent is a young writer in hopes of making it in Hollywood with his passion of becoming a script writer, but he is constantly belittled for the soul fact that he has a physical disability. Harry has a very distinguishable limp in his walk that makes him out to be a weak, easily judged, and an easily manipulated person. This is not the case with harry, the way he is viewed by the public in the novel due to his disability makes him out to be lesser of a man, as him having this disability denotes him not having the very high up on the list trait of manliness, exceptional physical appearance and capability. Harry lives in a time where men in the west are judged by their abilities and strength, thereby depicting cowboys as the manliest of men. As seen in the novel, harry is not a cowboy, and the “male” actions that harry is incapable of doing due to his disability are emasculating toward him. An example of this is the war, in 1914 harry was looked passed as a recruit soldier for the war because he was seen as unable to effectively aid in the battlefield. Although harry was grateful for his limp at the time, for it had saved him from the deadly conditions of war, he was viewed as a lesser man for being unable to assist his country in battle.
Harrys disability was the automatic factor as to why the outcome of situations had occurred by everyone involved. Damon Ira Chance is the owner of a movie production company. When Chance speaks to Harry, it is made clear by Harry that it was his disability that had gained the attention of chance and not his writing capabilities. The reasoning for chance’s generous offer towards harry was due to the fact that he had thought tat because harry has this unfortunate disability, his morals would lead him to acceptance of what his true intentions for the film are. It was seen in the novel that in Chance’s eyes, harry would be broken as a “man” due to his limp and therefor making it easier for harry to commit evil and dishonest acts. Because Chance is a higher class person and well respected, Harry finds it necessary to prove to him that he is not a lesser man. Harry, about to have an affair with a woman, denies her of sexual intercourse and is immediately accused by her of his limp being the reasoning for his backing out. This implies that her interpretation of this event, is harry cannot preform sexual acts because of his disability, therefore he couldn’t be a “Real Man”. That not being the reasoning for his backing out, he is still viewed as a lesser man because of it. Shortly after chance comes knocking at the door and harry feels that he must convince him of recently having an affair by telling her to lay on the bed and strip while unbuckling his belt. He does this because he believes that he must prove to chance of his manliness to further gain his respect, and to change the way he is viewed to the public. People today go through the same struggles as Harry, especially teenagers, who most feel pressured to be the “cool Kid” by portraying a false public image as Harry did. These struggles Harry must go through to achieve his life goals and succeed in them, is evidence that there is a biased conception of what it is to be a man, it effects him in the public aspect and in his own mental health and his self perception, ultimately being denied the title of a man throughout the novel.
Tom Hardwick is the leader of the wolfers pack and can be perceived as one of the “manliest” cowboys out there, according to the stereotypical requirements to being a man. Tom shows heartless leadership throughout the novel, having no sympathy for any weak members. The saying “your team is as strong as your weakest link”, and Tom seems to have taken the sting to heart. On their crusade while crossing the river, Hank, one of the wolfers, who had seemed to be the weakest of the bunch, was made an example of to the rest of the crew. Having the oldest and slowest horse, this crew member was not able to cross the river on his horse and ended up drowning in the lake. After being saved by two other wolfers, tom had no sympathy towards him. He had realized that Hanks horse was Blind, after Evans saying “give the man a chance”(93) trying to defend Hank, Tom responds with “he ain’t a Goddamn man”(93), and continues to insult and belittle hank. This shows how high Toms standards for a man are, and how anyone who seems to be lesser of a man cannot be with the wolfers. Tom then shoots Hanks horse and he along with the wolfers leave him stranded without saying a word.
This is a perfect representation of Hyper masculinity while three traits are seen in toms actions to prove it, with the violence and emotionless expressions tom gives, and the danger he put everyone through crossing the river which seemed to be some what of a test to find the true men of the group. As Tom makes an example of Hank. This scene in the novel shows just how evil and corrupt this way of thinking is, and by doing these things, he is implementing fear into the rest of the wolfers, further enforcing his dominance and leadership to the group. This is seen everywhere in todays world, with social hierarchy everywhere, not being able to meet the requirements of a man as the rest of the group will inevitably get you left behind or kicked out. The extreme lengths Tom Hardwick goes through, to be respected are fuelled by the traits of masculinity, making him not a man, but a villain, that can be, to a certain extent, compared to a bully or an enemy in todays society.
One of the worst traits connected to hyper masculinity is the behaviour a man shows towards women. This trait is shown in almost all the wolfers when Tom takes one of the surviving aboriginal women from the massacre, and brings her to a cabin where the rest of the wolfers are. Once brought to the cabin, she was sexually abused constantly as the wolfers took turns raping her. The Englishman’s Boy, having no intentions on doing anything to her was noticed by the rest of the wolfers. Him not having the desire to rape the woman showed signs opposite of a man, and was then forced in a room with her, being expected to crack under the pressure of the wolfers and rape her.
When offered scotty (a wolfer) denied. Tom took offence for he had viewed the situation as a reward, Tom responded with “Why the hell not” and Scotty replied with “I am a gentleman- the definition of a gentleman is someone who never causes pain” (300). this is the only time in the novel where the traits of a true gentleman was shown, but Tom had his way of manliness to protect, so he did so by beating Scotty every time he denied to go in the room with her. This scene is comparable to a recent event that occurred in the late 2018, an incident in an all boys private school, where a boy was taken by a group of school mates and sexually assaulted in a sports locker room. This happened with no remorse by the offenders and was laughed joked upon as it was in the novel. This is a literal life comparison to the novel, correlating Hyper masculinity in the novel to the real modern world.
The Englishman’s boy is a novel that distinctly implements the traits of hyper masculinity into the characters within it. The novel gives prospective on Hyper masculinity, and undeniably shows the reader that the stereotypical traits toward being a man are not accurate whatsoever. Viewing modern society, and comparing it to events in the novel through Harry Vincent, Tom Hardwick, and the Wolfers, it is evident that Hyper Masculinity has been present all through history and is still here with us today.