Kevin Gleason

Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lingyan Yang, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

David Downing, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Christopher Orchard, D.Phil.


This study is a critical analysis of Tobias Wolff’s presentation of masculinity in his short stories, memoirs, novel, and novella. I argue that Wolff’s works highlight performances of masculinity that are constructed, fragile, and often traumatizing and that his work operates as a critique of hegemonic masculinity.

This dissertation examines three iterations of masculinity in Wolff’s texts: nascent masculinity, hypermasculinity, and man-womanliness. The young and adolescent boys who perform a nascent masculinity often rely on deeply flawed models to construct their masculinity as both survivors and perpetrators of trauma. Wolff’s presentation of nascent masculinity critiques aspects of masculinity which are often hidden by the more practiced adult performances of masculinity. Men in Wolff’s texts who perform a hypermasculinity domineer and traumatize less powerful individuals including children, women, minorities, and other men who are outside of hegemonic masculinity. Wolff’s portrayal of hypermasculinity critiques the cycle of increasingly violent behavior that men enact to achieve and maintain dominance. Along with these two negative iterations of masculinity, Wolff also presents a positive one: man-womanliness. Men and boys who perform man-womanliness break the cycles of oppression and violence and perform a masculinity that resists the use of domination by incorporating traits often associated with femininity. Man-womanliness remains robust and resilient even when emerging from traumatic experience. My analysis draws from Wolff’s short story collections In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981), Back in the World (1985), The Night in Question (1996), Our Story Begins (2008), his two memoirs This Boy’s Life (1989) and In Pharaoh’s Army (1994), his novella The Barrack’s Thief (1984), and his novel Old School (2003).

As a critical lens, I draw on theorists who highlight the constructed, fragile, and fluid nature of masculinity. As a secondary theoretical approach, I engage concepts from trauma theory that intersect with masculinity.