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Book Review: Being a man in “The Norton Reader” by Goldthwaite Melissa

Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics



The book, the “Norton Reader” edited by Goldthwaite Melissa is basically a collection of diverse essays that range from classic to modern times. The full edition of the book has 155 essays while the shorter version has 95. The additional 60 essays were written in the last decade. They range from popular culture, speeches, op-eds, literary essays, and critical reading. This book has been ideally used in many colleagues and learning institution for composition classes and English lessons. These essays offer students opportunity to explore critical rhetorical contexts that enable them to become responsive and curious readers. The focus of this review is on the essay, “Being a Man” which is authored by Paul Theroux. This essay argues that man has been oppressed in the American society in gender perspective.


In this essay, Paul Theroux observes that in many societies, men have been extensively oppressed chiefly by gender expectations. This is despite the fact that a lot of these men are living in a society where women are less valued compared to men. These gender expectations have created gaps and resulted into men becoming latent rapists, sadists, social misfits, moral degeneration and even marriage breakdowns. This breakdown according to the author is the result of the exceedingly high social pressures on gender expectations where men are required to be brave, unfeeling, and stupid and not to think too much. In his observation, this idea of men being labeled as fetishists is destructive to men in psychological perspective. It is these expectations that have caused men to reject a section of their identity and resort to what the society considers moral degeneration.

In his piece Theroux observes that a number of men do not want to be identified with the gender because of what the society expects from them. In particular, the author does not see the notion of making young boys believe that they are already men as reasonable. He laments that “the American idea of manhood is awful” (Theroux 168). He argues that although men have lost a myriad of things including their sense of belonging in the society, nobody seems to be in the know or caring about it. While many men believe that women are depriving men of their rightful places or that women are increasingly convincing men to give these rights, many do not know how the situation can be salvaged so as to restore the men-folk.

Based on the above articulations by Paul Theroux, it is crucial to reflect on whether man has actually lost a sense of identity in American perspective. In agreement with the author, it is evident aside from gendered expectations that the gender equality calls which has seen women taking up jobs have seen a number of men jobless or being subjected to lower positions against women. Interestingly, a lot of women do not want to contribute even in family affairs like paying bills or supporting men’s financial causes despite the fact that they are working and earning good money. Sometimes, these women are even in a higher position financially but still want men to contribute for everything in their family including their (women’s) personal effects. Isn’t this one oppression of the male gender? Therefore, the author’s arguments are in order.


In the long run, the negative effects of social pressures instituted against men do not only affect men but also women and the society at large. This effect is both directly and indirectly. Directly, these men will not become as productive as they are supposed to due to the lost ego and so, women will suffer as their bills or regular provisions become unmet. Indirectly, these women will not have emotional or psychological relationship as it’s supposed to be in normal circumstances. These explain why the author urges women to be considerate as much as possible for their men’s welfare, both physically and psychologically so as to sustain the wellbeing of the family and society at large. In any society, when men become unproductive, the economic and social conditions have to dwindle.


Theroux, Paul. “Being a Man.” The Norton Reader. 11th edn. Ed. Linda Peterson & John C. Brereton. New York: Norton, 2004. 233-35.

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