Thursday, October 24, 2019

Frank Norris’ work “Vandover and the Brute” Essay

The development of sexuality in Frank Norris’ work â€Å"Vandover and the Brute† is an interesting reflection of the Puritanical views that Americans have towards sexuality, promiscuity and the consequences thereof. The importance of this book is that it openly examined this value system in 1914, a time when Vandover’s behavior, even without the lycanthropy, was considered brutish and improper. Yet the American environment was in the midst of the first â€Å"sexual† revolution as many young women of the 1920s would don clothing that revealed their flesh and boyish haircuts for the â€Å"Roaring Twenties†. Again in the 1960s, the next major era of women’s rights movements, sexuality would be tied to freedom and women would equate burning their bras and free love with freedom and independence. This book then is a look at how a young man might acquire the values of the community around him without ever being taught directly that sex is dirty and that women are somehow degraded when they participate in it. The interesting thing about Norris’ work, which was published after his death, is that Vandover managed to acquire these misguided notions of sexuality on his own. In the first chapter, the author points out that during his adolescent years Vandover’s only female contact was with the housekeeper with whom he was constantly at odds. In addition, because his father would not discuss sexuality with him, he was forced to turn to an Encyclopedia Britannica to answers his questions about women and sex. He was subjected to the crude jokes and unconscious sexual immaturity of boys going through puberty, but without a mother, governess or other strong feminine influence to teach him right from wrong. Indeed, if one assumes that the author was in fact trying to make a statement about society rather than just tell a story about a maladjusted young man in the late 19th century, it becomes clear from the very first chapters that one of Norris’ indictments is against Vandover’s father and his unwillingness to talk to his son about the facts of life. In dead, one of the underlying themes through the entire work is the idea that people only hint at their feelings and do not openly discuss the sexual nature of humanity even though it is a significant portion of their lives. One of the most interesting facets of this book is the discussion of Vandover’s first sexual encounter and his embarrassment and guilt over it. If the situation had perhaps been handled with some amount of discussion, it might have prevented the events that would later occur, including Vandover’s seduction of a â€Å"good girl†, her subsequent suicide, and his eventuality degradation to gambling and alcoholism. The author’s message that society needs to quit hiding its own nature and covering for the high class when they engage in reckless behavior is evident mid-book when Haight explains to Vandover that several of the young, classy women at a cotillion were drunk. Haight tells his friends that society should call a spade a spade and that when women of class drink too much they should be considered drunk as much as any man. This dual criticism of the means by which people receive a sexual education and the double-standards applied to men and women is perhaps the most interesting passage in the book. Another interesting idea that Norris sets forth through the theme of the book and the story itself is that Vandover’s sexuality and promisecuity are to blame for the turn of events for him, including the loss of his family fortune and his new role as a werewolf. Interestingly, rather than approaching the concept that Vandover’s situation might be a result of his addictive behavior including his sexually predatory nature, his alcoholism and his gambling addiction, the reader is left with the idea that the bad things which happen to him are consequences of his sexuality alone. Though Norris portrays Vandover throughout the novel as a weak-willed individual who is too lazy to work hard and get what he wants out of life, everything in his life is blamed on his sexuality and his desire for women of a certain type. The fact that Vandover does not settle down with a fine, upstanding woman, regardless of his feelings for her is seen as an affront to society as a whole. The most important messages about sexuality that are relayed via â€Å"Vandover and The Brute† are the concepts that sexuality exists as it does because people don’t talk about it and that there are consequences for sexual behavior. The first concept is perhaps the most intriguing because it still applies now, almost 100 years later. Though we do not have the same level of closed-mouth attitudes toward sex as Vandover encountered, it is not uncommon even in the modern day to find parents of high school students who do not want their children exposed to sex education for fear that the education will lead to promiscuity. Instead of teaching real information regarding the dangers, both physical and emotional, of beginning a sexual relationship at the wrong time, too many parents concentrate on the Puritanical approach to sex education, associating it with guilt and sin. Young people are not properly educated regarding the safety issues of sex and sexually transmitted diseases continue at epidemic levels when they could be prevented with adequate discussion of the topic. Ironically, as we approach the 100-year mark for the publication, Norris’ primary criticism of the teaching of sexuality still stands today.

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