Date of Award

1-2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Emmanuel Nelson

Abstract

In an attempt to seek direction and establish a sense of existential purpose, much of the human race is and has been in a constant pursuit of improving our methods of understanding its surroundings. Many theories and lenses have been introduced and removed from society throughout time. Thanks to this process, some concepts have been left behind and enshrined within textbooks as relics of history. However, among the outdated philosophical ideas left stagnant by the educated minds of the present, one concept was oddly resurrected in the contemporary era of scholarship. The idea, initially conceptualized by Aristotle and later named “essentialism,” is that all human beings share defining traits. While it is often understood as a method of defining the human being, it is not limited to this understanding alone. In fact, it has been used as an exclusionary tactic against more specific groups including, but not limited to, men, women, African Americans, and any other compartmentalized groups of people. Its resurrection and inspection by scholars has reconfirmed the belief that this idea is outdated and belongs in the past, especially with the rise of civil rights and the push for human equality. Being unable to be defined or compartmentalized is itself what makes us human, not the ability to be generalized or compacted into a surface level understanding. This understanding, and its detrimental effects, is no stranger to the field of postmodern masculinity studies. For example, when applying essentialist gender theory the contemporary text Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk, the results from the use of the lens are a weak analysis at best. Rather than relying on the stereotypical understandings of gender that essentialism provides, what allows for a far more thoughtful and enriched analysis of Fight Club is a reading which is rooted in social constructionism, or the idea that identities and traits are constructed over time and outside of compartmentalization.

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