Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

The Problem of Recognition

The Disabled Male Veteran and Masculinity as Spectacle in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2012), 6, (2), 159–174.

Abstract

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) uses melodrama to explore the hardships faced by a disabled male veteran, inverting the gender dynamics of a genre that traditionally explored women's issues during and after World War II, underscoring protagonist Homer Parish's fraught relationship to his masculinity when he returns home after losing his hands in the conflict. Yet Wyler's film also emphasizes disability as a complexly embodied, culturally located identity that destabilizes normative conceptions of masculinity, as Parish is troubled more by newly altered relationships with his loved ones than by the physical limitations facing a double amputee. The article explores how the ex-soldier's disability stages a sudden loss of masculinity in a subject whose physicality once epitomized maleness, challenging assumptions about the boundaries demarcating normative bodies and demonstrating that masculinity cannot be understood apart from the symbolic network of an ableist culture.

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Chopra-Gant, Mike. "Reinvigorating the Nation." Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir. London: I. B. Taurus Publishers, 2006. 26-64. Print. Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir 26 64 Google Scholar

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Doane, Mary Ann. "The Moving Image: Pathos and the Maternal." Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama. Ed. Marcia Landy. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1991. 283-306 Print. Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama 283 306 Google Scholar

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Gerber, David. "Heroes and Misfits: The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives." American Quarterly 46.4 (1994): 545-74. Print. Heroes and Misfits: The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in The Best Years of Our Lives." American Quarterly 46 545 74 Google Scholar

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Hayward, Susan. "Melodrama." Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. London: Routledge, 1996. 203-15. Print. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies 203 15 Google Scholar

Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe after 1945. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print. Postwar: A History of Europe after 1945 Google Scholar

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 14-27. Print. Visual and Other Pleasures 14 27 Google Scholar

Neale, Steve. "Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men in Mainstream Cinema." Screen 24.6 (1983): 2-17. Oxford Journals. Web. 30 March 2010. Masculinity as Spectacle: Reflections on Men in Mainstream Cinema Screen 24 2 17 Google Scholar

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Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2008. Print. Disability Theory Google Scholar

Silverman, Kaja. Male Subjectivity at the Margins. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print. Male Subjectivity at the Margins Google Scholar

Silverman, Kaja. "Suture." The Subject of Semiotics. New York: Oxford UP, 1983. 194-236. Print. The Subject of Semiotics 194 236 Google Scholar

Triumph of the Will. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. 1935. Synapse Films, 2006. DVD. Google Scholar

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Kanyusik, Will