Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Between Friends

Disability, Masculinity, and Rehabilitation in The Best Years of Our Lives

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2017), 11, (1), 17–34.

Abstract

The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler’s 1946 film about three World War II veterans returning home to a small Midwestern town, has long been notable for its frank treatment of wartime trauma, disability, and the personal and cultural crises of masculinity precipitated by the end of the war. At a moment when disability studies has gained a firm foothold in the academy, the article returns to this touchstone text to reconsider the film’s staging of the disabled male body. The article complicates the equation of disability with castration implicit in readings of masculinity and heterosexuality in the film’s rehabilitation narratives by considering the role of friendship in the film’s depiction of masculinity and disability. The argument is that to focus on heterosexual romance in The Best Years of Our Lives is to tell only half the story; the narrative of homosocial friendship between Al, Fred, and Homer is equally important to their reintegration into the civilian world. Friendship provides an ameliorative space outside the narratives of heterosexual romance that structure the film’s logic of rehabilitation, and does not demand elision of the war’s traumas and the traces, visible and invisible, that it leaves behind.

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Details

Author details

Sahn, Sarah F.