The transformation of masculinity in contemporary black South African novels

Dlamini, Nonhlanhla
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The ways in which we have come to know the world through expressions and performances of dominant versions of masculine and feminine gendered identities is challenged, refracted and altered on a daily basis through social interactions. This work situates itself within the various spheres of dominant masculinity production such as neo-traditional African cultural practices, sexuality, the family unit, race and class, as well as other contributory factors such as migration and lack of social advancement opportunities. Through the use of the novelistic genre, this work examines how contemporary black South African novels of English expression engage with the production of dominant masculinity, in order to critique the taken-for-granted access by dominant men to social power over other men, women and children. Not only does this study concern itself with the extent to which core elements of dominant masculinities are being transformed, it tracks transformation in literary figurations of men, and is interested in the alternative masculine identities that these novels proffer. This works’ search for alternative identities is predicated on the primacy of a symbiotic relationship between strategies of self re-presentation, personal agency and the power of social structures. This study concludes that the central codes of contemporary dominant black masculinities are forced to change because their legitimising narratives are put under scrutiny. Fluctuating social, political and economic factors also mediate their constant breakdown and recreation. However, the development of the alternative gendered identities imagined in these novels is thwarted by the prevailing socio-cultural practices of the contemporary era.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, in fulfilment of the requirements of degree of Doctor of Philosophy Johannesburg, 2015