Postmodernism is a special worldview, spiritual state that characterizes a period of crisis. The feelings of frustration, confusion, despair, exhaustion of life are specific to this state. Postmodernism leaves no hopes, postmodernism identifies critical moments that in figurative expression by U.Eco ‘are on the edge of the abyss’ in the development of society and man [1,127]. Furthermore, any step could be your last, there is one thing to do: to take a step mentally towards yourself and have a look at yourself and the world from that extreme border. This glance opens up the whole undisguised truth of uncomfortable and still not arranged properly life devoid of higher purpose and spiritual meaning. But, postmodernism is not just a crisis of view of life, but also a consciousness of the crisis and self-consciousness of themselves in such a crisis, restless and unsteady world, where the very foundations of existence were being destroyed. And this moment of consciousness and self-consciousness makes postmodern works relevant to our time.
The problem of transformation of identity (personal, social, gender and etc.) also became one of the topical issues in postmodern society, due to the fact that social crises determine the incurrence of personal crises. Therefore, gender identification underwent significant changes in the period of transition from modern to postmodern society.
The XXth century may rightly be considered as an era of changing value systems in the relationships between men and women. Emerged in the 60’s in America, the second wave of feminism as a new real object of social struggle considers gender stereotypes, preventing realization of women’s rights conquered at the previous stage of the feminist movement. As a result, many great and different writers set gender issues in the American literary works of twentieth century.
When considering the gender issues in literature, we can conclude that there is a lack of masculinity studies in comparison with studies on feminism due to the historical background mentioned above.
Hence, we make the aim of our research to shed the light on the image of a ‘man’ in American postmodern literature by studying the main peculiarities of heroes in literary works of that period.
In contrast to feminist theory or women’s studies, masculinity study is a relatively new approach to literature analyses. Literary masculinity studies, like other gender studies approaches to literature before it, stems in sociological concepts. In this case, the critical framework employed by masculinity studies scholars originate in men’s studies and, to some extent, the men’s rights movement (men’s studies is a term used more frequently within sociology; whereas masculinity studies usually pertains to literary study). Thus, any account of masculinity studies must first establish the central principles of men’s studies. Harry Brod’s ‘The making of Masculinities’, written in 1987, was one of the first edited collections to bring together the multi-faceted themes in men’s studies .
Early work on literary masculinity such as Coppélia Kahn's Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (1981)  and Peter Schwenger's Phallic Critiques: Masculinity and Twentieth-century Literature (1984)  broke new ground, proving by example that masculinity could be a viable object of inquiry in the analysis of fiction. It was, however, Eve Sedgwick's Between Men (1985) that radically changed the terms of both literary studies and gender studies, as ‘homosocial’ became a staple term in scientific sphere. Despite this important work in literary criticism, the birth of the study of masculinity in the 1980s can be characterized as largely nonliterary in nature, with the social sciences taking the most visible lead in what was then a new and sometimes controversial approach to gender.
As Stefan Horlacher discusses in his ‘Configuring Masculinity in Theory and Literary Practice’ , literature and masculinity go hand in hand. As a kind of conscious or unconscious fantasy or projection of other worlds, literature can reveal aspects of masculinity that might not come out or be visible in daily life or in other types of cultural artifacts. While it is true that film, painting, sculpture, performance art, and music channel and question masculinity and while it is true that literature is in no way the only purveyor of gendered representation, literary form necessarily produces its own unique representation of masculinity, and for this reason, literary analysis in the twenty-first century constitutes a crucial and vibrant wing of masculinity studies.
Literature is a reflection of the time period the author lived in as well as the ideas they held about that time period. It is essential to study society, historical background, politics and family relationship of postmodern period in order to make a portrait of an American male character in postmodern literature. The tumultuous decade of the 1960s brought about the earliest hints of a Postmodern revolution . During the 1960s, the new youth movement was the center attraction as phrases such as «Flower Power», «Peace», and «Make Love Not War» all epitomized a generation . This subculture, with its music, poster art, and drugs, created a lifestyle «which rebelled against authority and sought liberation from the norms of the existing society» . More importantly, it was during the 1960s that «previously 'silent' groups defined by differences of race, gender, sexual preferences, ethnicity, native status, class» all emerged . In general, the 1960s possessed an energy and a vitality; it 50 was a decade of optimism about technology, the media, and what would be known as pop culture . The Women's Liberation movement was organized with the goal of passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Both houses of Congress passed this legislation, and in 1972 the ratification process started. Many women supported the ERA because they believed «that women were similar to men in capabilities and merely needed to be afforded equal opportunities and accorded natural rights» . As an outgrowth of the youth movement of the 1960s, the 1970s saw the flourishing of the sexual revolution where sexual relationships, often with multiple partners, began to lose its cultural stigma.
Following notable works were chosen to the analysis: 1) Death of a Salesman (play, 1949) by Arthur Miller, is about Willy Lowman, an increasingly delusional, ageing man who finds himself dealing with the crushing realisation that the American Dream is dead as he succumbs to the weight of his own unattainable expectations; 2) White Noise (novel, 1985) by Don DeLillo, describes an academic year in the life of its narrator, Jack Gladney, a college professor in a small American town; 3) The Fight Club (novel, 1996) by Chuck Palahniuk, based around an unnamed protagonist who struggles with his growing discomfort with consumerism and changes in the state of masculinity in American culture, and in an attempt to overcome this, he creates an underground fighting club as a radical form of psychotherapy.
From the basic premise of the male as breadwinner/aggressive/independent, four categories, with specifically assigned traits, were used during the analysis of each literary work. The four categories are Behavior Characteristics, Communication Patterns, Source of Power, and Physical Appearance. Masculine gender traits were condensed into the four categories thereby providing the working definitions for masculine behavior that guided this study.
1) Behavior characteristics/character.
In the play “Death of a Salesman” the family patriarch, Willy, is far from the independent, confident, and aggressive male. In a world that values a man based on his job and his income, Willy draws no esteem from his work because he is unable to work. As Willy tells Linda, «I'm tired to the death. I couldn't make it. I just couldn't make it, Linda» [8, 338]. Willy has never felt very secure about his position, but he always presented the image he was selling more than anybody else. For example, he tells Linda, Iwas sellin' thousands and thousands, but I had to come home… I did five hundred gross in Providence and seven hundred gross in Boston… Well, I—did—about a hundred and eighty gross in Providence, Well, no—it came to—roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip… The trouble was that three of the stores were half closed for inventory in Boston. Otherwise I woulda broke records [8, 345].
In “White Noise” Jack Gladney looks “haunted, ashen, lost” [9, 163]. That’s to say, fear of death has deprived Jack Gladney of energy, vividness and glimmer of life.
And in “The Fight Club” the main hero Tyler saying I'm nowhere near hitting the bottom, yet. And if I don't fall all the way, I can't be saved. Jesus did it with his crucifixion thing. I shouldn't just abandon money and property and knowledge. This isn't just a weekend retreat. I should run from self-improvement, and I should be running toward disaster. I can't just play it safe anymore shows his despair, hopelessness. Or his «Don't call this love» quote proves his unbelief [10, 19].
Thus, a postmodern hero is insecure, hopeless, lost and acts alone. Postmodern men live in a contemporary world of “self-delusion”, who can never achieve heroic effects in this threatening world.
2) Communication Patterns.
In “Death of a Salesman” Linda has trouble participating in a conversation with Willy because he constantly interrupts her. For example, Willy is looking out the window and is frustrated they are «boxed in» by the surrounding buildings, and the following dialogue occurs, Linda: Well, after all, people had to move somewhere. Willy: No, there's more people now. Linda: I don't think there's more people. I think— Willy: There's more people! That's what's ruining this country… [8, 340].
In “White Noise” Jack tells: We were halfway home when the crying stopped. It stopped suddenly, without a change in tone and intensity. Babette said nothing, I kept my eyes on the road. He sat between us, looking into the radio. I waited for Babette to glance at me behind his back, over his head, to show relief, happiness, hopeful suspense. I didn’t know how I felt and wanted a clue. But she looked straight ahead as if fearful that any change in the sensitive texture of sound, movement, expression would cause the crying to break out again [9, 112]. It demonstrates that Jack is not a chief in communication since he depends on his wife’s attitude and reaction.
In “The Fight Club” for example, we may notice that being introvert exceeds, as to main characters’ minds they even didn’t need father’s upbringing, father’s advice: Maybe we didn't need a father to complete ourselves. There's nothing personal about who you fight in fight club. You fight to fight [10, 17].
Overall, using harsh language, being not talkative and being blunt are related to a postmodern male character. They do not express tender feelings, it’s better to keep everything inside.
3) Source of Power.
“Death of a Salesman” represents what happens when there is a loss of power. Neither Biff nor Happy has the power that is usually afforded to men through their jobs. Biff had an opportunity to achieve a higher status job by attending college, but after discovering his father's infidelity, Biff gave up that chance. Happy, like his father, only assumes power and respect will come to him in the future. For Willy, however, this lack of power is debilitating. Willy based his life on a salesman named Dave Singleman, who at that the age of 84 was able to go into «twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved…" [8, 358]. Willy built a career and a life around creating that type of persona for himself so that he could have a successful career comparable to Ben's. He raised his sons to follow in his footsteps and to share in his beliefs. Yet, nothing is working out. His sons are a disappointment, and Willy is out of a job—both devastating blows for a man who based his whole life on his career and the ability to provide for a wife and a family. As Willy tells Biff and Happy in the restaurant, I'm not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning boys, you understand? There's a big blaze going on all around me… I'm looking for a little good news to tell your mother, because the woman has waited and the woman has suffered. The gist of it is that I haven't got a story left in my head… [8, 366].
In “White Noise” Jack Gladney is a threatened or repressed hero rather than an “unrepressed hero”. He is very clear about his situation. He admits, “I tell myself I have reached an age, the age of unreliable menace” [9, 184]. With threats to his academic power, patriarchal power, and life power, he becomes repressed, enthralled, and castrated in his aspiration to control and power.
In “The Fight Club” the quote “According to my boss, there are fewer and fewer gentlemen in business and more thugs” [10, 17] indicates that there are more and more criminals, men who use their physical power.
Power in postmodern period is considered as a method to gain status.
4) Physical Appearance.
In “Death of a Salesman” Willy places great stock in presenting a good physical appearance, which is uncharacteristic for a man. He perceives that others laugh at him behind his back because he is not attractive. He is glad that his sons are attractive, but he cannot understand how a Biff, who has great «personal attractiveness» cannot make it in the world [8, 340]. On two occasions, he praises his sons by comparing them to Greek gods [8, 345–355].
The main hero of the novel “White Noise” wears «glasses with black heavy frames and dark lenses» and calls himself J. A. K. Gladney to sound smooth and professional [9, 22]. But as Jack himself admits, «I am the false character that follows the name around» [9, 22]. He feels like a total phony. White Noise is a book about how appearances have overtaken reality in modern American culture. Jack knows this and often regrets it, but as we see from the way presents himself he totally plays along with the «clothes make the man» game.
Here is the brightest example of a postmodern man’s physical appearance in the novel “The Fight Club”: Fight club gets to be your reason for going to the gym and keeping your hair cut short and cutting your nails. The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men, as if being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says [10,16].
Hence, greater physical size and strength are valuable assets, aging is considered distinguishing.
Identity in postmodern works — to a certain extent a marginal creature. It is kind of to be at the intersection of different spaces, times, eras. He doesn't know where to go, what to believe, where to find shelter. He is a product of the existential crisis, and this crisis goes on the internal condition of moral health. Thus, the heroes of postmodernism — people with painful psyche. They are emotionally sensitive, extremely acutely aware of everything that happens around their particular disease. They are sick on their own time, at his age, it is difficult for them to find the truth of his existence (because the existence is devoid of content), their desire often go beyond the rational, possible, moral. And they are not like everyone else.
To sum up, depicting a man who appeared on the debris of ages and different cultural backgrounds, the writers aim to revive in him past spiritual experience. To «work» all those allusions, associations, quotations, which are so rich in postmodern works, it is necessary that man had a certain cultural baggage. The writers seek to return to the usual personality to itself through past, renew his spiritual journey through the touching of cultural heritage (even their fragments), to get a different look at yourself and the world from the perspective of this cultural experience. So, male character highlights everything that forms the traits, norms, stereotypes, roles typical and desirable for those whom society defines as men.
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