Female Dominance or Male Failure?
James Thurber illustrates the male species' status with respect to, "Courtship Through The Ages" with a humorous and melancholic tone. He emphasizes the lack of success males experience through courtship rituals and the constant rejection we endure. Our determination of courting the female with all our "love displays" may be pointless as it is evident in the repetitive failures of courtship by all male creatures. Thurber shares his problems with courtship and the role which men portray, he explores the relationship between nature and culture, and the demands culture places on men. Thurber's frustration with the female species is obvious and is reflected throughout his essay. The extremities males endure to obtain female attention become overwhelming and incomprehensible to Thurber, consequently conflicting with the myth and construction of the ideal of masculinity.
Thurber's frustrations with women are evident right from the start. He displaces male insubordination to the blueprint of nature and it's "complicated musical comedy." (Rosengarten and Flick, 340) It's interesting that he attributes nature as a female creator and thus justifying the relationship that "none of the females of any species she created cared very much for the males." (p 340)
Thurber compares the similarities of courtship to the complicated works of Encyclopedia Brittanica. A book which is full of wonders and within lies mysteries of the unknown and unpredictable. In comparison to the Encyclopedia Brittanica the female is alike in many ways, such as its perfect construction and orderly appearance seeming as if they replicate one another like a clone. I believe Thurber views all female species as being similar to one another with respect to their character.
The author also associates courtship as a business, a show business. A world which is chaotic, disorderly and full of confusion much like nature. It is an aggressive competition between genders in which mother nature dominates. He also attributes the similarity of constructed rules and regulations in need of much guidance with the help of a hand manual.
Culture also places demands on males. Males who are lacking in outer appearance and sexual appeal try to diminish their faults by acquiring gifts "to win her attention... and bring her candy, flowers, and the furs of animals" (p 340) for the lady in courting. Women's refusals became men's burden which laid heavily on their shoulders in the social relationship. "These 'love displays' were being constantly turned down, insulted, or thrown out of the house." (p 340) This produced the evident exhaustion of the male species such as the "fiddler crab who had been standing on tip-toe for eight or ten hours waving a heavy claw in the air is in pretty bad shape." (p 342)
Thurber trivializes the easily bored female, which leads to actions that seek her attention. "Men had to go in for somersaults, tilting and lancing, and performing feats of parlor magic," and go to "sorrowful lengths ... to arouse the interest of a lady." (p 340) This would prevent her from, [going] quietly to sleep." (p 341) He also reiterates the issue of female desire. Their desires are not sexual but consume in material possessions. This also supports, "the age-old desire of the male for the female, the age- old desire of the female to be amused and entertained." (p 343) Males are displayed as tending to the every need and want of females, thus portraying the male as a victim or slave of the female "he never knows how soon the female will demand heavier presents, such as Roman coins and gold collar buttons." (p 341)
Although females are assisted in tasks by males they pride their independence, just as the female fiddler crab displayed. "A female fiddler crab will not tolerate any caveman stuff; she never has and she doesn't intend to start now." (p 342) Thurber seems quite confused of this idea but none the less is good humored and willing to try again to understand courtship rituals.
Throughout Thurber's essay he uses the metaphors of the animals and performer. Just as the male spider is endangering himself by nearing the female's nest, the artist creates his music by "going for web-twitching, or strand-vibrating," (p 342) and endangers himself of being killed by the audience who consumes his art.
The act of violence can be seen as the act of love, metaphorically displayed by the grebe birds. "The purely loving display is a faint hope of drowning her or scaring her to death." (p 343) This illustrates his growing hostility and frustration with women and courtship rituals. Another interpretation may be revenge upon the ladies for the rejection and the troubles the male had to go through; therefore, causing him to resent females, yet returning to the source that caused the anguish. It can also be understood as the fantasy of power in gender situations. Thurber makes comparisons to historical and metaphorical presence of animals and generalizes courtship as disempowering males. We see this display with the spiders by the violent acts the lady enforces upon the male as in the lines, "if a male lands on a female's web, she kills him before he has time to lay down his cane and gloves... millions of males were murdered by ladies they called on." (p 342)
Finally, James Thurber ends his essay with the "mournful burdens of the male," (p 343) and the different perspectives of courtship and fantasy. He emphasizes male talent and creativity with the incorporation of the husband quoting a poem. The wife ignoring the husband as he tries to recant a poem displays the female short attention span. The female fails to reinforce the males masculinity; therefore, producing a chaotic and confusing environment where he suffocates his growth in masculinity. The rejection caused by a female may be a severe blow to the males pride and ego; henceforth, shattering his self-confidence and bravado or machoistic image he parades in front of women. Such as the male fiddler crab displaying his mighty claw for hours at end hoping to attract the attention of a female fiddler crab.
The author ends his story in a mellow tone. Portraying woman as heartless people who are always causing men grief. The men are trying their best to please them in anyway possible, but still the women refuses his advances. He implies, that although a female may feel deeply interested, her objective may be elsewhere, as in the lines, "she sat quietly enough until he was well into the middle of the thing ... then suddenly their came a sharp, disconcerting slap ... it turned out that all during the male's display, the female had been intent on a circling mosquito and had finally trapped it between the palms of her hands." (p 344) After this the male felt his pride was hurt and that all his intentions were for nothing. There after he went to find solace in his drink at the bar where other men were present, and could relate to his sorrow. Most of them were familiar with the song "Honey, Honey, Bless Your Heart." (p 344) This song suggests how females can cause such heartbreak and turmoil among men. Yet, they always come back, thus making us part of the circle of life.
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