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of morbidity when it was published in 1941.


Originally entitled

“Army Post,” the novel takes place on a military base in Georgia

and centers on Captain Weldon Penderton’s obsession with Private

Ellegee Williams, a pagan beauty who has “the strange, rapt face of

a Gauguin primitive” (McCullers, 2001c: 338). As a

quintessentially male arena, the Army offers a fraternal ambience

that is congenial to the cultivation of a warrior’s psyche fortified

with authority and respect, and to the promotion of the

brotherhood between men. Brave, noble, manly men form a kind

of kinship, united in devotion to their military calling. Hence the

title of my paper “desiring brotherhood” indicates such a yearning

for the male ideal of military life that supposedly needs to keep

femininity and homosexuality at bay; even so, this kind of male

bonding is not without ambivalence or perversion. As

psychoanalysis and sexuality studies inform us, the nature of desire

itself remains radically indeterminate. Despite the regulatory

pressures that aim at subduing sexual feelings and expressions, they

continue to emerge in unpredictable forms that reveal their

subversive force. The powerful communal feelings passing between

men can become charged with homoeroticism, escaping rigid

categorization and containment.

Therefore, the desire to conform to the dominant form of

masculinity carries within it the seeds of its destruction and the

possibility of transgression. As a brave and provocative novel,

Reflections in a Golden Eye

refuses to view the army post from a

single perspective and endeavors to lay bare what otherwise

remains occluded. Exposing the fault lines of masculinity,

patriotism and empire, McCullers resists conforming to traditional

belief systems, whether they be doctrines of the military, the

nation-state, subjectivity, or sexuality. In the novel, the protagonist

Captain Penderton is a closeted gay man; his wife Leonora is a


See Virginia Spencer Carr’s discussion of McCullers’s contemporary reviews of

her second novel in

Understanding Carson McCullers

(1990: 50-51).