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Desiring Brotherhood


impressions; when he was near the soldier he found

himself unable to see or to hear properly, and it was only

after he had ridden away and was alone again that the

scene developed itself for the first time in his mind. The

thought of the young man’s face

the dumb eyes, the

heavy sensual lips that were often wet, the childish

page-boy bangs

this image was intolerable to him.

(McCullers, 2001c: 370)

This attraction is indeed fatal. When Penderton finds out that the

person who sneaks into Leonora’s bedroom to worship her while

she sleeps is Williams himself, he murders him: “The Captain was a

good marksman, and although he shot twice only one raw hole was

left in the center of the soldier’s chest” (393). Penetrating the

soldier’s body with his bullets, Penderton symbolically gratifies his

sexual desire, which in real life can only exist in an unrequited form.

It is commonly held that the Army builds men. The linkage

between manhood and military service has rarely been challenged,

even across cultures. The military’s vast production of cultural

propaganda hinges on the promotion of patriotic brotherhood and

ideals of hegemonic masculinity. Desiring this cultural imagery put

forth by the U.S. military, young men yearn for the chances to join

the Army and to develop its version of “soldiering masculinity”

that involves them testing and proving themselves.



queer theorists have informed us that normalization takes a lot of

effort to shore up and, in that effort, fissures and ambivalences lead

desires into unexpected terrains. In other words, lurking behind the

patriotic ideal of desiring brotherhood is the disavowed knowledge

of homosexuality; the idealized and sanitized fraternity turns out to

be haunted by varieties of alternative desires. In

Reflections in a

Golden Eye

, McCullers lays bare the tensions and ambivalence that

are inherent in the reification of manhood; the Army becomes a

grotesque site of alternative masculinities and seething homoe-


For the gendered seduction of military masculinity, see Melissa T. Brown’s

Enlisting Masculinity