racial and sexual differences. Here, Anacleto offers Penderton an
opportunity of disidentification with the white heteropatriarchal
ideals promoted by the state to interrogate their categories and
how they might conceal the heterogeneity of race, gender, and
sexuality. Things considered as normal or normative demand
destabilization and possible undoing. In heterosexual patriarchy’s
normative understanding, reproductive sexuality (the penis as “the
square peg” is expected to keep “scraping about” the conventional
orifice of the vagina) is the putative norm; anything that deviates
from that which appears self-evident and unquestionable is linked
with pathology and shame. However, Penderton defiantly
questions any supposed normality or normativity; he allies himself
with Anacleto to try to “discover and use the unorthodox square”
that would fit the square peg.
Instead of acquiescing to
Langdon’s hegemonic model of gender conformity, he will look for
an alternative “fulfillment” in a sexuality that is conventionally
perceived as tainted by humiliation and abjection. Paradoxically,
Penderton’s affirmation of repudiation and shame precipitates him
into a sea change of self-realization and even empowerment.
Embracing debasement and impotence in a supreme and defiant
way, he experiences flashes of insight. For the first time he accepts
his shame-inflected self, “with neither alteration nor excuse”:
With gruesome vividness the Captain suddenly looked into
his soul and saw himself. For once he did not see himself
as others saw him; there came to him a distorted doll-like
image, mean of countenance and grotesque in form.
TheCaptain dwelt on this vision without compassion.
(McCullers, 2001c: 384)
In this epiphanic moment, his true self leaps in front of him
as a “distorted doll-like image.” In fact, the doll-like image recurs
As Sarah Gleeson-White argues, the “unorthodox square” might conjure the
impossible orifice of “the rectum as the site that affects the feminizing corruption
of the masculine self” (2003: 66).