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Desiring Brotherhood


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).