The Faces of Men: Education and Masculinity

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Calder Willingham’s End as a Man.  Chances are, most readers today have never heard of the book, as I had not until quite recently.  Despite the accolades that it received from such leading literary lights of the 1940’s as James T. Farrell (who called it “a permanent contribution to American literature”), End as a Man now gathers dust on library bookshelves and remains largely unnoticed in studies of post-World War II American fiction.  Reasons for this neglect are not hard to find.  One is that Willingham (born Calder Baynard Willingham, Jr., in Atlanta, in 1922) was only 23 when he wrote it, and it is not without its purple passages.  A more telling reason, however, is that Willingham explores in the novel a theme that is virtually guaranteed to affront our epicene guardians of contemporary literary propriety: manhood.

End as a Man is set in a military college in the South and explores a year (or something less than a year) in the lives of a group of cadets in the early 1940’s.  This fictional institution, called “The Academy,” is clearly modeled on the Citadel, which Willingham attended in 1940-41, before transferring to the University of Virginia.  Several of these cadets are first-year “knobs” (as they are called at the Citadel), and much of the narrative...

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