Anxious Masculinity in the American Drama

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

"This game is seven card stud." -- A Streetcar Named Desire.

"I get so lonely….I get the feeling that…I won’t be making a living for you, or a business, a business for the boys." -- Death of a Salesman

These two lines, taken from two of the most famous American dramas ever written, encapsulate the conflicting definitions of masculinity that bedevil male characters in the domestic realm in a host of mid-20th century American plays. Expected to be rugged and “studly,” preferably by using his muscles and conquering the untamed wilderness, the male breadwinner was also obliged to put a roof over his family’s heads, a task that often required that he labor behind a desk in a confining office space dressed in suit and tie. This panel invites papers focused on American plays that examine the swirling anxieties that result from the often contradictory, vexing and toxic requirements for the successful performance of masculinity in America. Papers on mid-20th century playwrights like Miller and Williams--who wrote at a time when gender roles were starkly polarized and in a Cold War context simmering with anxieties about "otherness" of various sorts--are strongly encouraged, but so are papers on more recent playwrights (such as August Wilson, David Mamet, Paula Vogel, Tony Kushner and Suzan-Lori Parks), who explore the status of the male in the domestic realm in the wake of the civil rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights movements. These movements arguably reshaped conceptions of masculinity in America without diminishing masculine anxiety.