The Mourning AfterLoss and Longing among Midcentury American Men

The Mourning AfterLoss and Longing among Midcentury American Men

John Ibson

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226576541

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

In the aftermath of World War II, the closeness that many American servicemen experienced during the war was followed by a period of unprecedented scorn for men’s intimacy. The Mourning After describes and interprets this cruel irony. An outbreak of vicious homophobia was the most obvious manifestation of the scorn, but the postwar inhibition of male closeness also took its toll on friendships, the relationship between fathers and sons, and, indirectly, on men’s relationships with women. The Mourning After picks up where the author’s acclaimed Picturing Men left off, showing how everyday photographs of males together in the years after the war documented an increasing space between males, and a certain somberness found even among American boys. The book then considers literature as cultural evidence, examining the shift in how intimacy between males was received by readers of the work of John Horne Burns, a once-celebrated American novelist who was consigned to obscurity after his work’s setting shifted, from the war abroad to the postwar home front. Ibson then contrasts Burns’s fate with the postwar fortunes of Gore Vidal. In this sweeping reinterpretation of the postwar years, Ibson marshals diverse evidence-from popular culture, a notorious murder, psychiatry, child development advice, and memoirs of the children of World War II veterans, for instance-to make his case that a prolonged postwar mourning, along with pervasive guilt, occupied the very center of midcentury American masculinity, giving all too many American males a widespread sense of longing that continues into the present.