Societal Expectations Demanded Of Average, Middle Class Men

1691 words - 7 pages

With the focus on gender inequality typically falling to the shortcomings of men towards women, many fail to realize the burdens males must face to preserve their masculinity as society deems fit. The speaker of Stephen Dunn’s “Ambush at Five O’Clock” faces situations which fully depict the expectations, such as emotional strength and a condescending attitude toward women, placed on him and similar males. The employment of various comparative literary techniques like metaphor and personification illustrate the expected characteristics of the individuals present in the text and the speaker’s desire to escape these expectations. The registers present in the poem serve to highlight the emotions ...view middle of the document...

This image of the neighbors almost haltingly trying to find an answer emphasizes the challenge that the pair faces with answering such an intimate question. Though the speaker appears to understand that his neighbors will skirt the question and feel awkward about it, he inquires about their souls to alleviate his own insecurity. Mere lines later, the speaker reveals that he tells his neighbor that his soul “went to the movies / and hasn’t been back since” (25-26). By personifying his soul as being absent, he avoids the question to not have to face the damage he feels his soul has received. Also, by not revealing his emotions concerning his soul to his neighbors and wife, the speaker maintains his socially accepted masculine ideal of stoic indifference. However, by mentioning that his soul left and is now absent, the audience understands the peril that his soul endures, even if he cannot express this to others.
In the poem, the speaker employs numerous registers to emphasize certain emotions in the poem. When depicting how his wife suddenly becomes overcome with the enormity of her emotion, the speaker uses words such as “ambush” and “retreat,” suggesting a military register. After he inquires about the state of his neighbor’s souls, the speaker’s wife mentions that her soul suffers from neglect and “That she herself was often neglectful / Of important things, but so was [the speaker]. / Then she started to cry” (30-32). The speaker, completely blindsided by his wife’s emotional outpouring, feels ambushed by her sobbing and his inability to figure out the reason for her crying. His obvious inability to comprehend his wife’s emotions and his bewilderment over why she feels neglected illuminates how the speaker must stifle these emotions. The speaker’s wife may publicly express her emotional state whereas the speaker must repress his guilt and frustration over his own shortcomings. His neighbors then “retreated to their home” as if this non physical struggle between the speaker and his wife encourages them to withdraw back to their home (38). Though the neighbors must realize the speaker’s hopelessness with his wife, they initially offer no assistance as typically masculine figures must carry their own burdens.
A register focusing on suffering allows the audience to comprehend the anxiety of the characters in the poem. As the speaker depicts the way he “felt [his soul] always was / in jeopardy” the audience views the speaker’s distress over the state of his soul (24-25). While he would enjoy discussing the state of his soul to relieve some of the burden he carries, he cannot do this due to the constraints on masculinity prevalent throughout society. The speaker constantly worries that his soul is at risk and so he “found [himself] needing / to fool around, avoid, stay away from [himself]” (27-28). While the speaker inquires about the state of his neighbor’s souls, he refuses to give an answer about his own due to his distress. The speaker feels...

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