Writing Men on the Margins: Joseph Mitchell, Masculinity, and the Flaneur
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFerry, P.P (2017) Writing Men on the Margins: Joseph Mitchell, Masculinity, and the Flaneur. Literary Journalism Studies. 9 (2), pp. 52-73
This study introduces the philosophies of the flâneur—a figure associated with the acts of wandering, observing, and reporting the realities of life on the city streets—to offer a critical reconsideration of a sociological perspective in writings of literary journalism. The study proposes that the literary journalist can be considered as a flâneur, or as a writer who employs the figure of the flâneur as a narrative device, to drive the production of (self-)reflective narratives. This approach is realized with a re-reading of one of New York City’s most widely regarded literary journalists: Joseph Mitchell. Reading Mitchell’s New Yorker profiles through a gendered lens, the article identifies Mitchell’s sociologically charged investigations into the everyday experiences of men from the margins—namely immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and African Americans—as they struggle with the conflicts that shape their masculine identities. The central themes that define these conflicts are identified as the struggle with the dominant ideologies of the self-made man and breadwinner roles, the importance of homosocial relations in the shaping of masculine identity. Possibilities of alternative roles for such men appear in Mitchell’s key profiles, “The Old House at Home” (1939), “The Mohawks in High Steel” (1949), and “Mr. Hunter’s Grave” (1956). By re-conceptualizing Mitchell as a flâneur, that is, a wandering investigator, interpreter, and writer of the discourses of New York society during this period, 1930s–1960s, we can begin to appreciate the sociological value of Mitchell’s profiles and the contribution they make to our understanding of the historical development of masculinity in the United States.