Rejecting Masculinity in the Book “We the Animals” by Justin Torres

The story in the book We The Animals is about a family, which is not traditionally wealthy, however, it has its good and bad days. The story is mostly told through the eyes and perceptions of the youngest son. Most of the problems of alienation are touched upon, including the national to the sexual orientational ones. The father and brothers of one of the sons named Jonah differ from him in terms of behavior and personal characteristics. He does not find a reflection of himself in them and does not understand what is right and what is not. Therefore, the book vividly traces the story of growing up of one of the brothers, Jonah, who is trying to understand the sexuality and the variety of masculinity he possesses.

The story is about boys who grow up in poor families. The mother of the family is white, while the father is Puerto Rican. Brothers in the family spit in each other’s faces in a fight; however, they care a lot about the youngest of them. Young characters have to face poverty, domestic violence and latent homosexuality. At the same time, in their childhood, there are many touching, tender moments, as well as scenes of parental love and affection.

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When the three brothers were young, parental relationships were an unattainable ideal for them to strive for. Suddenly, the boys began to notice that their mother periodically disappeared. When the woman reappears, she is covered with bruises. Such strange disappearances will subsequently be explained. The father considers it appropriate to use physical force against the mother as an argument in a discussion during a quarrel. Parents have unhealthy relationships, which affects the life and perception of themselves and the world around them in children.

While his brothers have different characteristics, Jonah does develop homosexual tendencies. The development of denial of standard masculinity begins with Jonah watching boys with interest for a long time. Jonah hides his interests from others, as they are erotic in nature. In this way, the secret desires show how non-standard masculine characteristics begin to develop in the adolescence of one of the brothers at that time.

Throughout the story, Jonah’s desires have only continued to evolve. He had an experience of intimacy with the bus driver, which distinguishes him from gross masculinity (Torres 163). This shows the reader that Jonah is not interested in the underlying inclinations toward the opposite sex. At the same time, he is attracted by the muscularity of the opposite sex. Therefore, Jonah goes through a long and difficult journey of exploring himself and the world around him. Perhaps the rejection of such a concept in the family and the lack of support leads Jonah to a tendency towards an older man.

In the future, he has to hide it from his family. However, the mother shows a negative reaction upon learning of his inclinations. He assumes that his family is different and they will not accept similar interests with understanding, including his father, mother and brothers. At the same time, Jonah has his own story with his mother, which can be traced throughout the book. It is most likely that the only reason for her negative reaction is her shattered personal assumptions that her son is not hiding anything from her and they have a special bond.

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For the mother of the family, Jonah is truly the only male person who is close to her understanding of the world. In this regard, she reacts to the news regarding the secret with a bright surge of emotion. With a high probability, she does not condemn his homosexual inclinations. As such, Jonah would not receive the initial support or advice he needed from his mother. She herself lacks knowledge and sexual education, although she tries to convey at least the most basic aspects to her sons.

Additionally, Jonah is forced to constantly compare himself to his brothers. They show more of the standard masculine qualities and their interests are different. This puts pressure on Jonah, as it seems to him that his life path is different from his brothers. Without receiving support and guidance from their parents, it is difficult for them to understand what is right. Further, Jonah begins to realize and accept the idea that he is different, and while the sexual preferences of his brothers are toward females, he is drawn to the representatives of the same sex.

Therefore, in many ways, the book talks about accepting oneself and exploring own desires, which are sometimes not the most usual. For Jonah, his desires were at odds with the standard inclinations of his family. What he knew and saw in the actions of his father and his brothers did not at all coincide with his personal preferences, which led to difficulties in understanding what this means and what desires actually awakened in him. Later, he still came to the realization that masculinity in men attracts him. This led to a kiss with a boy who was a neighbor, as the beginning of the development of Jahan’s sexual path.

For most people, the characteristics of male sexuality are associated with a preference for spending leisure time with a sexual connotation and building a family with representatives of the opposite sex. The differing characteristics stand out sharply and are noticeable among the total majority. It is not customary in society to talk about non-traditional orientations, and only in modern days, many years later, this topic begins to be more actively discussed and is not completely prohibited or unacceptable.

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Men and women resolve conflict situations that arise in the family and home circle in different ways. Women in the family tend to show more tolerance and a desire for a compromise and reconciliation of interests. Men in this situation are more often more critical, conflicted and severe. Jahan follows his brothers on many adventures, but at the same time, there is a noticeable difference in his character and behavioral principles (Torres 46). With all other things being equal, the woman in their family is inferior or tends to concede to a man’s primacy and domination.

Jonah does not fully accept his masculinity, which affects his behavior and sexual orientation. At the same time, while he does not find some masculine features in himself, he is attracted to them in other men. This shows that Jonah lacks a direct denial of masculinity in the form of a dislike for certain characteristics. Instead, he simply does not find these qualities in himself since his inclinations and preferences differ from the average male. Despite the early realization of his homosexuality, the family’s rejection and lack of knowledge about it led to the fact that he is attracted to an adult. Apparently, it is difficult for him to enter into homosexual relationships.

Another conflict with masculinity occurs in the father of the family. The standard concept of the male sex is that the person is protective of his wife and other members of his family. At the same time, among such characteristics, there is also a dominance of men in comparison with women. However, in the case of the father of the family, this dominance is expressed in another form of the ability to physically offend his wife. Perhaps this pushed Jonah to denial since he subconsciously did not want to be like his father, realizing what was happening between his parents as a teenager. Because of this, Jonah grows up to be the most vulnerable, susceptible and denying certain masculine qualities among his brothers.

In conclusion, in the book, Jonah explores his homosexuality and rejects standard masculinity himself. It all starts with harmless thoughts and ends with the understanding that not everyone can understand his path and that homosexuality is not a general characteristic but an individual trait. Accordingly, he is only one of the few who possesses it and it is not easy for him to be like the majority. In this regard, in the beginning, Jonah completely hides his inclinations, and they are revealed only by chance later in the book. This shows that he was not ready to personally share this information at that stage of his acceptance, and the feeling of acceptance from the side of society, as his environment, while possessing homosexual inclinations.

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Work Cited

Torres, Justin. We The Animals. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

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AssignZen. "Rejecting Masculinity in the Book "We the Animals" by Justin Torres." December 11, 2022. https://assignzen.com/rejecting-masculinity-in-the-book-we-the-animals-by-justin-torres/.

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