Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories Men and Masculinity

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Men and Masculinity

[Morris Finestein] was only a quick, skipping little Jew who cried if you called him Christ-killer, and ate light bread and canned salmon every day. [...] since then if a man were prissy in any way, or if a man ever wept, he was known as a Morris Finestein. (Ballad.28)

From the get, we learn: whether you're a Jew, a hunchback, or liable to cry, you're not a "real" man.

He did not wear trousers such as ordinary men are meant to wear, but a pair of tight-fitting little knee-length breeches. (Ballad.56)

In this story, manhood has expectations, not simply about conduct. Breeches are something children wear. Clothes can make the man a boy.

He regarded each person steadily at his own eye-level, which was about belt line for an ordinary man. (Ballad.57)

The narrator can't stop putting in digs like this, lest we forget that Lymon is as petite as Miss Amelia is tall.

His large, pale ears seemed to grow on his head and stiffen. (Ballad.137)

Cousin Lymon's ears seem to be the most expressive and masculine part of his person, almost aggressive as he listens in.

He and the man stared at each other, and it was not the look of two strangers meeting for the first time and swiftly summing up each other. It was a peculiar stare they exchanged between them, like the look of two criminals who recognize each other. (Ballad.151)

Do you think they're recognizing each other, or simply recognizing that neither is a respectable man in the eyes of the town?

No one in the town, not even Miss Amelia, had any idea how old the hunchback was. Some maintained that when he came to town he was about twelve years old, still a child—others were certain that he was well past forty. (Ballad.207)

Because Cousin Lymon either doesn't know or refuses to tell his age, there are fewer expectations for him to behave the way the townsfolk believe a man should act: true or false?

Mr. Brook was a somewhat pastel person [...] (Madame.3)

"Pastel" reminds us of Easter eggs, not testosterone.

His prim voice had risen higher and there was about it the sharp whine of hysteria. (Jockey.41)

When the jockey raises his voice an octave or two (closer to that of a woman's) the trainer, bookie and jockey seem to take him less seriously.

"Why don't I go up to my god-damn room and walk around and write some letters and go to bed like a good boy?" (Jockey.42)

Because the other men won't take the jockey seriously, he becomes closer to a boy than a man in their eyes, and the jockey can feel this happening.

Bailey was a lumbering red-haired man with a deliberate manner. (Sojourner.16)

And John Ferris is threatened: his ex-wife's new husband is as determined as he is noncommittal.

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