Study Guide

Doll Bones Men and Masculinity

By Holly Black

Men and Masculinity

Boys had been hassling her every since she'd hit ten, gotten curves, and started looking a lot older than she was. (1.23)

Alice hit puberty a bit early, and she's taken a lot of guff from guys ever since. Many of the male figures in Doll Bones behave badly in one way or another.

His father loved that Zach was on the basketball team. […] He didn't like that Zach played with girls after school instead of shooting hoops with the older kids a couple of blocks over. (2.6)

Zach's father is really into manly man stuff. For men. You know, not girls. Somebody might want to tell this guy that girls play basketball, too…

"Your dad was brought up by a very strict man and, as much as he hates it, he acts like his father sometimes. It's what he knows, honey." (3.7)

Zach's mother tries to explain where his father is coming from—and where he's coming from is a tough childhood of his own. Ways of being a man get passed down from generation to generation, it seems.

"Just listen," Alice said. "Try not to be the huge jerk you've turned into." (5.40)

Zach's father was mean to him, and now Zach is being mean to his friends. It's a vicious cycle, yo. Here's hoping somebody dares to break it…

"Okay," Zach told the man, leaning forward, trying to get between him and Poppy. His father would say that as a boy, it was his responsibility to protect the girls. (6.47)

Even when his father isn't around, Zach is hyperconscious of what he would think about Zach's behavior.

As soon as his father had picked up, Zach had expected a lot of shouting and the phone getting slammed in its cradle. But his father didn't sound angry. Zach wasn't sure why, but more than anything else, his dad sounded scared. (14.90)

Zach has been missing for two days, but it never occurs to him that his father might be worried. But guess what? His dad totally is.

"It was a mean thing to do. I grew up mean, and I don't want you to have to grow up mean, too." (14.102)

Zach's dad has been a meanie, but he wants to change. He's clearly not proud of the way he's acted, which is a good motivator to do better in the future.

"When I saw you with those figures, I pictured you getting hassled at school. I thought you needed to be tougher." (14.104)

Why do you think Zach's dad associates playing with being weak? Like, what's up with that?

Looking around, though, it wasn't that different from a boys' bathroom. The tile was pink, and there were no urinals on the wall, just a row of three stalls and a single sink—but otherwise, it was identical. (15.71)

We might think of this little moment as a declaration that the genders really aren't all that different from each other. Boys and girls might be dressed up differently, but underneath it all, they're just human.

He felt stupid for telling them. He felt stupid for crying. If only he'd kept his mouth shut, everything would have been fine. (16.75)

Right after he confesses what happened with his dad to Alice and Poppy, Zach feels dumb. But just a few minutes later he feels relieved, and "for the first time since he'd lost his figures, he was ready to let go" (16.78). Perhaps Zach's finally letting go of his dad's expectations a bit.

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