While I won't officially graduate until May - convenient for me, as I can still take advantage of teaching assistant opportunities - I completed my degree requirements for the M.A. in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University. As part of my degree, I prepared a "paper of publishable quality", which is my department's version of a thesis. I'll be presenting an abbreviated version of this paper at the upcoming PCA/ACA conference in San Antonio, Texas, and thought I'd share it here for anyone who wants to read it in its entirety!
"Come see a fat, old man sometime!" Masculinity and Aging in True Grit and Unforgiven analyzes the way True Grit (1969) and Unforgiven (1992) grapple with the antithetical construction of aging and masculinity in Western society. This analysis is achieved primarily through close readings of the films as works of historical fiction that project current concerns about masculinity into the past. Guided by scholarship on age in men and masculinity studies and on masculinity in Westerns, this reading foregrounds the way the aging heroes meet and largely overcome challenges to their masculinity, primarily through traditional demonstrations of strength, violence, and competence aided by the iconicity of each film's star. It is in the nature of these recuperations that a line between the untroubled masculinity of True Grit and the fractured masculinity of Unforgiven can be drawn. Both films reject the antithetical positioning of aging and masculinity in Western society (and many Westerns) and suggest through the bodies of aging gunslingers that even old men can be masculine. While this may seem an uplifting reclamation of masculine identity for older men, its reliance on the demonstration of physical strength, power, and domination tie it to growing requirements that men “age successfully” - which may be just as damaging as denying older men “masculinity” altogether.
Eventually, likely after it comes out on DVD and I can get a second viewing, I'll write a post or two about the new True Grit, the ways it both improves upon and has difficulty measuring up to the previous film, and the different portrayals of Mattie in the two films and novel. If you're interested in the new film, I highly recommend Kelli Marshall's posts on the film.