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Men and Boys in Man and BoyGender Roles and the Relation Between Fathers and Sonsin a novel by Tony ParsonsAnna NissenAnna NissenC-EssayDepartment of Languages and Literatures/EnglishUniversity of GothenburgSpring 2012Supervisor: Chloé Avril

AbstractExtensive reading is beneficial in the language learning process. If students get theopportunity to read novels, they will not only increase their vocabulary and develop theirlanguage competence, but they will also learn about living conditions and social issues in thecountry in which the story is set. Since students learn much more from a book which they findinteresting, it is essential to find a novel which most students in a class appreciate.Man and Boy by the British author Tony Parsons can be a good option. It appeals to manystudents, and it deals with a number of interesting issues which can be discussed in class, forinstance gender roles and family relations. The purpose of this essay is to show how TonyParsons challenges traditional gender roles when he lets Harry Silver, the protagonist of thenovel, reconsider his role as a man and a father. Harry’s father has always served as a rolemodel for his son, and just like so many other fathers he has influenced his son and made himthe man he is today. This kind of relation between fathers and sons is universal, and it isanother thing which is discussed in this essay.When you get the opportunity to discuss what happens in a novel you will learn much morefrom it than if you just read it for your own amusement, and it is always useful to work with anovel in different ways. Therefore the last chapter of this essay presents a number of activitieswhich can be good to use before, while and after a novel is read. This three-phase procedurecan help readers get a more thorough understanding of Man and Boy, but naturally it can alsobe applied to other novels.Keywords: Man and Boy, Tony Parsons, gender roles, fatherhood, masculinity, teaching1

InnehållAbstract . 1Introduction . 31: Issues to discuss when reading Man and Boy . 71:1 Gender roles. 71:2 Fathers and Sons . 122 How to Work with Man and Boy in the Classroom . 172:1 Pre-reading Activities . 172:2 While-reading Activities . 182:3 Post-reading Activities . 20Conclusion . 23List of references . 242

IntroductionThe syllabus for English at the upper secondary school stresses that students should meetwritten English of different kinds and relate the texts which they have read to their ownexperiences and knowledge.1 Naturally, fiction is not the only genre which should be used,but reading novels is still an important part of the education. Although the textbooks whichare used at school include authentic material, for instance extracts from novels, I haveexperienced that the texts which are presented there are too short to capture the reader’sinterest. When you read a whole novel, especially an exciting one, you really want to knowthe end of the story, and even those who find reading difficult will try to finish the book.Therefore I believe that it is vital to include reading of novels in the education of English as aforeign language.Reading novels can serve many purposes. In Literature in the Language Classroom Collieand Slater discuss ways in which literature is helpful in the language learning process. Theyclaim that personal involvement “enables learners to shift the focus of their attention beyondthe more mechanical aspects of the foreign language system” (Collie and Slater 5). In otherwords, although the language in a novel might be quite difficult to understand, a reader can beable to come through it just because of an exciting plot. When they read novels students willimprove their vocabulary, and Collie and Slater point out that “literature provides a richcontext in which individual lexical or syntactic items are made more memorable” (Collie andSlater 5).Tricia Hedge, the author of Teaching and Learning in the Language classroom, is anotherperson who is in favour of extensive reading and who sees the benefits that students can gainfrom it. She explains that to become a successful reader you must learn how to conquer a text.1I undervisningen ska eleverna få möta talad och skriven engelska av olika slag samt få sätta innehållet i relation tillegna erfarenheter och kunskaper. (Läroplan för gymnasieskolan (SKOLFS 2011:144 n. pag.)3

Among other things you must increase your awareness of how texts are organized, and youmust find strategies which can help you to guess new and difficult words. Hedge means that“it is only through more extensive reading that learners can gain substantial practice inoperating these strategies more independently on a range of material” (Hedge 202). She alsopoints out that through extensive reading learners will not only improve their languagecompetence and their reading ability, but they will also, among other things, become moreindependent in their studies and develop confidence and motivation to carry on learning(Hedge 204).Collie and Slater suggest that when students find reading meaningful and enjoyable it is morelikely to give them linguistic and cultural knowledge than if they do not enjoy their reading(Collie and Slater 6), and I agree with them. Therefore it is vital, but difficult, for teachers toselect books which their students will find interesting. One way to solve this problem is to letthe students choose their own books. It is, however, very useful and educative to let all thestudents in a class read the same novel. Then they will all share an experience, and it will bepossible for the teacher to present the students with a number of tasks which will help them tounderstand the text better.The novel which I will present and discuss in my essay is Man and Boy by the British authorand journalist Tony Parsons. It was published in 1999 and won the British Book Awards’Book of the Year in 2001. Since then it has been translated into many other languages. TonyParsons has written other books, but Man and Boy is still his best-selling novel. When I firstcame across it I was a bit surprised that my 17- and 18-year-old students liked it so much. Theplot is about a man, Harry Silver, who has a big crisis when he is reaching his 30th birthday.His wife leaves him when she finds out that he has been unfaithful to her, and the situationgets even worse when he loses his job. Suddenly he is left to take care of his 4-year-old son,Pat. Ever since Pat was born, Harry has been an absent father, whose greatest interest has4

been his job as a TV-producer, and he faces numerous problems when he has to learn how totake care of a child and a home.Exactly what makes a novel interesting is hard to say, but it is important that the book reflectshuman experience in one way or another. It is also vital that readers can identify themselveswith the hero of the book, and that they find his quest exciting. These are things which arewell met in Man and Boy. Even though the problems which Harry Silver tries to solve arequite prosaic they are still interesting to read about. His quest is to take care of his son (andeventually to let him go), and he has to solve his own problems while he learns to become abetter person. I think that one of the reasons why the book appeals to students at the uppersecondary school is the fact that even though Harry is so much older than they are, they canstill recognize many of the situations which he finds himself in. For instance, many studentsknow from their own experience what happens to a family when the parents go through adivorce. Also, although Harry is an immature and naïve person who messes up his life all thetime, he is a very kind and loving man who does his very best to make his son (and hisparents) happy. Therefore it is easy to feel sympathy for him. At the same time it is easy tolaugh at him. All the mistakes that he makes are obvious, and the reader can clearly see whatis going to happen to Harry long before he himself realizes it. I imagine that readers feel goodwhen they find that they are cleverer than the hero of the book.When you read Man and Boy it is easy to find interesting topics and questions to discuss, andthis is another reason why the novel is a good alternative when you look for a book to readwith your class. It is a form of Bildungsroman, and throughout the book Harry grows as aperson. Towards the end of the book he is much more mature than he was when it started.The teacher can easily frame questions which can be discussed in class, for instance: “Whatkind of a person is Harry? What do you know about him and his background? In which ways5

does he change?” It is also possible to reflect on a number of themes which can help readersunderstand the book more thoroughly.In the first chapter of my essay I will concentrate on some of the issues which I believe are themost important ones in Man and Boy, i.e. gender roles and relations between fathers and sons.Tony Parsons describes an ordinary man and his life. Therefore the way in which he presentsthese issues is a bit ambiguous. My thesis is, nevertheless, that Tony Parsons challengestraditional gender roles when he puts Harry Silver in completely new situations where he hasto questions his role as a man and a father. Since his own father has always served as animportant role model, their relation has influenced Harry in many ways. The fact that Harry’sfather loves his son and has confidence in him has made Harry strong, but since he has alsotransferred some of his own biases to him, Harry must now free himself from these in order tobecome a modern man.Usually you can learn many things from a novel even if you just read it for your ownamusement, but to get a more complete understanding of a book it is beneficial to work with itin different ways. Hedge (as well as Collin and Slater) suggests a three-phase procedure whenthe teacher helps students to develop their ability to understand the text by giving themdifferent tasks before, while and after reading it (Hedge 209). In the second chapter I willtherefore introduce a number of exercises which will help the reader of Man and Boy to seewhat the novel is really about, and when doing so I will take this three-phase procedure intoconsideration.6

1: Issues to discuss when reading Man and Boy1:1 Gender rolesThe curriculum for the upper secondary school, as well as the one for the compulsory school,stresses how important it is to strive for equality between men and women. Therefore thesubject cannot be ignored, and when reading books like Man and Boy it is easy to find topicsconnected to gender roles. Throughout the book Harry Silver is struggling with his genderidentity. In some situations he conforms to gender expectations, but in others he challengestraditional gender roles, for instance when he has to take over Gina’s role. This is why Manand Boy is well suited for discussions about equality. As I have mentioned before, Harry isvery much an ordinary man, and in consequence he is not perfect. Naturally it is very difficultfor him to see his own defects and prejudices, but they are apparent to the reader. This is whyit is possible for us to learn things about ourselves and our biases when we read about Harryand discuss the things which happen to him.Quite often we hear the expression “boys don’t cry”, and in Masculinity in Crisis RogerHorrocks argues that “men find emotions dangerous things”. He also asserts that it is difficultfor men to communicate their feelings (Horrocks 30). In Man and Boy we can see examplesof this. Harry, who is the narrator of Man and Boy, exposes his flaws when he relates his storyand jokes about his own mistakes. By doing so he hides how deep his feelings really are, andat the same time he shows that he has some distance to his own life and to the sad thingswhich he experiences during a rather brief period of his life. Harry will eventually changemany of his attitudes and habits, but his difficulties when it comes to expressing feelings willremain, and they will characterize him as an “ordinary man” throughout the book.In the beginning of Man and Boy Harry’s masculine identity is rather old fashioned, and hetries to copy the role which his own father had. One of the reasons why his life becomes so7

complicated is the fact that he has to learn how to become a new kind of man who activelytakes care of his son. Pat made Harry a father and a man, and therefore he has always meantvery much to Harry. Still Harry has not been there for his son during the first four years of hislife. It is only after the divorce that he learns how to take care of a child and a home. WhenGina and Harry change roles the traditional gender roles are made visible, and the reader ismade aware of his or her own prejudices.For instance, the fact that Gina decides to leave

Man and Boy by the British author Tony Parsons can be a good option. It appeals to many students, and it deals with a number of interesting issues which can be discussed in class, for instance gender roles and family relations. The purpose of this essay is to show how Tony Parsons challenges traditional gender roles when he lets Harry Silver, the protagonist of the novel, reconsider his role ...

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