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The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, written in 1960 by Ray Bradbury depicts the true story of a young drummer boy who fought in the Battle of Shiloh. This short narrative displays the hardships of war through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy. The violence and grief often portrayed in stories of war is replaced with the idea of masculinity. This theme of masculinity is thoroughly explored throughout The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, distancing itself from the solely cliché masculine traits such as bravery, lack of emotion, courage and strength. Masculinity is introduced in The Drummer Boy of Shiloh through the characterization of the two main protagonists and the use of symbolism.
Joby, the fourteen-year-old protagonist of The Drummer Boy of Shiloh, is portrayed as a scared and emotional boy at the beginning of the short story. The fear and emotion most soldiers must feel the night before a battle is depicted through Joby. Bradbury utilizes the innocence of youth whilst displaying emotion not usually seen in masculine figures. By no means is Joby physically considered a man, but due to his presence in the setting of war he is expected to portray stereotypically masculine attributes. Therefore, the theme of masculinity is not so apparent at the beginning of the story, as Joby is discovered crying by the General. Upon discovering the boy, the General states “here’s a soldier crying before the fight. Good. Get it over.” (l. 52). This complete disregard of emotion is a common trait related with masculinity. The other soldiers that are “unable to sleep for romantic dreams of battles yet unfought” (l. 15), contrast the emotion displayed by Joby. At the end of the short story, Joby turns his drum back around. This is an indication of the developmental progression of the protagonist throughout the story. This can be seen as an act of bravery and courage, something that Joby lacks at the beginning of the story.
The General in The Drummer Boy of Shiloh portrays masculinity in an original manner that questions the stereotypical male. Upon introduction of the General, Bradbury depicts this character as a very masculine figure, “He smelled as all fathers should smell, of salt sweat, ginger tobacco, horse and boot leather, and the earth he walked upon.” (l. 62). As the General continues his conversation with Joby, the audience learn that he does not only encapsulate all the cliché traits a man usually has but some stereotypically feminine attributes as well, “You want to cry some more, go on ahead. I did the same last night.” (l. 78). After the emotional support just shown by the General he is still seen as a very masculine figure to Joby, “And, tobacco, brass, boot polish, salt sweat and leather, the man moved away through the grass.”(l. 156). Bradbury blurs the line between feminine and masculine, and instead intertwines and overlaps the two in order to create an ambience that is very uncommon in stories about war or conflict. This unconventional depiction of masculinity, the audience is presented with a different interpretation of every man that went and fought in wars.
The Drummer boy of Shiloh is set in a peach orchard. In Western culture, peaches can symbolize purity and youth, two traits Joby displays. The protagonist is awoken when the pit of a peach hit his drum. The panic he experienced leads him to “turn the drum on its side, where its great lunar face peers at him whenever he opened his eyes.” (l. 7). This suggests that he is scared of the drum and does not wish to have anything to do with it. Unlike other soldiers that hold weapons and shields, Joby has “only a drum, two sticks to beat it, and no shield.” (l. 33). Joby may not be scared of the drum directly but fears how it leads him to the violence and sacrifice of war. The instrument “which was worse than a toy in the game to be played tomorrow or some day much too soon.” (l. 41), is symbolic of the fear Joby experiences throughout the short story. After Joby exchanged with the general, “at last, very slowly and firmly, he turned the drum so that it faced up toward the sky.” (l. 160). This is an indication of the developmental progression of the protagonist throughout the story. This can be seen as an act of bravery and courage, as it shows that he is now ready to face the war. The Drummer Boy of Shiloh is set in a time of conflict and violence. This masculine scene is contrasted by the feminine aspect of the peach blossoms. Bradbury uses irony by creating a peaceful environment the night before a day of battle. This calming setting is presented with the knowledge that the following day it will be destroyed by violence. This alludes to the fact that war is a place for men, but without the incorporation of unmasculine features it would not be possible.
The depiction of an unconventional masculinity that is seen in The Drummer Boy of Shiloh is not common in stories of war and conflict. Bradbury is able to portray the idea that men may not solely display cliché masculine attributes in order to be considered a man. This allows for more fluidity between femininity and masculinity, which has resulted in a very original piece of literature that changes the stereotypical representation of males and the way they are presented.
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