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Toxic Masculinity in Charles Bukowski’s Poem Bluebird

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For generations men have been taught to “be a man” through expression of toughness, bravery, violence, and through sex. According to, toxic masculinity is defined as a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, and virility which can be harmful to ones mental health. Charles Bukowski’s poem Bluebird conveys the message that men exemplify strength and toughness as an asset to who they are in contrast to showing emotion which is illustrated as a weakness. Throughout the poem, there is an ongoing metaphorical flow of his emotions represented as a caged bluebird. It is evident that Bukowski’s work elucidates many ideas from a feminist lens, in which he draws comparisons and uses diction to illustrate the reality of toxic masculinity. 

To emphasize the conception of toxic masculinity, Bukowski uses multiple comparisons in the form of metaphors. For instance, “There is a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out” is a line repeated throughout the poem. Through the use of this metaphor, Bukowski portrays the idea of his emotions being almost identical to a bluebird caged up yearning for freedom. The cage represents the social structures refraining men from expressing their true feelings and vulnerabilities. While the bird fighting to escape is an illustration of how it is only human nature to be emotional and vulnerable at times and it is important to let it out when needed. The writer seeks to express his emotions, yet, he fears being ridiculed by society. Furthermore, Bukowski uses an additional metaphor to allow the reader to connect this prominent issue in society with the poem. To exemplify the contradictory standards regarding sentiment, the poem reads “he’s singing a little in there, I haven’t quite let him die.” This metaphor refers to the writer recognizing that his emotions and vulnerabilities exist even thought these feelings inside of him are caged up. Further, he does not let his emotions die out, yet, he definitely does not let them be free. Bukowski uses this metaphor to convey the message that men, just like women, need to express their emotion and be able to feel vulnerable without the feeling of shame or embarrassment. In short, these specific metaphors allow the readers to grasp the true underlying meaning of Bukowski’s work. 

In the poem, Bukowski uses various dictions to illustrate the depiction of toxic masculinity and to further the understanding of the message that the poem is trying to convey. For instance, an example in the poem where the use of this device is evident is when he states, “We sleep together like that with our secret pact.” More specifically, it is notable to mention that this poem is written to the Bluebird, speaking to him, which precedes to the idea of Bukowski’s speaking to himself. The use of the word “secret pact,” signifies confidentiality in the sense where he does not want anyone to find out the truth of the existing emotions he possesses. The secret pact is essentially the hidden truth that inside a man, there is another side filled with sentiment and emotions. Furthermore, the reason vulnerability consumed by men is oppressed or confidential is due to the social makeup where tears are weakness and vulnerability is a disadvantage. Additionally, Bukowski uses this literary device once more in the line “but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke.” In order to keep his bluebird caged up, he pours whisky and cigarette smoke on him to stay inside and never come out. He chose whisky and cigarette smoke on purpose to signify that he is not dealing with his emotions as he should be as these commodities are generally looked down upon in society. He feels as though he has to suppress his feelings most of the time and does this through drinking, smoking and maintaining a “tough guy” attitude. Additionally, he keeps his feelings so well hidden underneath this layer of liquor that he is well protected. This exemplifies the pain or lack of support that the man feels he has for his own emotions and his inability to share those feelings with others. Instead, he willows in his own despair and has little to no ability to share how he feels with those around him. This ultimately leaves the man feeling isolated and not worthy of his own mental awareness as society gives him little to no room to express his feelings in any form of emotion. 

Undoubtedly, the use of metaphors through comparisons and diction allow the reader to analyze the poem with a deeper meaning and understanding. Each metaphor and each specific word choice is chosen on purpose to ensure maximum depth in the reading. It seems evident that the poem suggests that like many other men, Bukowski struggled to live up to the societal norms of gender roles and his masculinity. Due to the presence of his toxic masculinity, Bukowski’s inability to express his sentiment and emotions leads to suppressing the existence of his emotions through using escapist techniques such as drinking and smoking.

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Toxic Masculinity In Charles Bukowski’s Poem Bluebird. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from
“Toxic Masculinity In Charles Bukowski’s Poem Bluebird.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
Toxic Masculinity In Charles Bukowski’s Poem Bluebird. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 May 2022].
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