This thesis conducts a comparative study on the discourses of heroic masculinity as represented in two literary classics, Luo Guanzhong’s Three Kingdoms from 14th century China, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur from 15th century England, with a focus on male homosocial bonding. Both works are culturally representative in terms of conceptualizing heroic masculinity and ideal male homosocial bonds.
The relations among feminine sexuality, heroic masculinity, and male homosociality are the focus of Kam Louie’s and Song Geng’s discussions of Chinese masculinity. Their studies of heroic discourses in the Chinese classics Three Kingdoms and The Water Margin particularly highlight misogyny as a key aspect of male homosociality in Chinese culture. Dorsey Armstrong’s study of gender in Malory, by contrast, foregrounds the centrality of women in the validation of knightly masculinity and enactment of male homosocial bonds, and shows that the homosocial knightly masculine community depends on the feminine for definition. This thesis builds on the work of these scholars in its cross-cultural comparison of heroic masculinity in Chinese and Western cultures.
In addition, this thesis is a further study on male bonding within the discourses of heroic masculinity and homosocial manhood in the texts under analysis and it seeks to address the contradictory and destructive aspects of male homosocial bonding in both Chinese and Western cultures. In the texts under analysis, three dominant groups of men who drive the narratives forward are identified. They are the valiant warriors (Guan Yu and Launcelot), the wise counselors (Zhuge Liang and Merlin), and the ideal leaders (Liu Bei and Arthur). Each represents a version of ideal masculinity in the texts and Chinese and Western cultures, namely martial valor, intellectual prowess, and virtue/morality. Each of these three masculine models and masculinities is discussed in one individual analysis chapter. Physical appearance, lineage/class, male–male, and male–female relations are major categories in which the representation of each character and masculinity is analyzed. In addition, in both narratives, male homosociality, manifested in the “bond of camaraderie,” dictates the fate of men and male homosocial communities. In the Three Kingdoms, the ideal “bond of camaraderie” is exemplified in the brotherhood of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei on one hand, and the lord–subject relations between Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang on the other. In Malory, the Round Table Fellowship embodies the ideal “bond of camaraderie” and the Knights of the Round Table are the supreme exemplars of the masculine ideal.
The major finding in this thesis is that the heroic masculinity in the texts under analysis is especially characterized by primacy of male homosocial bonds. Though male homosocial bonding drives the narratives forward and functions as a positive force at both public and personal levels in the respective Three Kingdoms and Arthurian communities, it is nevertheless problematic. Individual failing, failure of heroic pursuits, or the destruction of the entire male homosocial realm in both narratives is ultimately a result of the paradoxical nature and functioning of male homosocial bonding. Further, the thesis finds that notions of homosocial manhood in both texts are ultimately subversive because they demand absolute primacy of the bond of camaraderie over personal wellbeing or interest, heterosexual relations, family ties, and allegiance to the state (lord) and public duty.