Essay: Richard Ford – The Sportswriter (1986)

Richard Ford is one of the most gifted novelists in the contemporary America. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel Independence Day. This novel is the first one in history to win together the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1995. His works are being associated by the literary critics to the movement of ‘foul realism’. Ford is widely respected for the work with the language he applies in his texts. He was born in 1944. Ford has written eight novels and a collection of short stories in American literature. Ford’s The Sports Writer is a highly acclaimed pattern of contemporary realistic fiction. It revolves around the thoughts and observations of one central character, the protagonist Frank Bascome. This paper encapsulates the protagonist, life, affairs, happiness, love, feelings and pain, as well as the dramatic change in his style. Of course the soundless plight of men in contemporary society was skilfully depicted by American author Richard Ford in his award winning novel The Sportswriter (1986).
Ford’s Frank novels efficiently dramatize the poverty of human relationships in contemporary culture. Frank, the protagonist, and the men with whom he interacts suffer from problems that are quite conman to many North American men. Thirty year-old Frank faces the tragedies and disappointments in his life without self ‘ pity. He faces difficulties similar to those the earlier athlete faces. Frank is no longer a husband and barely a father. He is a writer for an American sports magazine who is struggling to understand himself and the world around him. The opening paragraph, “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter” (3).provides us with a complete list of al1 the things which are clear to Frank as the novel begins. The paragraphs which follow reveal his confusion over the disappointments and failures of his life; he has made money but is neither happy nor stable, as he thought he would be. Mid-life crisis has cast the protagonist into a state of dreaminess and depression. He remains, yet, a unfailing narrator as he assures us early on: ‘I have a voice that is really mine, a frank argues in rural voice more or less like a used car salesman: a no-frills voice that hopes to uncover simple truth by a straight-on application of the facts”(11). The Sportswriter chronicles a weekend of Frank’s life and the lives of three men he encounters, and reveals the problems the male mystique causes them. Frank responds to his feelings of alienation by joining The Divorced Men’s Club, a group of five single men who meet occasionally to relax and engage in traditionally masculine activities such as watching baseball games and fishing. These activities are alluring to Frank and other men because they appear to promote social interaction; unfortunately, the activities also distance the men from interaction with women and true progress in their lives The men are unable or unwilling to express their feelings about their individual lives, and the club exists simply as an excuse for the men to drink and display bravado, rather than engage in any manner of therapeutic conversation.’ This unfortunate arrangement is attributable to the masculine mystique and the manner in which it encourages men to conceal their emotional problems so that they do not appear weak or feminine. While Frank does not address his problems another club member, Walter Luckett, does and is, in fact, the only man to do so in the novel.,
In the novel’s starting page, Frank and his ex-wife (Anne Dykstra, but referred to in this novel only as X) are standing in a cemetery sharing a moment of reflection on the anniversary of their first son’s death. Even as in the cemetery, Frank makes mention to three poems: “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Eliot, “To An Athlete Dying Young” by A.E. Housman, and “First Meditation” by Theodore Roethke–each of which is thematically relevant to The Sportswriter. Like the men described in the poem, lead empty, meaningless, life-in-death existences in a dying and meaningless world. The American men lead empty lives, dedicated to accumulating wealth and power instead of friendships and happiness. These poems indicate that there is something wrong.
With the social codes that govern men’s lives; the codes create an absurd world and ruin the lives of its inhabitants. Frank and X exemplify Ford’s disregard for gender conventions; while each retains feelings for the other, they each transmit those feelings in unconventional ways. Frank still cares deeply for his wife and openly displays his emotions when they are together. X still cares about Frank but she erects a transparent facade of stoicism. Frank is often depicted as fragile, dreamy, and sympathetic. He notes that “I have always liked hearing women talk more than men” (11). And believes that ‘men feel things women don t”(329). The death of his first son has dispelled the notion of continuity for Frank, as has his divorce. Trapped in what he refers to as the Existence Period, Frank inhabits a world that is seemingly unknowable and retreats within himself to escape. Frank, like many men, lacks the vocabulary to describe the psychological turmoil from which he suffers, so Existence Period is his label for this turmoil. The turmoil includes his divorce, the death of one son, and his inability to fa11 in love again, and regrets from his past. The Sports Writing is unambiguous and Frank depends on the simplicity of his profession to keep himself sane, but the therapeutic qualities of his vocation are a lie. Frank
Claims to love Sports writing superficiality, but the truth is that the job is perp&uating Frank’s dreaminess. Rather than confronting his mid-life problems, Frank is allowing himself to slip in and out of a dream-like state (10).
His dreaminess provides temporary escape, but it provides no true solace because, in his dreamy state, he sees that he is himself, as complex, chaotic, and mysterious as the world around him. Frank does not fit into the world because the world insists on obedience to the doctrines of the masculine mystique-doctrines against which Frank is unconsciously rebelling as he suffers his mid-life crisis. Frank’s divorce, for example, tags him as socially dysfunctional. As he notes, it is not, I have come to understand, easy to have
a divorced man as your neighbour. Chaos lurks in
him–the viable social contract called into
question by the smoky aspect of sex. Most people
feel they have to make a choice and it is always
easier to choose the wife, which is what my
neighbours and friends have mostly done(5).
Frank responds to his feelings of alienation by joining The Divorced Men’s Club, a group of five single men who meet infrequently to relax and engage in traditionally male activities such as watching baseball games and fishing. These manners are alluring to Frank and other men because they appear to promote social contact; unfortunately, the activities also distance the men from interface among women and true progress in their lives. The men are unable or unwilling to express their feelings about their individual lives, and the club exists simply as an excuse for the men to drink and display bravado, rather than engage in any manner of therapeutic conversation. While Frank does not address his problems, another club member, Walter Luckett, does and is, in fact, the only man to do so in the novel. Even though, Frank listens with discomfort and annoyance, Walter explains that his life is in shambles. He is undergoing a crisis, a mid-life crisis, which he does not fully understand and which recently has led him to have sexual intercourse with a man he met in a bar. After his shocking revelation, Walter reflects on his inability to bond with Frank during his confession. Even though his future is uncertain, he is able to take consolation in the knowledge that his own problems with the men mystique and the male mid- life crisis are shared by others: ‘We have all felt that way, I am confident; since there’s no way that I could feel what hundreds of millions of other citizens have not (375). What separates Frank from the crowd is that he redeems himself from his life long participation in the men mystique, which tens of millions of other American men are unable to do. Because Frank plays the role of “the saved” in The Sportswriter, it is not he who is most illustrative of the negative effects of the masculine mystique because he manages to survive his mid-life crisis
and re-focus his life. While Frank’s fate preserves optimism and saves the novel from a morbid conclusion, it is the men who interact with Frank, “the damned,” who are more interesting subjects of study. Unlike Frank Bascombe, Walter Luckett, Herb Wallagher, and Wade Arcenault do not contend well with the masculine mystique and the male midlife crisis.

At the end of the novel Frank is dumped by Vicki because of his argument at the supper table. It is an interesting separation because it marks a physical separation form those from whom he is ideologically distancing himself–those who, like the Arcenaults, are-content to live under the thumb of the masculine mystique. The separation is a violent one–Vicki punches him in the face, making his mouth bleed when he protests–which marks the abrupt termination of his association with mental and. ideological apathy and the birth of a new Frank, who is more clearly able to understand his own life and the world around him.

Source: Essay UK - http://xbmm43.com/essays/english-literature/essay-richard-ford-the-sportswriter-1986/


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