It’s a Man’s World: Fear of Loss of Masculinity Theme

Many of Hitchcock’s films explore the fear of impotence or castration—the fear of losing one’s masculinity. According to Freud, once a male becomes aware of the differences between male and female genitalia, he assumes that a female’s penis has fallen off, and thus fears the loss of his own. However, this does not have to be a literal fear of castration. Metaphorically, a man can be castrated by losing his masculinity or feeling as though his masculinity has been taken.

Hitchcock’s films discuss the idea of becoming emasculated in the metaphorical sense. For instance, in Rear Window, L.B. Jefferies is confined to a wheel chair after breaking his leg. He now has to have a female nurse come in and take care of him. In addition to the female nurse, he also has his girlfriend, Lisa looking after him. We get the feeling that he feels helpless. This feeling is evidenced in many times during the film, but particularly in the scene below where Lisa is over at the Thornwalds’ apartment snooping around. When she gets caught, Jefferies feebly watches from his apartment as Thornwald attacks her. The only thing he can do is call the police. He cannot take a more active role in saving his girlfriend, which is frustrating for him as a character because he is used to getting into the thick of things as a photographer. Likewise, Jefferies is reduced to a voyeur because of his broken leg. He must now live vicariously through his neighbors, watching their every move. He is particularly drawn to the Thornwalds because Mr. Thornwald represents something he has lost because of his leg—freedom. He is used to being able to travel around taking pictures of things, and now he just has to sit around and wait for his leg to heal. He is helpless and useless, like a child. He is a man who has been reduced to feeling like a child, which is completely enfeebling.

In addition, this theme is also shown in Spellbound particularly in the dream sequence seen below. One of Freud’s ideas concerning castration is the loss of sight, in particular an eye being sliced. In the dream sequence, the walls are made up of eye balls, and a man is cutting them with a huge pair of scissors. This could be a symbol for the feeling of being emasculated. J.B. feels as though he has lost a part of himself and now he must rely on a woman to help him regain what he has lost. Relying on other people, let alone a woman, can be construed as a very emasculating thing. As a man in our society, it is important for you to do things on your own—to provide for your family, to fix things on your own, etc., but J.B. cannot because he has lost a very important part of who he is—his memory.

Finally, no discussion about the fear of losing one’s masculinity would be complete without discussing Psycho. “A key theme of Hitchcock’s films is that they tell stories “built upon the struggle to dominate and the dread of impotence,” upon, more specifically, “ the form of a man’s desire… to dominate the woman” (Boyd and Palmer 85). Psycho is considered to be the first slasher film. Slasher films have had a long-standing reputation for being extremely sexual in nature, and Psycho is no different. The shower scene for instance, (see below) shows Marion Crane enjoying her shower. Her facial expressions mimic those of sexual pleasure. Additionally, water is often associated as a symbol for fertility so when Hitchcock cuts to a close up of the water coming out of the shower head, he intended to show the association between sex and murder. Later on in the scene Bates comes at Marion with a knife. A knife is a very phallic weapon that is used to plunge into its victims, mimic the act of sex. This act can be said to not only mimic the act of sex but substitute for it as well. At the end of the scene, Marion’s hand slowly tremors and falls down the wall of the shower. Hitchcock chose to film this in close up in order to show the sexual nature of this particular murder where it is a release for Bates.

Castration anxiety has more to do with the metaphorical loss of one’s manhood than it does with the literal loss. Hitchcock uses this idea within his films in order to show a loss of masculinity or impotence as was the case with Norman Bates in Psycho. In any case, his films psychologically connect with one of an audience’s deepest fears—the fear of losing oneself.

Post by: Alyssa Hockensmith

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