‘Sons of Bengal’ and the Absent Daughters: Gender, Performativity and Nationalism in Bengali Juvenile Literature
This article looks at the asymmetrical bifurcation of gender roles and performativity that is reflected palpably within Bengali juvenile literature of the twentieth century. These writings strove to venerate a cult of hypermasculinity through the portrayal of brave, assertive Bengali heroes who engaged in various escapades in distant lands or in the solving of mysteries and crimes, either alone or accompanied by male confidantes who remain completely devoted to them. This dominant cultural trope was consciously employed as a challenge to the imperial, racist stereotypes of the effeminate Bengali man who was imagined to be inferior to the virile, robust and intellectually superior Englishman. However, the role of women within such diegetic portrayals is liminal or conspicuously absent; female readers are conditioned to “wallow in the reflected glory of their heroes” (Mukherjee para. 13). This paper also looks into the politics of sexuality and nationalism involved within the celebration of male homosocial bonding over heteronormative relationships, thereby leading to the almost complete effacement of female agency.
KeywordsBengali juvenile literature, hypermasculinity, racist stereotypes, sexual politics, nationalism, male homosocial bonding, female agency
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