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Thread: Homosociality in The Hobbit

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    Homosociality in The Hobbit

    We are meant to solicit answers to a question for my comparative lit class, so here is one that you might have a take on: While Tolkein focuses heavily on the determinant nature of lineage and family connection (for example, orcs are born orcs & are therefore evil), The Hobbit is devoid of heterosexualization that would render this device believable--is this because sexualization was seen by Tolkein as a choice which conflicted with his determinist framework or because the essential maleness of his work masks underlying homosociality?

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Put down the Judith Butler. This is ridiculous.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Put down the Judith Butler. This is ridiculous.
    Homosociality is from Sedgwick though.

    Although, I think the OP is misunderstanding the concept. The work is clearly homosocial, in that it involves social interactions between males. However, if the OP means to apply Sedwick's idea of homosocial desire, then they have inverted it. A lack of overtly heterosexual framing of the narrative implies that there is a lack of anxiety in the text about homosexual desire, which would then reinforce the sense that there is no homosexual subtext. I don't see a reason to apply these ideas to the Hobbit, when feminism already provides a working, and less spurious, framework to talk about the exclusion of women from these sorts of adventure narratives.

    The lack of overt sexuality is more easily explained by the genre conventions of 20th century children's literature.

    Edit: Just to expand on this, to properly discuss how homosociality works in The Hobbit (that is how same-sex interactions are differentiated from male-female interactions), it seems to me you would be going in the wrong direction if you focus on sexuality. Rather, the text might have something to say about "special bonds" between men, a sort of band of brothers myth, which excludes women. Yet, the reason why Sedgwick is useful for discussing these issues is because she casts a wide net and brings together the full range of same-sex interactions (both sexual and otherwise), and when a work is devoid of any sexuality it makes it kind of pointless to use a theoretical concept which is designed to reconcile tensions between ideas of sexual male bonds and non-sexual ones.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 01-14-2013 at 03:01 AM.
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    Out of curiosity...does your class ever actually talk about the work itself? As in, it's quality of writing, whether it has depth in characterisation, it's structure, pacing, dialogue, etc, etc...or is it all mostly overly-theory based bull****?
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    Registered User Calidore's Avatar
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    The Hobbit was written as a children's story, and I'd be very surprised if Tolkien intended anything of the sort. Simplicity: Hobbit=good, hero; Orc=bad, villain.

    Sounds like a bored academic was in need of a paper.
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    1. It may be a class focused on theory. 2. What's tolkiens's intentions matter?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Calidore View Post
    The Hobbit was written as a children's story, and I'd be very surprised if Tolkien intended anything of the sort. Simplicity: Hobbit=good, hero; Orc=bad, villain.

    Sounds like a bored academic was in need of a paper.
    Well there is a legitimate criticism directed at epic fantasy in general about the way moral traits and inclinations are apparently racialized. It doesn't really fit the Hobbit, but it is present in LotR, where it is most troubling in the form of the Haradrim (the evil men) who are orientalized in opposition to the European like cultures of Rohan and Gondor (or the very English hobbits).

    Popular fantasy has a bad habit of reductive essentialism where fantasy races are often only partially obscured analogues of real ethnic groups. It also comes with the problematic tendency of the homogeneous other, where anyone who is not the good guy is some sort of weird foreign mass with no individuality. Pulp sci-fi and fantasy often does this really lazily too, like defining a race in terms of only a single differentiating feature.
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    The notion that cultural and moral traits were inherited was standard in a great deal of ancient literature. Achilles was as likely to call himself, "Achilles, son of Peleus" as Thorin was to call himself, "Torin, son of Thrain, Son of Thror." Inasmuch as The Hobbit and LOTR style themselves as "old fashioned", this makes sense.

    AS to the homosociality (a term I've never heard before), perhaps Tolkien was aware of it when he wrote about the Entwives. If you remember, the Ents bemoan the fact that there are no Entlings (or is it "Entings", I forget) because the Entwives, who loved tamer, more cultivated lands than the Ents, had all disappeared. In a sense, this is depiction of much of the social interaction in the books in general. There are female characters: Eowyn and Galadriel, for example. And three of the main characters get married in the end: Sam, Eowyn (and Faramir) and Aragorn. Galadriel is married. Elrond WAS married, but his wife either died or went over the seas (I can't quite remember now, but she was sick with grief for one of her children). All the family trees in the Appendix represent normal, heterosexual descent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Well there is a legitimate criticism directed at epic fantasy in general about the way moral traits and inclinations are apparently racialized. It doesn't really fit the Hobbit, but it is present in LotR, where it is most troubling in the form of the Haradrim (the evil men) who are orientalized in opposition to the European like cultures of Rohan and Gondor (or the very English hobbits).

    Popular fantasy has a bad habit of reductive essentialism where fantasy races are often only partially obscured analogues of real ethnic groups. It also comes with the problematic tendency of the homogeneous other, where anyone who is not the good guy is some sort of weird foreign mass with no individuality. Pulp sci-fi and fantasy often does this really lazily too, like defining a race in terms of only a single differentiating feature.
    What is meant by the term reductive essentialism?

    Quote Originally Posted by Pierre Menard View Post
    Out of curiosity...does your class ever actually talk about the work itself? As in, it's quality of writing, whether it has depth in characterisation, it's structure, pacing, dialogue, etc, etc...or is it all mostly overly-theory based bull****?
    To be fair, I think you're confusing university with a book club.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Babyguile View Post
    What is meant by the term reductive essentialism?
    Reducing the "essential" quality of a race or ethnicity to a few characteristics in a way that ignores the complexity of identity and social structures.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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    To be fair, for every serious scholar there is in university there are a dozen mental masturbationists who think themselves scholars in the same way diletante rappers think themselves poets.

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    To be fair, for every serious scholar there is in university there are a dozen mental masturbationists who think themselves scholars in the same way diletante rappers think themselves poets.
    How interesting.

    Does the same rule apply to Forum contributions?
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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alexander III View Post
    To be fair, for every serious scholar there is in university there are a dozen mental masturbationists who think themselves scholars in the same way diletante rappers think themselves poets.
    Thanks for sharing, Alexander. "Fairness", however, is overrated. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong... but time and chance happeneth to it all, as some diletante poet once wrote.

    I'd never really noticed it before, but not a single woman makes an on stage appearance in "The Hobbit". Isn't that worth noticing? Mrs. Bungo Baggins (Bilbo's mother, nee. Belladonna Took) is mentioned early on, but only as background (I believe Gandalf mentions her in his first meeting with Bilbo, too). It is, I suppose possible that some of the nameless elves singing to the party in Rivendell are female, but they are never identified as such). Also, when Smaug attacks Laketown, the sentence (from memory, I glanced at the book this morning), "Women and children took to the lake in boats." appears. Perhaps the spiders are female (as Shelob and Ungoliant surely are).

    Although, of course, both women and heterosexuality play an important role in LOTR, the key relationships are homosocial -- the "bromance" between Sam and Frodo; Merry and Pippin's friendship; the father - son relationships between Gandalf and the hobbits. Neither Frodo nor Bilbo marry; as far as we know neither of them is good friends with any women (although they like Galadriel). I'm not sure how orcs or trolls reproduce (orcs were created by Morgoth in a mockery of elves) -- but no females ever come into our ken (that I remember).

    Perhaps it's just Tolkien's old fashioned view of sex roles; men journey and adventure; women stay home. Sam, the gardener, marries; the entwives leave to tend gardens. My memory is that the Valar who created the Trees of Light was female. Of course the old fashioned view of sex roles makes sense in mythological fantasty -- because mythology is old fashioned.

    Tolkien does admire exogamy (extreme exogamy) as shown by the relationships of Beren and Luthien, Tuor and Idril, and Aragorn and Arwen. His most romantic couples are heterosexual AND of different species. I suppose that's an extreme form of heterosexuality - sexual attraction to the "other" instead of the "like".

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scheherazade View Post
    How interesting.

    Does the same rule apply to Forum contributions?
    No, it's 1/100 here

    I think the best answer to this is, war has traditionally been a male enterprise. Battles and Sagas, on which, to an extent, The Hobbit, and certainly The Lord of the Rings are based, are traditionally stories of men.

    The idea of the Athena, or Diana - the Woman warrior, is but a sort of fetish compared to the presence of war as male sport, or male violence, or male activity. The Trojan war is fought almost exclusively by men. The Aeneid shows the founding of Rome as a male enterprise ("I sing of a Man...", not a Woman). Women have positions of violence, for instance, Kriemhild, but for the most part are left on the clean up.

    That being said, when we right about the glories of male violence, in the sense of the Hobbit, the adventure and the sport of the treasure hunt, if you will, we are dealing with a male preoccupation. If we complain women are left out, we must look to history to say this is no flaw of the Hobbit, but one of historical prejudice. That being said, I would rather be a Woman on the sidelines than a Gondorian on the front line, but that perhaps is a personal choice.

    I do not wish to downplay feminism, but from my understanding only men were traditionally stupid enough to make violence a career, and therefore find a band of brothers in the sharing of violent trauma. That the Hobbit perhaps glorifies such actions builds on the mystique of war, where it has traditionally been depicted as containing a sort of "glory" in it - it certainly is glorified in Classical works, and in Norse works. Ragnarok, is attended by those who possess courage and violent tendencies - we call this nobility, but in the context of contemporary society, we call this violent urge.

    The Arthurian cycle is also riddled with this sort of hypocrisy. Basically they are all violent, and the stories glorify a sort of male club of violent warriors. The Chinese novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Water Margin take this one step further - the band of brothers aspect of Water Margin, and the brutality of violence around it, is far more pronounced.

    As a children's book, it has very little in terms of serious depth. Still, if we want to call it homosocial, we have some sort of problems - is The Iliad a book about Homosocial relations then? The Aeneid? Why do we need such terminology to discuss something that is violent, and offers an ethic of violence. I don't wish to dismiss such works, only point out that both the criticism of women being left out, and also the criticism that relations are obscured because of the lack of women miss the big picture - it is an adventure story that places an aesthetic in the conquest of the dragon. You cannot write that story believably with many female characters.


    As for racism - the men who fight for Sauron in Lord of the Rings, at least in the movie, are remarked upon as sort of victims. Boromir's brother kills one and remarks on how they are the same, just on different sides of the conflict.

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    No, it's 1/100 here
    JBI! You made a joke!!11!!1!!!1!!
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