Men in the Land of Promise: Immigration and Challenges to Masculinity in M.G. Vassanji's No New Land.

Author:Adjei, Edwin Asa
Position:Critical essay

M. G. Vassanji notes in No New Land that "We are but creatures of our origins, and however stalwartly we march forward, paving new roads, seeking new worlds, the ghosts from our past stand not far behind and are not easily shaken off" (9). Being creatures of our past and the ghosts of our past not being far behind is the motivation for this paper which seeks to explore the portrayal of masculinity in Vassanji's No New Land in order to unearth how migration to a foreign land reinforces or challenges men's masculinity. This paper therefore seeks to explore how men deal with the ghosts of their past in relation to their socialization concerning masculinity as they encounter new forms of masculinity in a new land that reinforces or challenges their notions of masculinity.

This is done through an analysis of the characterization of key male figures in No New Land. These male figures are Nurdin, Jamal and Nanji. A look at how these male characters face the challenges or reinforcements to their masculinity is important, as "the narrative of migration intensifies the pressure for adaptation since one culture's requirements of its male subjects will be somewhat different from another's" (Daniel Coleman, 160).

A person's identity is an important part of who the person is. One of the key parts of a person's identity is gender as it influences almost all aspects of a person's life. This is succinctly captured by Mamphela Ramphele who notes in "Teach me how to be a man" that "identity formation in almost all cultures is modeled on ideals of what it means to be a man or woman" (1). Her argument is further supported by Linda Lindsey who also posits in Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective that, "acquired by ascription, the status of female or male is a master status in that it is one which will affect almost every aspect of our lives" (2). If gender is so key to a person's life and affects almost all aspects of a person's life, one then begins to wonder what migration does to a person's sense of masculinity and femininity, as gender is socially constructed and therefore each society has its social expectations in relation to masculinity and femininity. Daniel Coleman therefore says in his book on masculine migrations that he chooses to focus attention on men's narratives of migration because "international migration troubles the immigrant's relation to cultural norms, and in the disjuncture, in the re-evaluation and reassessment that the migrant male undergoes as a result of cross-cultural refraction, many of the masculine ideologies that so often remain assumed become objects of conscious attention" (p7). He further notes that "when men emigrate, they take a familiar, though not necessarily unified, set of masculine practices with them; when they immigrate, they encounter a second, less familiar set of masculine practices. Migration thus involves a process of cross cultural refraction" (p3). This paper therefore builds on Daniel Coleman's research on men and migration by looking at how men face their masculinity being challenged or reinforced in the African diaspora.

The place of gender in a person's life cannot be understated. Tanure Ojaide defines masculinity as "a conglomerate of virtues and characteristics built around the traditional expectations of being a man and the glorification of virile values. These qualities, sometimes related to warrior virtues are not only integral parts of the culture but are also seen by people as meeting established rules of behaviour/conduct and the action of men" (66). These established rules of behaviour are also known as hegemonic masculinity. Even though not all men consciously subscribe to hegemonic masculinity, it exerts influence through cultural and institutional practices and has strong roots in patriarchy. It favours toughness, physical strength and aggression. Scott Harrison notes that

"patriarchy therefore affects men as much as women. Men are oppressed and isolated by the models to which they are expected to conform. Men struggle to prove themselves to be men and the penalties for failing to do so are considerable. They are teased, isolated and forced into constant competition in drinking, sport, womanizing and risk-taking behaviours. Masculine identities often expect men to curtail their lifestyles in order to conform. Gender studies have not always recognized the damage done to men under patriarchy" (29). One of the main motivations for my study is the little recognition that gender studies gives to the damage done to men in a bid to curtail negative gender notions as they have often emphasized on the damage done to women under patriarchy. In addition, as Tommy curry notes, Black masculinity has its tensions and has been perceived in some quarters as a passion to achieve white masculinity, a myth which continues to be perpetuated by some scholars, who continue to deny the existence of multiple masculinities among Black men (3).

The novel was selected because it gives glimpses into the Tanzanian and Canadian cultures and enables a comparison between the masculinities of the two cultures and how immigration to a new culture can challenge or reinforce masculinity. Even though Vassanji's novel is not representative of all novels dealing with issues of immigration, it is hoped that this paper will be a catalyst to further research on the effects of immigration on masculinity and how men are also affected by immigration. As Rocio Davis notes, "An important part of Canadian multicultural literature deals with the process of achieving selfhood for the between world subject. Many of the writers question through their fiction what determines identity and creates community, signaling how geographical, ethnic, political and cultural makeup and differences serve as signifying aspects of this complex self (7).

This paper will make use of Judith Butler's theory on the performativity of gender. Judith Butler's theory of the performativity of gender is built on Simone de Beauvoir's assertion that "one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one". In her book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler makes the assertion that "the view that gender is performative sought to show that what we take to be an internal essence of gender is manufactured through a sustained set of acts, posited through the gendered stylization of the body" (xv). She adds, "Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid...

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