Monday, March 10, 2014

A Satire on Mountain Climbing and Masculinity

The main defining characteristic of Jonathan Hemlock in The Eiger Sanction is his uber masculinity. Somehow he seems to be “the perfect male” in every aspect of his life – he easily and effortlessly seduces every single woman he encounters, intimidates other men, drinks a lot of beer, and is highly respected in his masculine field. This novel is like an amped-up version of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and other Bond novels. By taking the tropes seen in this and other secret agent novels (rugged masculine hero, who has all of the women, booze and hero worship that that he wants) and highly exaggerating them, the novel develops a satirical tone towards masculinity itself and the spy novel in general.

The mountain in this novel seems to exist as another extremely hyped-up test of masculinity for our hero, Hemlock. He easily completes the other tasks placed before him in the beginning of the novel, whether it’s teaching or assassination. Climbing the mountain becomes the next bigger thing to demonstrate the abilities of men. The mountain is portrayed as a man’s world in this novel and there is not even the suggestion of a woman climber. The mountain, therefore, becomes another test in which Hemlock can prove his superior manliness and persona. It’s almost too much – our main character is not only a highly intelligent, incredibly attractive secret agent, but also used to be one of the best mountain climbers in the world. In this novel, the “adventure narrative” exists not only as a demonstration of masculinity, but also adds to the satirical nature of the narrative because it is so extreme and deadly.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great point, Alana! I think that the satire is even more clear when we consider how little Jonathan actually cares for sex. Trevanian states at the beginning of the novel, "Jonathan felt nothing when he made love. That is to say, he had never experienced that local physical ecstasy we associate with climax...he knew great relief at the moment of discharge. But his relief was a termination of discomfort, not an achievement of pleasure" (33). So Hemlock is this "uber-male" as you state so well, but he gets no real pleasure out of the sex he has. It is just a release.
    Also, concerning the mountain climbing, immediately after Jonathan explains at length the stories of glory in mountain climbing, the stories of Man vs. the Ogre, Randie Nickers deflates this idea by reducing mountain climbing to just "my theory is that men climb mountains out of some kind of frustration" (190). So all of these "uber male" qualities end up not being all that great. This satire is so interesting as, as you explain, he is so "uber male" but then these qualities are revealed to be rather less amazing than they seem- merely a release rather than extremely special.