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Joyce Carol Oates “On Boxing”

Some of the most famous authors: Norman Mailer, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway – have turned to the subject of boxing in their works. Now one of the greatest novelists of our time, Joyce Carol Oates, has replenished this list.

Joyce Carol Oates became interest in boxing in her early childhood, he interest she inherited from her father. Joyce described her thoughts and feelings about boxing in a great essay “On Boxing”. This essay addresses the subject of boxing as a metaphor, spectacle, and dance; the history, lore, and allure sport. It also asks and discusses the question whether boxing should be banned, whether it should be covered closely by mass media and women’s role in boxing.

In some way “On Boxing”, is a feminist attempt to grasp the secret of masculinity, why are contact sports so attractive for men and examine the male-dominated culture of our time. “In the brightly lit ring, man is in extremis,” writes Oates, “performing an atavistic rite or agony for the mysterious solace of those who can participate only vicariously in such drama: the drama of life in the flesh. Boxing has become America’s tragic theater.” (One Hundred Great Essays by Robert Diyanni p. 549)

Joyce Carol Oates is creating the picture of a fight with every little detail, grasping not only physical but also emotional state of boxers. Joyce is making comparisons so illustrative that one can easily imagine the scene in his head, like this one: “A well-aimed punch with a heavyweight’s full weight behind it can have the equivalent force of ten thousand pounds.” (One Hundred Great Essays by Robert Diyanni p. 553)

“Men fighting men to determine worth (i.e., masculinity) excludes women as completely as the female experience of childbirth excludes men. And is there, perhaps, some connection?” (Library Journal, January 1987, p101 Erik Erikson).

It has always been thought that aggression is a province of men, just as nurturing is typical for women. However, the female boxer ruins this belief, and sets a completely different view on the standards. Female boxer is never taken seriously – she is more of a parody, something very unattractive. This theme Joyce Carol Oates develops in her essay as well. According to Erik Erikson, “little girls playing with blocks generally create pleasant interior spaces and attractive entrances, little boys are inclined to pile up the blocks as high as they can and then watch them fall down” (Library Journal, January 1987, p101 Erik Erikson). Therefore, no matter how spectacular a boxing match can be, it will always end up with blocks falling down, we can conclude that boxing is the masculine sport, Joyce give us a different look on the idea.

The essay is a great literary work without a doubt; however, the author is quite subjective describing boxing in her essay. Clearly, Joyce adores this sport, and she gives us her opinion on boxing. Is it the way boxing is in reality? I do not think so. Boxing is not only about beauty of muscles, speed punches and huge men running around the ring. I would say it is more about the boxers who had left the professional boxing being crippled invalids, unable to make their own living anymore. It is the most brutal of all contact sports, and I think there should be limitation to its translation on TV and newspapers.

I agree with the saying: “Well, in boxing you climb into the ring to kill the other man with your fists. As it happens, he is trying to do the same to you, so there is hardly ever even a nose broken”. (Dolphin/Doubleday, New York, 1987. Dan Duffy).

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