Masculine Insecurity in Dagoberto Gilb’s “Shout”
In “Shout,” Dagoberto Gilb focuses his story on the emotions and headspace of his protagonist, a manual laborer returning home from a hard day’s work. While he looks to escape the toil of his labor, this laborer realizes that his home life does not provide the relief he desperately seeks. At home, the protagonist faces a new set of burdens—the complications of family life and the pressure of his role as provider. Consequently, the author infuses a sense of volatility and instability in the story’s atmosphere, a mood that is ultimately symptomatic of the protagonist’s inability to separate the stresses of hard labor from his home life. By including these elements, Gilb exposes the larger issue of masculine insecurity, as the protagonist cannot reconcile the hyper-masculine nature of his work with his shortcomings in his home life.
“Shout” opens in an abrupt and contentious manner. Gilb writes, “He beat on the screen door. ‘Will somebody open this?!’” (Gilb 433). This aggressive image and the character’s demanding nature serve as our first introduction to the protagonist and the situation he inhabits. Gilb continues on, writing, “unlike most men, he didn’t leave his hard hat in his truck, he took it inside his home” (Gilb 433). On face value, this statement tells us that the man works in a physical environment, and the detail that he brings his hard hat into his home is seemingly extraneous. However, upon further examination, this sequence can be reinterpreted as a symbolic moment, foreshadowing the protagonist’s failure to keep his work life outside the doors of his home. Gilb expounds on this conflict by giving the reader more insight into the protagonist’s mindset after a toiling day of work. He writes, “All he could think about was unlacing his dirty boots, then peeling off those stinky socks, then the rest” (Gilb 433). Gilb seems to draw a figurative link between the act of shedding the burden of work and literally shedding these items of work wear. Additionally, Gilb imparts the protagonist’s internal stress into his external environment, as heat and humidity persist as motifs of his frustration throughout the story.
After describing the sweltering heat and perspiration that his protagonist endured on the jobsite, Gilb presents heat as a relentless force from which there is no escape; he goes on to write that the house “was probably hotter than outside” (Gilb 434). As the protagonist transitions from work to home, we begin to see cracks in his domineering and hyper-masculine disposition. This breakdown is evident in the frequent emotional shifts throughout the piece. An example of the character’s faltering masculinity can be seen in his very first interaction with his family. Desiring calm after his day of work, he is instead greeted by a bickering wife and fussing children. The protagonist attempts to control the situation by yelling at them all to “’shut up and be quiet!’” (Gilb 434). However, his demand is ignored, and instead of quieting them, he only worsens the chaotic situation. The protagonist’s masculinity is further undermined by his wife who does not shy away from challenging his abrasive attitude with her own—in this instance, by glaring at him. He responds menacingly to her defiance, saying, “sometimes I wish you were a man cuz I wouldn’t let you get away with looks like that. I wouldn’t take half the shit I take from you” (Gilb 434). Despite this empty threat, this moment signifies a shift in the dynamic of the two, as Gilb indicates: “Already she wasn’t mad at him. It was how she was, why they could get along” (Gilb 434). With things calmed down between the two of them for the moment, the wife asks her husband if he has any news, and it is revealed that his employment situation is tenuous, putting them in a situation in which “they felt like they were starting out again, and that did not seem right” (Gilb 434). Gilb seems to coordinate this revelation with the protagonist’s consequent uptick in temper. Suddenly, his back begins to stiffen and he again snaps at his family, yelling, “‘everybody has to shut up! I can’t stand this today! I gotta relax some!” (Gilb 435). When his inability to secure a stable and sufficient income as his family’s provider is brought up, he cannot help but lash out. In doing so, he alienates himself further from his family, suggesting that he is isolated by his sense of duty and by his related sense of failure as a masculine figure.
The protagonist’s insecurity over his masculinity not only manifests in his temper, but also in his desire to remove himself from the responsibilities piled on top of him. He appears to turn towards alcohol to aid him in numbing his unpleasant reality. Gilb highlights this notion, as beer is the only thing in the story that is described as cold, in contrast to everything else, which is shrouded in unbearable heat: “He’d take a cold one into the shower. The second one. He’d down the first one right at the refrigerator. ‘Come on!’ Three and four were to be appreciated, five was mellow, and six let him nap before bed” (Gilb 433). Because the protagonist cannot escape the stress in his life, he turns to alcohol, along with television, for temporary relief and escape.
As the story ends, there are two instances in which the protagonist’s masculinity is restored. In the first instance, he tells off a neighbor who speaks crassly towards his children and defends his family. Despite this moment of masculine triumph, he admits his inner anxiety over the thought that the neighbor might actually come out and harm him. Shortly after this moment, he is surprised to learn that his wife is pregnant—another revelation that affirms his masculinity. He and his wife go on to have sex after he tells her, “I have to. We do. It’s been too long and now it doesn’t matter” (Gilb 436). In this moment, the protagonist’s masculinity is restored, and for the first time he feels temporarily released from his burdens. He follows this moment with a cold shower that finally relieves him from the heat, and Gilb describes his emotions by writing, “it was joy, and it was so strange” (Gilb 436). However, this moment is fleeting. Just when the protagonist seems to arrive at a place of peace, he begins to dread morning approaching: “He thought he should hold on to this as long as he could, until he heard the pitch of the freeway climb, telling him that dawn was near and it was almost time to go back to work” (Gilb 436). Not only does his sense of a burden resurface with the morning, but it also becomes more intense; after all, there is another child to provide for on the way. The man is again at the mercy of circumstances beyond his control, making his sense of masculinity vulnerable once again.
In “On Writing Shout,” Dagoberto Gilb explains, “What I hoped to offer was not a simple portrayal of a construction worker coming home from work exhausted from a long day in the heat” (Gilb 437). And within “Shout” itself, Gilb seemingly chooses to focus on the theme of masculine insecurity as a means of highlighting the complicated dynamics of a working-class family. By creating a complicated emotional landscape, Gilb apparently tries to show that the protagonist acts as he does not out of malice, but rather due to an underlying anxiety over the uncertain. The author thus details the emotional toil of a character desperately seeking to live up to his masculine role, but finding himself without the agency to do so.
Gilb, Dagoberto. “Shout.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 10th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 432-436. Print. Gilb, Dagoberto. “On Writing Shout.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 10th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 436-438. Print.
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