John Crowley’s Boy A tests our perceptions of social acceptance of a boy/young man (Eric/Jack) in arrested masculine development who has had few opportunities to properly mature outside of a prison/youth detention culture for fifteen years. Crowley contrasts this vis a vis Jack’s male co-workers and the masculinity of his girlfriend Michelle’s romantic advances as well as that of Philip, Eric’s young friend. And while the character of a culture is not as obvious as it is in a culture that is seemingly “foreign” to us individually, each story has a self-enclosed culture that must be studied in context to determine the cues that indicate its masculine and feminine norms.
Until Philip arrives, Eric really has no role models to emulate, given that his parents are not emotionally present and he seems extremely shy, exhibiting a side that seems at once awkward, confused and sensitive which could be read as feminine to some of the bigger bullies in the advanced grades. When Philip arrives to defend him, he is at once grateful and proceeds to mimic those actions, actions that eventually get him into trouble. Still, he seems passive about what will happen to him once he is locked up.
Once out and under the guidance of Terry, Jack still seems mostly unaffected by the prison culture and still in arrested masculine development. His awkwardness translates into passiveness that may be read as femininity by his coworkers but that doesn’t seem to bother them so I wonder how the characters in that culture would react had he exhibited overt homoerotic tendencies. However, they do seem a little surprised when he expresses a romantic interest in Michelle who assertively invites herself out with the male coworkers after determining that Jack expresses an interest in her.
Even though, Michelle pursues Jack aggressively, she manages to make it appear that they are proceeding slowly in their mutual romantic attraction. She even appears to wonder if he is under the influence of something when he explodes that he loves Michelle. She dismisses this casually and leaves their budding relationship for another night.
Later on, Jack’s loyalty to his new friends is tested as he enters a fight between a stranger and his co-worker that ends with Jack becoming violently out of control. This is one of the few instances where Jack’s overt masculinity is present in the film, one that seems to flashback to two instances as a young boy with Philip where he meets Philip and the other where older bullies approach Eric and Philip to accuse Philip of being gay. Just as in the previous fight, Eric enters the fray and fights violently losing control. Oddly enough, no character, minor or major, ever accuses or implies that Eric or Jack may be homosexual or have homosexual tendencies.
Jack and Michelle’s first date begins with a surprise when Jack arrives at Michelle’s house to escort her to a movie and she assertively suggests that they stay in with a few DVDs that she has rented from a local shop. Given that their masculine and feminine roles appear reversed here, it is Jack that appears shocked that they are not going out to a movie and appears to passively accept.
The two begin flirting on the couch after Jack deliberately begins sitting apart from Michelle as they watch the movie, moving to the bedroom. After a period of foreplay and Jack’s attempt to ejaculate, he fails, becoming embarrassed in a stereotypical manner that reveals he is afraid that Michelle and everyone would look upon his as less of a man than he would be comfortable with. She comforts him, offering a particular joke that she doesn’t want to appear easy to get, a stereotypical feminine trait from Michelle that she hitherto did not seem to possess, whereupon they cuddle on the couch and begin a second round of foreplay where Jack redeems himself and the two begin to cuddle.
The next day, Jack maintains his passive and slightly feminine demeanor while he is teased about his previous date with Michelle and whether they had sex. While out working with one of his co-workers, the two stumble upon an almost fatal car accident where Jack’s masculine adrenaline is fueled to save the little girl in the back seat.
It is interesting to note that throughout the film, Jack is primarily passive and appearing slightly feminine, and yet his co-workers do not seem uncomfortable around him. This brings up another point that Eric primarily seemed to follow Philip’s lead. Throughout Philip is aggressive, destructive and masculine and Eric is mostly passive and feminine. At the very least, Eric remained passive during the murder and stood by watching Philip without participating and somehow not understanding the import of what was happening. At the most, he knew what was happening and he just watched passively. This is pure speculation, however, Jack never seems to lose his innocence, even after sex.
Jack is even primarily passive and feminine once he is exposed to the wrath of Terry’s son and the unaccepting public and the headline-grabbing reporters. Other than the violent jump from the roof, he does nothing that would be identified as predominantly masculine. The train ride is uneventful. Somehow, Michelle is there to reassure him that she probably would have forgiven and accepted him, a particularly masculine stereotype. She leaves to return to the train, leaving him to jump from the pier, however high it may be.
In spite of the desperation in Jack’s demeanor and circumstances, I do not believe that he would jump in a particularly masculine saving –face sort of way. His character is hopeful in a desperate kind of way and his previous actions bely this desperation.