July 7, 2011

The City and the Pillar- A Review

I have read a lot of Gore Vidal. I am not being hyperbolic when I say I love him. He has got to be one of the best writers of the twentieth century. A few months ago, I finished Palimpsest: A Memoir and Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, in which he wrote at length about The City and the Pillar...(wikipedia)
...written in 1946 and published on January 10, 1948. The story is about a young man who is coming of age and discovers his own homosexuality.

The City and the Pillar is significant because it is recognized as the first post-World War II novel whose openly gay and well-adjusted protagonist is not killed off at the end of the story for defying social norms. It is also recognized as one of the "definitive war-influenced gay novels", being one of the few books of its period dealing directly with male homosexuality. In addition, it was among the few gay novels reprinted in inexpensive paperback form as early as the 1950s.
I knew I had to read it. Publishing this book in 1948 was all but suicide for Vidal, not only in terms of his writing career, but also for his political ambitions. He was advised never to publish such an overtly homoerotic book, “An editor at EP Dutton said to Vidal, "You will never be forgiven for this book. Twenty years from now you will still be attacked for it." But publish it he did.

The novel itself is nothing special, but the themes he exposes were, and unfortunately still are, groundbreaking.
One major theme is the portrayal of the homosexual man as both normal and masculine. Gore set out to break the mold of novels that up until The City and the Pillar depicted homosexuals as transvestites, lonely bookish boys, or feminine. Gore purposefully makes his protagonist a strong athlete to challenge superstitions, stereotypes, and prejudices about sex in the United States. To further this theme Vidal wrote the novel in plain, objective prose in order to convey and document reality.
One can’t help but admire Vidal’s strength and courage. This book surely opened doors for the entire Beat Generation, Harvey Milk, and others struggling to be gay and normal in America. The City and the Pillar is a timeless novel as the world comes to terms with what it means not only to be gay, but also for what it means to be a man. It is a shame that this book is not read and discussed more in schools, where it would surely help many young men pass the terribly difficult and painful experience of becoming men.

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