A Man in Full

Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff about the original 7 Mercury astronauts.  That book got me hooked on Wolfe as he made his transition from journalist to novelist.  His books are long and complex.

One that has not got the attention of, say, Bonfire of the Vanities is A Man in Full. It is a long book, over 700 pages.  I listened to the audio book or else I might have skipped some. As a no-extra-cost observation, I have to say the horse breeding scene is the most beautiful sex scene in modern literature.

One of the main characters is Conrad Hensley.  He lives in Oakland, California. He falls on hard times, loses his job, and becomes alienated from his wife and children.  His car is impounded and, in his frustration, he assaults an attendant at the impound yard. This lands him in jail.  There he starts to read Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher who was a contemporary of St. Paul.  Reading Epictetus, he experiences a religious conversion. Really!  He even starts evangelizing for the worship of Zeus.  (This of course, will trouble Christians, Jews and others. I do not think the religious aspects of Stoic thought are integral to practicing Stoicism, just as Eastern religion is not integral to using meditation of yoga.) He begins to put his life back together.  It is the practical philosophy of Epictitus that lets him do that. Reminiscent of St. Paul, he escapes from jail because of an earthquake.

I think the “man” in the book’s title is pretty gender specific, but not exclusively so.  I take the book as being about masculinity.  There are many detailed examples of flawed masculinity in the characters.  But Stoic philosophy allows Conrad to be the only “man in full”.

Thus, in spite of the shallow criticism of unemotional, stoic masculinity, Wolfe sees the management of emotions as key to male character.  It strikes me that in this economy many men are in Conrad’s boat.  They are having a tough time with employment and relationships.  Would adopting a tough-minded, rational, and practical philosophy like Stoicism help them?


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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