Jan 12, 2018 in Analysis

Subduing Satan

The clash of values is a typical process that takes place in society because of different influences that it is shaped by. Ted Ownby's book Subduing Satan explores the conflict that Christianity had with stereotypical masculinity in the American South during 1865-1920. The author points out that lifestyle and social models of behavior, particularly in a family, bore a contradiction between evangelical ethics and license for sins that secular code guaranteed to men of the time.

When analyzing male habits of white Southerners, the researcher studies cultural and historical background of the conflict between evangelism and fascination by violent recreation. The book consists of three sections, each dealing with a unique perspective of the discussed issues. In the first section, the author gives a general overview of lifestyle in the South between wars, without distinguishing any particular layer of population. Further on, the scholar devotes the next section of the book to a separate target group which he explores, namely white men. When doing this, he uses historical, cultural, economic and other references to show how the whole picture came about. At first, he points out; villagers' pastime was confined to rural areas and the company of their wives. Only once in a while working men could leave home for towns where they could indulge in forbidden pleasures like gambling, hunting or cockfighting. These masculine activities were not approved by the church, yet priests mostly closed their eyes to these facts as long as they were occasional. Besides, women were separated from these activities, so the situation did not look threatening to the families. On the contrary, it looked like these occasional escapes allowed men to remain virtuous Christians when they were back home, though "subduing Satan" was really the case when away.

Secondly, the researcher is interested in how the image of the American South was shaped by popular culture, so he devotes the second section to discussing the issue. In his study, Ownby focuses on the historical and social perspective in which patterns of social behavior for men and women was formed. He demonstrates that over the decades there has been a dubious association about the region, which includes both the religious aspect and the aggressive stereotype of masculinity. In other words, he focuses on how the traditional image of the people as proponents of "God and guns" emerged in the course of history. As the author notes, "Evangelicals worked hard not to allow into their homes any recreations that seemed to contain masculine forms of excitement or that threatened the idealized purity of women" ( Ownby 103). Thus, male purity was not as important to be preserved in the context, yet it was important to preserve the purity of the whole family.

Finally, in the last section the book offers analysis of the two opposing aspects: religion and violence, which co-existed among men population of the epoch. On the one hand, family life was full of religious rituals including prayer, reading the Bible and going to church on Sundays. Besides, families gathered for a united dinner on Sundays, and this type of reunion had to keep harmony and unity. However, women were meant to spend more time praying and going to the church then men, who could go fishing and hunting from early childhood. Yet, as industrialization progressed, it was impossible to keep women away from towns and they were increasingly active in the same spheres as men were, so it became less comfortable to the church to ignore "sins" of its flock. However, violent types of recreation were an outlet that allowed men reveal their overt masculinity outside family and church. This co-existence of religion and violence was unique, and it was an opportunity for men to release forbidden physical and emotional instinct which were banned by Evangelists and therefore repressed.

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