Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale

Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral TaleKenneth Kidd

University of Minnesota Press, 2004
ISBN: 0816642958

Will boys be boys? What are little boys made of? Kenneth B. Kidd responds to these familiar questions with a thorough review of boy culture in America since the late nineteenth century. From the “boy work” promoted by character-building organizations such as Scouting and 4-H to current therapeutic and pop psychological obsessions with children’s self-esteem, Kidd presents the great variety of cultural influences on the changing notion of boyhood.

In 1919, Henry William Gibson, a leader of the YMCA, created the term boyology, which came to refer to professional writing about the biological and social development of boys. At the same time, the feral tale, with its roots in myth and folklore, emphasized boys’ wild nature, epitomized by such classic protagonists as Mowgli in The Jungle Books and Huck Finn. From the tension between these two perspectives evolved society’s perception of what makes a “good boy.” The image of the savage child has been tamed and transformed into a model of white, middle-class masculinity.

Analyzing icons of boyhood and maleness from Father Flanagan’s Boys Town and Max in Where the Wild Things Are to Elián González and even Michael Jackson, Kidd surveys films, psychoanalytic case studies, parenting manuals, historical accounts of the discoveries of “wolf-boys,” and self-help books in order to provide a rigorous history of what it has meant to be an all-American boy.

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