I wrote this paper for a class last semester. With the passing of the legendary Gore Vidal I decided to post this.
From America’s noble beginnings all the way up until present day, people with an “alternative” sexual orientation have been stigmatized, gay men especially. In America’s infancy gay men were forced to live in fear. Louis Crompton states “in 1776 male homosexuals in the original 13 colonies were universally subject to the death penalty” (2). This began a period of bigotry and misunderstanding that would plague America for many years. Gay men lived false lives, while not being afforded the freedom America is known for. Gay men were forced to either live a lie or face an early demise. Gay men who chose to be themselves were forced to do so in hiding. Society was free to invent their own stereotypes without any evidence to disprove them.
America was founded on a principal of freedom, yet many groups faced horrible intolerance and persecution. History books educate us on the problems that many minority groups faced; however, the persecution of the gay man has not made it into the books yet. In literature gay men were represented as effeminate, immoral and mentally ill. Most stories of gay men were told as cautionary tales that ended badly for any gay character. These representations served to reinforce stereotypes and encourage mistreatment. Most stereotypes are a product of ignorance. The Arts are a great forum to educate the masses. In “Stereotypes And Identity Reflected In Literature” Caroline Carvill tells us “Literature reflects the preconceptions, perceptions, and misperceptions of its time, its authors, and its readers.” Authors who are willing to take risks and provide the reader with an alternative view can create change.
The American people continued to retain a close-minded attitude toward gay men in the nineteen-forties. America had an-out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality when it came to queers and queens and fags, as they were commonly referred to. Due to the nature of society many gay men found their way to what was known as the gay underground, an equivalent to living on the “down low” today. Prior to novels such as the City and The Pillar most of America was clueless as to what a gay man really was. Gore Vidal risked his own happiness to expose America to the “normal” gay man.
Vidal discusses his views on homosexuality by saying:
Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them(Vidal, Relax…).
Gore Vidal has led an interesting life. Eugene Luther Vidal was born in 1925 to an affluent family. Vidal grew up in his grandfather’s mansion, sheltered from the problems that plagued America at the time. Thomas P. Gore, Vidal’s grandfather was a blind United States Senator. Gore recruited his grandson to read for him, giving Vidal complete access an extensive library. Inspired by his grandfather, Vidal took the name Gore. Vidal went on to attend the exclusive St. Alban’s School. It was at St Albans that a young Vidal met the only man he ever loved, Jimmie Trimble. Vidal joined the army at seventeen. While in the army he wrote Williwaw and In the Yellow Wood. Critics lauded Vidal as a great young author. While working as an editor Vidal penned The City and the Pillar(Pemberton…).
The City and the Pillar featured a protagonist who was far from the assumed version of gay in America. Jim Willard was an athlete and an overall average and normal guy. The book traces his life as he yearns to reconnect with his best friend Bob with whom he shared a single night of passion. The night was shared just before Bob departed for the Navy. As Jim goes along his journey we are introduced to characters of the gay underground, a counterculture movement that many were forced to live in in order to be free. The underground featured a cast of characters who were wide and diverse. Many are represented in The City and the Pillar. Jim discovers his own sexuality through his interactions over an eight year span. All of Jim’s trials are in an effort to reconnect with his long lost love. The City and the Pillar gave us a glimpse of the futility of living in the past; a theme that very often rings true for people of any sexual orientation. The City and the Pillar showed us that ultimately gay men face many of the same problems that straight men face; that gay men are not different than “normal” men; that the tragedy of love can exist in all relationships, no matter the gender of the participants. This was a wakeup call for most of America.
The City and the Pillar caused great fallout for Vidal. Critics were very harsh. Vidal’s career was completely jeopardized. In The City and the Pillar Revised Vidal tells us “The New York Times refused to take advertising for the book, and most of the reviews were hostile” (156) The Times daily reviewer refused to even review the book and put a ban on any of Vidal’s future work(Vidal. Point 52).. Vidal became a victim of the prejudice he was fighting against. His next few novels were ignored and this left him with financial problems