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The Embarrassing Adam’s Apple, Compromised Masculinity, and Hope: The Case of Norman Rockwell

Abstract

Taking its cue from Norman Rockwell’s embarrassment regarding his protruding Adam’s apple, this article focuses on the role that this embarrassment played in his development of a sense of “compromised masculinity” (Halpern 2006). This focus is informed by a discussion of the Adam’s apple from a historical and medical point of view, and by a consideration of Rockwell’s work as an artist. The article concludes with an exploration of his painting Freedom of Speech and its role in his turning of a perceived physical liability into a psychological strength and of its implications for a view of Rockwell as an agent of hope.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The citations from my book A Time to Laugh (Capps 2005) invoke the tradition of Burma Shave signs along American highways from the late 1920s to the early 1960s (see Rowsome 1965). Inspired by two Burma Shave jingles involving biblical characters (Samson and Jonah), I wrote nine biblical Burma Shave jingles and placed them at the ends of the acknowledgements, introduction, chapters, epilogue and notes under the heading “Motoring through the Bible Belt.” Representative of these are the words of the Prodigal son on returning home: “Father, I’ve sinned / And misbehaved. / And worst of all, / I haven’t shaved”; and Jesus’ response to Mary, who mistakes him for the gardener on Easter morning, “Mary, O Mary, / What’s the trouble? / Could it be / My three-day stubble?” (For a more serious treatment of hair in the Bible, see Niditch 2008).

  2. 2.

    Interestingly enough, I have not given much thought to the church’s self-understanding as “the body of Christ.” My only reference to this metaphor is in an article relating Erikson’s schedule of human strengths and the church’s self-images (Capps 2009a). Noting that “the body of Christ” is one of three major dimensions of the church’s self-understanding (Hiltner 1972), the others being the covenant and the household of God, I suggest that these major metaphors are so general and abstract that they can, quite literally, mean anything and everything, and note that the body of Christ is an especially good example: “At first blush, the body of Christ is an inspiring metaphor: it suggests that if Christ is no longer physically present, the church is his embodiment in space and time. Then, however, the metaphor invites consideration of what Hiltner identifies as the dynamic of interrelatedness. A body, after all, has various parts, and one of the issues that may arise from this easily observable fact is how the parts work together. Then values begin to enter in, and the relative importance of the various parts of the body comes under discussion: a body can survive without an appendix, tonsils, gall bladder, teeth, and one or more of its extremities (legs, arms), but not without a heart, liver, or brain. It’s rather easy to see how the metaphor becomes the rationale for a hierarchical structure, with various parts and functions of the church valued above other parts and functions. The idea that the body has higher and lower functions is one that Paul endorsed, and this very idea is easily translatable to the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ” (p. 338). The article then focuses on minor church metaphors (Minear 1960) and to relates selected ones to the stages of the life cycle, thus emphasizing the intergenerational nature of the church.

  3. 3.

    The statement that this is my sole writing on the sexual organs is not quite true. In A Time to Laugh (Capps 2005) I mention in a footnote (p. 179) the following entry from Cotton Mather’s diary: “I was once emptying the Cistern of Nature, and making Water at the Wall. At the same Time, there was a Dog, who did so too, before me. Thought I: ‘What mean , and vile Things are the Children of Men, in this mortal State! How much do our natural Necessities abase us, and place us in some regard, on the same level with the very Dogs!’ Then, however, his thoughts continued, and he declared: “Yet I will be a more noble Creature; and at the very Time, when my natural Necessities debase me into the Condition of the Beast, my Spirit shall (I say, at that very Time!) rise and soar, and fly up, towards the employment of the Angel” (Mather 1911, p. 357). I went on to note that Mather’s spiritual struggle prompted me to write two short verses. The first is titled “Fido Makes Personal Appeal”: “When you and I come here to pee, / I wish, kind sir, that you could see, / An angel doth inhabit me.” The second is titled “Cotton Has Theological Thought”: “When the dog joined yours truly to pee, / He stood not on two legs but three. / This canine tripod / Brought deep thoughts of God, / Three persons in one Trinity.” I went on to suggest that I felt on reading Mather’s text that his spiritual struggle warranted a more sustained poetic effort, and I cited a poetic parody that I wrote based on Adelaide Anne Procter’s “The Lost Chord,” victim of many parodies (see Gardner, 2001, pp. 155–159), in which I imagined that Mather might suffer from urine retention. It is titled “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” (Capps 2005, pp. 180–181). This is not much different from Erik Erikson’s suggestion in Young Man Luther (1958) that Martin Luther, who suffered from constipation, felt the Spirit “working” in him as he sat on the toilet (pp. 204–206, 213–214). Finally, in my article “Trees and Us” (Capps 2011b), my Group for New Directions in Pastoral Theology presentation in 2010, I included a poem that I wrote but attributed to one of my wife’s Norwegian ancestors, a fellow named Thor Engval. The poem is titled “I Lanced a Lot and I’m Sure Thor” (pp. 445–446). It tells of how Thor’s lance got jammed in his Norse Army pants and he cut off an inch of his penis. The poem is in a section of the article on the issue of which is mightier, the sword or the pen? Thor’s poem concludes that “Because it possesses such foreshortening menace, / The sword is mightier than the pen is.”

  4. 4.

    A related topic that I have chosen not to discuss here is the phrase “apple of my eye,” which appears in several biblical verses in the King James translation (i.e., Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalms 17:8, Proverbs 7:2, Lamentations 2:18, and Zechariah 2:8) only one of which (Lamentations 2:18) does not occur in the NRSV translation. According to the Wikipedia article on this phrase, the original Hebrew idiom (with the exception of Zechariah 2:8) was ’iyshown ’ayin which can be literally translated as “Little Man of the Eye,” a reference to the tiny reflection of yourself than you can see in other people’s eyes (Wikipedia 2012c).

  5. 5.

    David Halpern (2006), whom I will discuss later, is more critical of the painting, noting that “the word ‘nigger’ scrawled on the wall behind Ruby Bridges, as well as the splattered tomato, partake of Rockwell’s long-standing tendency to overwork his images” (p. 124). He also notes its “stiffness” which “accords with, but is not entirely explained by, its historical occasion. Everyone is supposed to be walking, but their gaits are unconvincing, and the painting lacks any sense of movement” (pp. 124–125). He adds that “Rockwell himself seems to stiffen under the weight of historical significance he is not entirely able to bear, despite his avowed enthusiasm. The problem that Rockwell lives with is how to bring his technique to bear on momentous social issues without reducing them to kitsch. Despite its formal problems, however, the image manages to fascinate—not least because of Rockwell’s decision to decapitate the federal marshals” (p. 125). Moreover, in contrast to John Steinbeck’s observation that the whites of the real Ruby Bridges’ eyes “showed like those of a frightened fawn,” Ruby’s “measured, steady walk literalizes the notion of racial ‘progress’ or of a civil rights ‘movement’. Her stride is the vector of history itself, pointing from current turmoil to a more equal America to come” (p. 124).

  6. 6.

    Ruby’s distinction between the focus of the painting on her and the news’ focus on the trouble on the street captures a certain preference—even bias—that has been an important aspect of my own sense of vocation over the years, namely, a preference for the study of individuals over larger collectivities. This does not mean that one ignores the larger social, political, and cultural context, but instead focuses on the context’s effects on individuals and, conversely, their effects on it. For example, in my article on James E. Dittes’ Bias and the Pious (Capps 2003b; Dittes 2003) I focused on the racial conflict in the church in Omaha, Nebraska, in which I was raised and on the fact that Malcolm X, whom I admired, was born a mile-and-a-half from where I lived as a boy. I will return to this focus on the personal and local in my discussion of Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech and the affinities between his art and pastoral theology.

  7. 7.

    Erikson would also visit Rockwell in his studio and make observations about the painting Rockwell was currently working on. Once, when Rockwell was working on his painting Family Tree (a 1959 painting depicting the family tree of the United States) and decided to change the founder of the family from a Puritan to a Pirate—“a ribald, searing faring dog—strong, beard, smile on his face, voluptuous gal beside him,” he referred to Erikson’s recent suggestions and facetiously blamed him for this change: “Dear friend Erikson thinks if I show ribald people I show myself to be healthier” (Claridge 2001, p. 424; from an audio tape, June 1959).

  8. 8.

    Rockwell’s use of the word “identity” in this and the preceding quotation is significant in light of the fact that Erikson was noted for his use of the word “identity” in his writings. I find it interesting that the dictionary (Agnes 2001) has the term identity crisis and states that it was “coined by E. Erikson (1902–94), U.S. psychoanalyst.” It defines it as “the condition of being uncertain of one’s feelings about oneself, esp. with regard to character, goals, and origins, occurring esp. in adolescence as a result of growing up under disruptive, fast-changing conditions” (p. 708).

  9. 9.

    It is worth noting that when Rockwell and his first wife Irene were having marital difficulties (largely over her refusal to live alone with him rather than share a house with her relatives, leading him to move out and take a room in Salmagundi Club, a temporary home for artists), he, after a few weeks of separation, “supposedly came down with a severe case of tonsillitis that landed him in the hospital; because Rockwell had his tonsils removed when he was a little boy, his use of the pseudo-illness probably substituted for a less seemly ailment” (Claridge 2003, p. 186). His hospitalization led to a reunion with Irene. The fact that his pseudo-illness was tonsillitis, hence, a throat disease, and appears to have substituted for “a less seemly ailment” (which Claridge does not identify) may, have an unconscious connection to his preoccupation with his Adam’s apple and its sexual (and therefore “unseemly”) implications.

  10. 10.

    This subversive relationship to the propaganda campaign may have had its personal roots in the fact that Rockwell’s first wife Irene asked for (and was granted) a divorce so that she could marry another man. Claridge describes him as a “strapping” man who was a Navy pilot during WWI. She describes an episode when he had to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel when the rudder of his plane broke. His wireless antenna was swept away in the crash, forcing him to seek aid by messages sent by carrier pigeons he had with him. Seven hours later he was rescued by a submarine. Claridge adds: “Such masculine prowess sounds like material for a Rockwell caricature, not real life” and notes “Rockwell’s humiliation at having his wife leave him for such a genuine he-man” (p. 212).

  11. 11.

    “Compromised masculinity” recalls the biblical Adam’s response to the Lord God query, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit from the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:10–11). On first learning of Adam’s response, many young boys find it unmanly: “He blames the girl for his wrongdoing. What kind of a man is that?”

  12. 12.

    Earlier I mentioned that I associated Rockwell with my parents’ generation. A common theme in the marital life of their generation was “the henpecked husband.” While the scenes Rockwell depicts here would not qualify as domestic violence, it is well worth noting that when I assigned Philip W. Cook’s Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Cook 1997; see also Cook and Hodo 2013) in the class I taught on the pastoral care of men in the 1990s, several of the men came up after class and told me that this book was especially meaningful to them because this was their own domestic situation. Cook cites one study that “did not find a statistically significant difference between the number of male and female domestic violence victims,” the gender difference in this study relating, instead, to perception and seeking help: “Women viewed the relationship more negatively and requested counseling services more often” (p. 4). If a man does seek help, he may inform the therapist or counselor that he is inquiring in behalf of a brother or friend because he finds it embarrassing to confess that he himself is the victim of domestic violence. Also, husbands who in desperation call 911 are often subject to ridicule by the police when they come to the house.

  13. 13.

    I think that Rockwell’s decision to take the Four Freedoms “out of the noble language of the proclamation and put them in terms everybody can understand” by using his Vermont neighbors as models is rather similar to the work of pastoral theologians who, in contrast to theological ethicists, tend to focus on the local rather than the national and international context. This does not mean that they ignore national and international issues. Rather, they focus on local manifestations of these issues. The epilogue to The Pastoral Care Case (Capps and Fowler 2010) titled “Becoming a Local Religious Author” uses Wade Clark Roof’s local-cosmopolitan theory of religious commitment (Roof 1978) to suggest that, although the two have coexisted in uneasy though sometimes creative tension, the pastoral care case is “inevitably tilted toward the localistic orientation,” that its “particular strength as a form of religious authorship is that it exhibits sensitivity to the primary groups in which Christians interact on a regular basis with one another and with the community” (p. 157).

  14. 14.

    Erikson discusses fear in the concluding chapter of Childhood and Society (1963), the book that, in Rockwell’s sketch, is being avidly read by Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. The chapter is titled “Conclusion: The Fear of Anxiety” in the 1950 edition and “Conclusion: Beyond Anxiety” in the 1963 edition. Alluding to Roosevelt’s famous statement in his state of the union address in 1941 that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Erikson notes that “the truth behind Franklin D. Roosevelt’s simple yet magic statement that we have nothing to fear but fear itself” is in the fact that in the adult, “impairment of judgment by infantile rage is the result of a state of irrational tension brought about by a short circuit between rational adult fears and associated infantile anxieties,” but he suggests that for his purposes here, Roosevelt’s statement “must be paraphrased to read: We have nothing to fear but anxiety” for “it is not the fear of a danger (which we might be well able to meet with judicious action), but the fear of the associated state of aimless anxiety which drives us into irrational action, irrational flight—or, indeed, irrational denial of danger. When threatened with such anxiety, we either magnify a danger which we have no reason to fear excessively—or we ignore a danger which we have every reason to fear” (p. 407; also Capps 1997a ). In light of Erikson’s reference to Franklin Roosevelt, it is interesting to note that Joan M. Erikson, Erikson’s wife and editor of Childhood and Society, wrote an article on Eleanor Roosevelt (1964) titled “Nothing to Fear: Notes on the Life of Eleanor Roosevelt.” The article concludes with a quotation from the final paragraph of the concluding volume of Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography, written when she was 74 years old (1958), noting that in these words “we can still hear the voice of a younger Eleanor, an echo from the past.” Eleanor writes: “It seems to me that we must have the courage to face ourselves in this crisis. We must regain a vision of ourselves as leaders of the world. We must join in an effort to use all knowledge for the good of human beings. When we do that, we shall have nothing to fear” (cited on p. 801; see also LaMothe 2012, a pastoral-psychological examination of the “culture of fear that has been part of our social and political landscape for decades” as manifest in the nation’s obsession with national security).

  15. 15.

    We recall that it was the minister of his church who was responsible for Rockwell’s first job as an artist. Rockwell also mentions that when he became a crucifer he acquired “other duties” as well: “On rainy days when few people came to church there would be sacramental wine left over. But it could not be thrown away; it had to be drunk. So the minister, the sexton, Bob Titus, and I would drink it. And I’d go home for dinner, soused” (Rockwell 1960, p. 56). It is not difficult to imagine the scene of the minister, sexton and the two boys gulping down the sacramental wine together as a Rockwell painting.

  16. 16.

    Erikson (1977) suggests in Toys and Reasons, in the section of his chapter “Play and Vision” titled “Seeing is Hoping,” a play on the popular saying “seeing is believing”, that there are essentially two meanings of vision, “the capacity to see what is before us, here and now, and the power to foresee, what, if one can only believe it, might yet prove to be true in the future” (p. 46). The first—seeing what is before us—is formed this way: Through her various attentions to the infant (feeding, holding, touching, cleaning, tucking in, etc.) the motherly person lets her face shine upon the newborn’s searching eyes, thus letting herself “be verified as the first comprehensible image” (p. 46). The second—foreseeing what may yet prove to be true in the future—is formed when the infant anticipates the appearance of the motherly person, and here “audition will prove essential and useful because it permits one to hear what is not in the visual field, and thus reinforces the hope that the voice heard will come ‘around the corner’ and be confirmed as the familiar face” (p. 47).

  17. 17.

    In my article titled “Erikson’s Schedule of Human Strengths and the Childhood Origins of the Resourceful Self” (Capps 2012b) I discussed Erikson’s (1964) proposal in his chapter in Insight and Responsibility on the human strengths that the four strengths developed in childhood are hope, will, purpose, and competence, and suggested that these are “central qualities of the resourceful self. Thus, the resourceful self has its basis in the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes, the unbroken determination to exercise free choice as well as self-restraint, the courage to envision and pursue valued goals, and the free exercise of dexterity and intelligence in the completion of tasks” (p. 281). Invoking Erikson’s view that we are comprised of various selves that make up our “composite Self” (Erikson 1968, p. 217), I suggested that “we may assume that the resourceful self not only survives into adulthood but also undergoes further development as it interacts with the various other selves that make up the composite Self. I do not assume that adults are consciously aware of this self and of its significance in their lives. But neither do I assume that this is necessarily a problem, for this self can do its work even if adults are unaware of the fact that it is doing so” (p. 282). I prefer the word resourceful, especially in this context, over the more popular word resilient because resilient suggests the ability to spring back or recover strength whereas resourceful suggests the ability to deal creatively and effectively with problems, difficulties, etc. (Agnes 2001, pp. 1220–1221).

  18. 18.

    In chapters 5 and 6 of Agents of Hope, I discuss the three major threats to hope—despair, apathy, and shame—and the three major allies of hope—trust, patience, and modesty—and suggest that they belong in pairs (despair/trust, apathy/patience, and shame/modesty). In my discussion of trust, I suggest that it provides the necessary conditions for hope. I am suggesting here that the central figure in the painting is able to speak his mind because he trusts his neighbors. Without such trust, he would see no point in standing up and saying what he thinks and believes.

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Correspondence to Donald Capps.

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Capps, D. The Embarrassing Adam’s Apple, Compromised Masculinity, and Hope: The Case of Norman Rockwell. Pastoral Psychol 62, 561–585 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-013-0516-x

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Keywords

  • Norman Rockwell
  • Adam’s apple
  • Embarrassment
  • Masculinity
  • Hope
  • Projection