MANLY CODES by Chris AndersonnWhen Chuck Yeager was shot down behind enemynhnes in World War II, shrapnel wounds in his feetnand hands, German Messerschmitts still above him, henremained calm and controlled. “Back home,” he said, “ifnwe had a job to do, we did it. And my job now is to evadencapture and escape.” When the engine of a fellow pilotnfailed during a later patrol, Yeager followed the plane to thenground, calmly giving instructions for adjusting the fuelnmixture. “That was a close one,” he said, once the dangernwas over. If Yeager had any feelings in these situations, hencontrolled them and wouldn’t reflect on them later in hisnbook. Repeatedly in his autobiography we are told of hisnreticence: Chuck “just isn’t a talker,” his wife says; “try asnwe might,” one pilot remembers, “we couldn’t get him tontalk about his exploits.”nPart of this is simply modesty. Part of it, too, is professionalnnecessity, since only those capable of controllingntheir reactions and concentrating their energies can handlenhigh-performance aircraft. The deeper issue, though, isnYeager’s manly distrust of emotion coupled with an antiintellectualnsuspicion of emotive language itself He is bothna country boy good with his hands and a highly skilledntechnician trained to react with unflinching efficiency inncrises. He is a man of action, not words. It is only naturalnthat he should “hate English worse than any other subject”nand that he’d “rather fight a flame-out on the deck thannbatfle a talk in front of a strange audience.” Except for hisnown “pilot lingo,” language for him is merely “BS.” Whatnjournalists like to call the great “Unknown” becomes fornhim the great “Ughknown”—not a place of mysteries sonmuch as a chance for screw-ups. “The Right Stuff” isnmerely an “annoying” phrase, “meaningless when used tondescribe a pilot’s attributes. … All I know is I worked myntail off to learn how to fly, and worked hard at it all thenway.” For Yeager, claiming to have the right stuff would notnonly be immodest but also weak and emotional. From anWest Virginia boy, such a claim would be uppity. From antest pilot, it would be imprecise.nIn this sense, Yeager belongs in the company of two othernplain-speaking narrators in American literature; Huck Finnnand Frederick Henry. In contrast with Cooper’s longwindednNatty Bumpo, Twain’s Huck Finn is a man—ornrather, boy—of action without time for “sentimentering.”nBecause he is a storyteller, Huck’s language is earthy, free ofn”frills,” and in his stories he rarely reveals more than tracesnof emotion. His fondness for conversation leads him tonnarrate a book several hundred pages long, yet his rednecknaversion to display keeps him from admitting how he reallynfeels about the major events in his story. Witnessingnviolence, Huck remains almost closemouthed.nHemingway’s Frederick Henry is the epitome of whatnWalker Gibson calls the “tough” voice in Americannliterature—a “laconic, hard-bitten, close-talking fellow,”nChris Anderson is author of Style as Argument:nContemporary American Nonfiction (Southern IllinoisnUniversity Press).nas Gibson puts it, who “conceals his strong feelings behindna curt manner.” His reticence stems from a deep distrust fornabstract words as “obscene.” “There were many words,”nHenry says, “that you could not stand to hear and finallynonly the names of places had dignity.” Perhaps the bestnexemplar of this philosophy is Hemingway’s Robert Wilson,nthe hard-bitten hunting guide in “The Short HappynLife of Francis Macomber.” When Macomber begins tonemote about his first experience of courage, Wilson replies,n”Doesn’t do to talk too much about all this. Talk the wholenthing away. No pleasure in anything if you mouth it up toonmuch.”nWilson could be a test pilot. He shares with Yeager notnonly “flat, blue, machine-gunner’s eyes” but also his verbalneconomy.nYeager belongs to the company of movie stars like GarynCooper (who played Frederick Henry in the film), JohnnWayne, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, and most recently,nSylvester Stallone. As Joan Mellon insists in Big BadnWolves, the strong silent type has become the dominantnmodel of manliness in American films since the Depression.nWith the popularity of Dirty Harry in the 70’s, “malensilence has been sanctified with almost religious fervor.”nThere are degrees and kinds of silence here. Dirty Harry’snreticence is a response to the verbosity of politicians andnbureaucrats. Indeed, part of the power of the strong silentntypes portrayed by Eastwood and Wayne is actually theirncommand of language. When they say something, theynmean it. Statements like “Go ahead, make my day” becomenpopular slogans because they condense the determinationnand righteousness of the reticent hero. The laconic style hasnbeen viewed as manly ever since the days of Laconia. Thenstrong, silent male is more than an American phenomenon,nsince restraint and understatement have always beennnn1n• – • # – – ‘n'”^ > .” •-• -*-n-• -y -•- yn• -K y-^n ‘-.^^En fnK-n-%:nx:nJUNE 1987/23n