The Unconventional Representation Of Masculinity In The “Drummer Boy Of Shiloh”

Ray Bradbury’s 1960 novel The Drummer Boy of Shiloh tells the story of an actual drummer boy who took part in the Battle of Shiloh. This short story depicts the hardships that war brought to a 14-year old boy. The masculinity of the story replaces the violence, grief and other emotions that are usually portrayed in war stories. The Drummer Boy of Shiloh explores masculinity from all angles, distancing it from the stereotypical masculine traits of bravery and strength. The Drummer Boy of Shiloh introduces the concept of masculinity by using symbolism and characterization of its two main characters.

Joby is the fourteen-year old protagonist in The Drummer Boy Shiloh. He is depicted as a scared, emotional boy, at the beginning. Joby represents the fear that many soldiers feel on the eve of a war. Bradbury shows emotion through the innocence and youth of a young boy, but not in the way we are used to seeing it from masculine figures. Joby may not be a physical man, but he’s expected to have stereotypical masculine characteristics because he lives in a world of war. Joby’s crying is the first time the masculinity theme is introduced in the story. On discovering Joby, the General said “Here is a young soldier crying just before a fight.” Good. “Get over it.” (l.52). This complete disregard for emotion is often associated with masculinity. Joby contrasts with the soldiers who can’t sleep because they have romantic nightmares about battles not yet fought (l.15). Joby returns his drum to its original position at the end. The story shows the development of the protagonist. Joby’s lack of courage at the beginning is reflected in this act.

The Drummer Boy of Shiloh’s General questions masculinity stereotypes in a way that is original. Bradbury introduces the character as being very masculine. Bradbury says, “He smelled of ginger tobacco and salt sweat. He walked in the earth.” (l.62). As Joby and the General continue their conversation, Bradbury shows that he not only has all of the stereotypical masculine traits, but also some stereotypically womanly ones. I did that last night.” Joby views the General as very masculine despite all the support he has shown. Bradbury blurs gender lines and intertwines the two to create a very unique atmosphere. With this unconventional portrayal, Bradbury gives the audience an alternative interpretation of all men who have fought and died in wars.

The Drummerboy Of Shiloh, a story set in an orchard of peaches. In Western cultures, peaches represent youth and purity, both of which Joby embodies. The protagonist wakes up when a pit from a ripe peach strikes his drum. He was so terrified that he “turned the drum over, and its large lunar face peered at him every time he opened his eye.” (l.7). This could mean that Joby is afraid of the instrument and would rather not have any contact with it. Joby doesn’t have any weapons or shields. Joby’s fear of the drum isn’t a direct reaction to it, but rather the danger that the instrument will bring him into the world of violence and sacrifice. The instrument is a symbol of Joby’s fear. It was “worse that a child’s toy, destined to be abused tomorrow or someday much too soon.” The drum was turned up to the sky after Joby and the general exchanged words. (l.160). This represents the character’s growth throughout the entire story. It can be seen as a sign of courage and heroism, because it shows the character is ready for war. The Drummer Boy Of Shiloh takes place in a period of violence and conflict. The feminine peach blossoms contrast with the masculine scene. Bradbury employs irony to create a peaceful scene the night prior to a day filled with battle. This peaceful environment is presented knowing that the violence of the next day will destroy it. The use of masculine features is meant to imply that wars are for men.

The Drummer Boy of Shiloh portrays a masculinity unconventional, which is uncommon in war stories. Bradbury shows that men don’t have to exhibit cliche masculine characteristics to be a man. This allows more fluidity in the relationship between masculinity and femininity.



Jacob Cunningham is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher who resides in the Pacific Northwest. Jacob's teaching and writing focus on the use of technology in the classroom, and he is a frequent presenter at education conferences around the country. Jacob's work has been featured on sites such as The Huffington Post, Edutopia, and TechCrunch.