Ian McEwan is an author who is widely admired for his ability to create diverse and believable characters. Many of his novels portray characters that struggle with finding their identity, often related to issues regarding gender and sexuality. On Chesil Beach (2007) and Enduring Love (1997) are examples of such novels. Both these novels have male protagonists who are subjected to what can be interpreted as masculinity crises, which have such damaging effects on their self-perception that it ultimately changes their lives. In On Chesil Beach, we meet Edward Mayhew, a stereotypically male character whose biggest fear is disappointing his new bride, Florence, on their wedding night. Edward and Florence have very different wishes and expectations about how this night will turn out, but like many couples in the sixties, they were not able to talk openly about this. His masculinity crisis is triggered by ejaculating prematurely and exacerbated by their inability to communicate, and it takes such a toll on their relationship that they end up getting an annulment. In Enduring Love, we follow the story of Joe Rose, an emotional and self-confident man who does not conform to the stereotypical definition of masculinity. Joe has been happily married to Clarissa Mellon for the last seven years, until he experiences a masculinity crisis triggered by Jed Parry’s infatuation with him. Joe’s crisis is made worse by the fact that Clarissa at first does not believe him, and later ridicules him for confiding in her. Joe and Clarissa almost separate, but find back together in the end.
In addition to illustrating how men may experience and navigate masculinity crises, these two novels also show that masculinity crises do not exist in a vacuum: they can be triggered and exacerbated by external factors such as partners, and may affect more than the individual man who experiences them.