I N   S E A R C H   O F   M A S C U L I N I T Y
P a g e   F i v e :   J o e   B u c k   a n d   R a t s o   R i z z o
"I   d o n ' t   t h i n k   I   c a n  w a l k   a n y m o r e , "   s a y s   R a t s o   t o   J o e .
A R T I C L E   B Y   A N N   B A R R O W

One contributing factor to Joe's experience of being lost, at drift, in America is his loss of family. Joe and Ratso's mutual attraction stems from an unconscious longing for their lost fathers. Little is known of Joe's father, or mother, except that they abandoned him at a young age; yet, Ratso voices both their longing for their absent fathers, as he speaks of his father often and even takes Joe with him to visit his father's grave. For in the words of Garry Leonard: "They are searching for their fathers so they can be released from the magical spell of perpetual boyhood and become men. Of course, they have a heroic idea of "a man" that does not include domestic responsibility, and part of their perpetual search for the father is a way to also postpone the need to be a man. [Moreover] the homoerotic is interestingly conflated with the boy's desire to be held by a father."
NOTE 10 Joe and Ratso's relationship has all the markings of an intimate partnership, without crossing over into a physical union. Their relationship becomes inverted by the film's end.
Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) on the streets of New York in Midnight Cowboy.
[click photo for larger version]

In the beginning, it is Ratso who befriends, or fathers Joe. Although their relationship begins with Ratso hustling the hustler, it soon develops into an authentic relationship. The two outsiders meet ironically within the hustling world of the down and outers of affluent New York. By the film's end, it is Joe who is tending to the dying Ratso; again, one orphan fathering the other. Their attachment changes Joe from a loner, a drifter, a cowboy out of sync with his environment, to a man who now feels that he has "family" for whom he is responsible. It is this responsibility that awakens a latent purity within Joe. Joe and Ratso's mutual attraction, or love story, seems an echo of childhood memories about the comforting physical presence of the father that is played out in their tragic, but profound relationship.
Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) on the bus to Florida in the final scene from Midnight Cowboy.
[click photo for larger version]

As we saw earlier, unlike Hud who retreats into the world of capitalism and exploitation, Joe reenters civilized society at the film's end by deciding to buck his rebellious posturing. In discarding his cowboy and hustler persona and forming a relationship with another lost soul, Joe is saved by—in director Schlesinger's own words–"discovering something about the possibilities of a human relationship in the midst of this very unlikely one."NOTE 11 Joe finds a negotiated position within America, and by extension, so do his readers who have watched Joe struggle against the very constructs that they wrestle with daily. Questions concerning Joe's place in America, as a white male, isolated from others, go unanswered. However, by traveling through the underbelly of midnight activity, Joe becomes transformed from an ironic cowboy to a humble man who is no longer searching for a mythological brand of masculinity.

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