One Announcement: I’ll be reading poetry at the University of Kansas this Wednesday at 11 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. in the English Room. If you live in Kansas, come out and support some talented poets!
Back on April 10, 2013, I introduced a new topic, My Thoughts On, and I posted My Thoughts On: Young-Adult Fiction.
I did this for numerous reasons, but it really came down to the fact that I feel as if the analytical structures behind very popular novels do not seem to get discussed anymore. Sure, the plot, characters, and overall story does. But what about the sheer reasoning behind why it became so popular in the first place? I restate this, because I want to clarify that, although theses are “My Thoughts,” they are not my personal opinion on whether or not I enjoyed the novels, but rather why I think they became what they are. And analyzing popular books, especially as a writer, can help anyone understand the mainstream industry (even more so when the book isn’t originally considered mainstream.)
So I asked followers to comment on what they wanted to hear about, and here were the suggestions (with votes)
Fifty Shades of Grey: 2
The Hunger Games: 2
And, since there was a tie, I decided to go with the first mentioned novel, and that was Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. However, I am not going to bother going into description of the novel, as I’m going to assume this conversation is more about the why, and the plot will come out during the discussion.
I highly encourage everyone to comment as a healthy debate, which means, to me at least, to please keep out personal like or dislike (ex/ I hated this novel!) because, again, that is not what this is about. I encourage, however, “I don’t think the novel worked because of A or B, but rather C or D. I hope this makes sense. If it does not, I apologize. But, without further ado, this is my analysis on the popular, English erotica. (WARNING: There are spoilers below)
1. Language: In this specific case, I think it’s really important to remember where this novel came from. It was originally Twilight fan fiction, and it was written on a blog. The author is British, and, when reading this novel, knowing these few facts can change the opinion of the reader. Some of the slang my come across as awkward to American readers, but this is not something James should be judged for. She’s British. Of course her writing will have British terms. Granted, the argument I’ve heard about the setting taking place in America means it should use American slang makes sense. But I can sympathize with a writer, because she was a blogger. It wasn’t expected to get popular, and it first came out in Britain. I’ve read plenty of American books that take place in other countries that do not have that country’s slang.
When it comes to the explicit language, I had no problem with it. After all, it is an erotica (And, again, it’s English erotica, and Britain is more open towards sex than America is.) To me, complaining about sexual language in a British erotica, is like complaining about blunt honesty in a memoir. It’s the point, and it wouldn’t be true to the art without pushing boundaries held within the norm.
2. Characters: To me, the characters were the most important part of this novel and why I believe it went mainstream. James, unlike many erotic authors, had a reason behind the extreme sexuality of Christian Grey. He was abused sexually, and then he was taken under the arm of another woman who was sexually abused. She showed him, through a series of what is legally sexual abuse with a minor, how to control his fears by exposing him to S&M. Granted, he was the submissive, but the explanation given from Grey later (when he talks about how the submissive does not have to worry, because everything is chosen for them) explains how Grey was finally able to relax within his inner demons. (I am by no means saying this is right. However, I am saying it showed a reason behind his actions, and I commend James for creating a believable background story that led up to his present self.) A perfect example of this believability, although sickening, is when Grey confesses to Anastasia that all of his previous submissives, and Anna, resemble his mother. Another example happens at the very end of the three novels when we finally are able to see Grey right after he was adopted. He cannot hug his own adoptive parents, and the woman who takes him under, because he learns how to deal with it, is now able to touch his parents and other loved ones. He is attempting to defeat his problems, even if he isn’t consciously aware of it.
Now, Anastasia Steele. She’s a different story. I found parts of her to be completely contrasting to her behavior and background, especially in the first novel. However, she is an adult, and she can make whatever sexual decisions she wants to make, and she does. Even while being a submissive, James shows Ana’s ability to rebel when it came to the “hard limits” in the contract. This showed a realistic part of her I think many readers forget. However, I think Anastasia becomes much more believable in the end. And, in my opinion, she definitely becomes the dominant one once Grey realizes she isn’t a submissive, but rather a lover willing to be dominated in the bedroom but not in nonsexual parts of life. I think it’s also important, again, to go back to the Twilight fan-fic part. She was based off Bella Swan, a human who dates a vampire. That’s a very submissive role, so Anastasia being submissive is necessary in the sense of who she is based on.
3. Plot: Sex. Sex. E-mails. More sex. An argument. More sex. Everyone knows the basic plot, but I found the scenes between the sex to be the most telling, because that is when readers learn of Grey’s past and such. However, there was one scene to particular that struck me as brilliant, considering the context of sex. I have to admit that I cannot remember which of the three books it appeared in (and I leant my copies to a friend) so feel free to remind me (please!) It’s the lipstick scene. As all readers know, Christian Grey, because of his abuse (specifically with cigarette burns) he cannot be touched on his chest, and Anastasia pulls out her lipstick. She draws “barrier lines” on his body, so she can literally see the places he cannot handle. And, eventually, she breaks through these. This scene, from an analytical standpoint, not only stays true to the eroticism but the emotional boundaries of sexual abuse that I thought the author ultimately succeeded in. Basically, in terms of plot, it seems very pointless at the surface if the reader only pays attention to the sex. But, if someone looks into these scenes deeper, they will see a very dark reality many people struggle with on a day-to-day basis. This is, quite literally, a couple who works through it together, and, ultimately, ends with a connection created from the suffering they’ve endured. Fifty Shades of Grey really isn’t just an erotic adventure, but an exploration of sex under the pressures of extreme sexual abuse and the relationships (and people) effected by it.
4. Movie Adaptations: Seeing as this is not a movie yet (but is in the process) I cannot say much here. But I can say one thing. I hope the directors are honest to the work. I hope it is rated R, as it is meant for adults, and I hope they do not hold back on sex. However, I am not saying every scene should be explicit. In fact, I hope the focus isn’t necessarily just the sex, but the point of the sex, which truly revolved around Christian Grey’s abusive past. I’m afraid they will not explain how he became the way he is, because sexual abuse is often very difficult for viewers. I understand not having some of the horrible scenes (like being next to his dead mother or having S&M sex with an older woman) but my hopes is that they explain it (or at least hint to it) in a way that a viewer who has not read the book will understand. If they don’t do this, I’m afraid the novel will come across as what many already see it as: a pointless S&M novel. And, under analysis, I do not feel this way about the piece.
So why was it so popular? Fifty Shades of Grey pushed through the barrier of erotic fiction by facing a dark reality many struggle with. Instead of only being sexually based, it had a promise. One that suggested there are ways to deal with sexual abuse (Again, I’m not advocating S&M, but rather showing a specific way one couple was effected by it.) And, because of this, the appearance of a simple plot deepened into a complexity many erotic novels have not done before. It was also based on an already popular novel, and she gained many older followers that way. Hence the mainstream.
I hope you enjoyed a more specific “My Thoughts On.” Feel free to suggest more novels in the comment section and/or debate away! I love hearing what other readers and writers have to say. It’s fascinating, and I thrive on meaningful conversations that can potential show the meaning of art and where art can go in the future.
P.S. Don’t forget that my young-adult novel, Minutes Before Sunset, is now for sale for $6.99 (plus a 20% discount until Wednesday)
There’s also an array of favorited quotes on Goodreads: two examples below
“Her kiss could kill us, and my consent signed our death certificates, selfishly and without control. (Eric)”
“I knew nothing of death, and, for some unexplainable reason, I was beginning to feel guilty for that. (Jessica)”
Thank you for all of your support! This release week has been very exciting! And Bogart is very happy you enjoyed all of his tips. I promised I’d post his collection of toys he’s received: