50 Shades of Grey
E. L. James
Contributed by Margherita Wickersham
E. L. James
Year Published
Erotic Novel
About the Title

E.L. James’ notorious best-selling work, “50 Shades of Grey”, appears as the poster child for smutty, stereotypically forbidden romances in adult fiction. While unimpressive from a literary standpoint, James’ incorporation of a clear male-female power dynamic where an independently and deeply wealthy, well-connected, confident man seeks the companionship of an insecure female journalist piqued some of the more explicit tastes of readers who appreciate this sort of fantastical, whirlwind romantic set-up. However, James takes this rather vanilla taboo associated with the implicit sexual domination that should result from such a power dynamic one step further by explicitly sexualizing it with the incorporation of BDSM and similar role play involving toys and with “greater variation” in degrees of physical stimulation. This overt sexualization of an implicit and common power dynamic in the adult romance genre is what brought the book its meteoric sales and rise in popularity. Part of the popularization of such a story in both text and media also likely helped set the stage for greater social acceptance of sexual quirks during a time when such movements were becoming more popular under the Obama administration and LGBT awareness in 2011. For reference and comparison, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage being in 2015. Perhaps to make the female character more relatable, E.L. James has given her an uncommon, “hipstery” name, Anastasia, while also introducing her as a down-on-her-luck but optimistic English major. Meanwhile, the male character “Christian Grey” is named in an incredibly obvious way that (1) brings up a religious subtext and (2) makes a pun in the title of the book.

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