50 Shades of Grey
E. L. James
Contributed by Margherita Wickersham

Navessa, Goodreads (2013)

Navessa begins with a disclaimer in which she warns the reader that the review comprises strong themes, to include rape. This shows a difference in approach since a lot of positive reviewers of the Fifty Shades of Grey, just like many other novels, see it as a way of escaping their own lives, while negative reviewers read the novel as a reflection of a sexist, misogynistic society as well as a glorification of domestic violence. Navessa states that the novel lacks a plot, and mercilessly compares it with other books that she disliked, noting that “at least those books attempted to have a plot” (Navessa). This is true because the plot in the book is the characters. The lack of plot is evident in the author’s attitude also. During an interview, she pointed out that both Anastacia Steele and Christian Grey are changing throughout the story.

Of particular importance in the review is Navessa’s views on the relationship between the book and the rape culture. According to her, the book perpetuates the rape culture we were all raised in. She goes on to define rape culture and summarizes an article on how the society perpetuates the rape culture. She then explains her point using Ana and comparing her behavior with the explanations given for rape culture. To support her argument, Navessa provides the example of Ana’s interaction with Paul early in the novel. Paul asks Ana out, but she turns him down numerous times. At one point, he tells her that “Ana, one of these days you will say yes” (James 29). Ana responds to Paul’s declaration by leaving the room. By fleeing, it is evident that she recognized the danger of the situation and her “friend’s” repeated advances. To Navessa, Ana is the “submissive, quiet person that society has taught her to be” (Navessa).

I agree with Navessa that Fifty Shades of Grey perpetuates rape culture. In my view, a great example is that the sexual and mental violence that Christian uses on Ana is portrayed as just a normal aspect of their dominant as well as a submissive relationship. Christian ignores Ana’s protests and also subverts her sexual authority as a submissive by threatening her. By doing this, Christian goes against one rule of BDSM, to end the scene if submissive is uncomfortable; hence he is abusing her.

Deborah Khoshaba, Psychology today (2015)

Deborah investigates the subject matter of the racy novel that resulted in its huge success and the making of a movie as well. She argues that on the surface, the success of the book suggests that regardless of women’s social advance, they are still interested in being swept away by powerful, handsome and wealthy men in a desire to make their dreams come true. To Deborah, this fantasy together with the raciness of the novel, and the complicated relationship between Christian and Ana seem to tap into an archetype of women that persists regardless of their social advancement. From the huge success of the novel, one might think that it is the first racy novel to be written. However, this is not true since racy novels which stimulate the sense have existed for many years.

Deborah goes on to describe the novel as a contemporary sensation novel and compares it with past sensation novels such as Lady Chatterley’s love by D.H Lawrence, Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert and Scarlett Letter of the Day by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Just like Hester Prinn, Lady Chatterley, and Emma Bovary, Anastacia Steele is searching for unbridled self-expression of the body, heart, and mind via powerful men. Sadly, however, these heroines end up getting men who eventually get damaging to their mental as well as physical health. These fantasy lovers have a chink in their armor, and this is the case with Christian Grey.

The author finalizes her review with an overall argument that the extraordinary public appeal of the “complex, sadomasochistic” relationship that exists between Ana and Christian may be perhaps more of a subconscious expression of the anxiety of the culture about women’s sexual as well as social freedom than it is a romantic story of a woman exploring sexual desire. I concur with virtually every point raised by Deborah in her review. Christian possesses fifty shades of sadistic character flaw to control sexually, posses, debase and even dominate women. To fulfill his warped, sociopathic version of love and romance, he goes for an unworldly, insecure and young woman like Anastacia Steele. Christian’s sadism brings out latent sado-masochistic features of Ana, which make it difficult for her to reject being pulled into a physical relationship of submission, control, and domination by him. This brings women the fantasy of being controlled by men, and suggests that women still have strong psychological conflicts around domination and freedom.

Ansari Noman, The Express Tribune (2012)

Ansari describes Christian as extremely receptive to the physical needs of Ana and is both attentive as well as sexually pleasing her. Being a male reader, however, he feels that this is not the only positive or realistic thing he can say about this character. Fifty Shades of Grey has taught him that for a man to get a lady like Ana, he has to possess “superhuman” characteristics. But even though the depiction of Christian as some sort of human superpower can be perfectly acceptable as a woman’s fantasy, his characterization makes him somewhat unlikable. Christian is not only emotionally distant, rude and gloomy, but is also manipulative and borderline psychotic in stalking Ana. Ana, on the other hand, is even less likable. She is a highly neurotic and insecure woman, who has never been liked another person until she found Christian.

Aside from the poor characterization, Ansari also states that the book is poorly written, to a surprising degree. He also believes that the author did not do her research properly, and utilized a lot of British colloquialisms, all of which sound odd being spoken by American characters in the book. The author of the review goes on to state that worse still are the words and the phrases repeatedly used with such frequency such as the 58 counts of the phrase “inner goddess.”

Ansari’s description of the characters is accurate. I also support his criticism of James’s choice of words. Right from the start, the reader could tell that the author is British notably due to the use of words as well as expressions that are only used by British natives. This may bother the reader since the novel is set in Seattle, United States. A poor or incorrect choice of words may affect the story’s credibility (Laak 40). Therefore, I concur with the reviewer’s claim that James did not perhaps do her research well prior to writing the story. 

Have study documents to share about 50 Shades of Grey? Upload them to earn free Studypool credits!