And thank you for following me as I complete the last few days of this 30 Day Book Challenge with my fellow blogger, Rhey of Sunshine. Today’s challenge is all about the book that has changed my opinion of something.
What I want to first express is how I am incredibly thankful of the course I decided to pursue for college. Many people may censure Literature as a major with few prospects. But the truth is that when I took up the course I wasn’t concerned with what occupation it would get me in society.
Probably, just like a literature student, my mindset was more of how “it’s all about the journey, not the destination”. And I believe one of the most crucial journeys I went on during my uni days was an exploration of how to view the world in a new way through a multitude of texts.
If there was any text that challenged my viewpoint on a subject, it would have to be …
The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter
This dark satire takes the reader along a journey through the mythology of sexuality and questions the primitive notions of gender.
It is a story of how Evelyn is transformed into a woman, Eve, by an all-women’s society in the desert, and, along with this transformation, he learns the constructed ideals that entail his new gender. To prepare him for the sex change, they have him watch videos on mothering and women’s fashion.
The story also introduces the ancient Tristessa, a famous movie star with a haunting secret. She is the crush of Evelyn since he was a little boy. And she is the walking embodiment of everything false with normative genders.
I believe that if I had not been studying feminism at that point in time, this book would have been a horrific and demanding read. The text as a whole is difficult to swallow because of the stark sexual imagery present (I believe this is made evident from its provocative cover) – which is partially why it made such an impact on me to begin with. This book is hard to forget.
If one were to just read this book without any context to it, I would believe it is easy to feel offended by it. Everything in this book is a suggestive (or very obvious) sin. But if you look beyond the sinful actions of the characters within this novel, the undeniable question is: Why are we offended? And the answer is probably because we have been taught to be.
If there is one thing this novel achieves, it is to persuade the reader to absolutely destroy their preconceived semantics of what a woman and man should be, and why these boundaries are so integral for us to function in society. This is alluded by completely extracting the protagonist from the urban landscape to the desert – a landscape that is ironically a plethora of metaphors for the necessities to remove all remnants of symbolism, signification, implication and, yes, metaphor.
Carter ultimately attempts to disconcert the reader thoroughly. What you know of what makes up a man and a woman is no more than what your parents, your teachers and even you yourself has been ascribing to.
And here I move on to the scene that is as equally sinful as it is thought-provoking. After Evelyn is transformed into a woman, upon which he is enslaved by a man named Zero and his seven slave/wives, he meets Tristessa, a movie star he had been admiring for her sensual features, in a glass palace. Zero discovers, by trying to expose Tristessa’s private parts, that she is actually a man. Zero then forces both Eve and Tristessa to act out a mock-wedding after which he insists that they “consummate their marriage”.
It is here that Carter presents to the readers a unique and entirely singular scenario: Eve is a man in a female’s body, with now female genitalia, and Tristessa is a man in a woman’s body with male genitalia; Eve was once a man in society, he used to be in a position of illusionary power, but he has been recently stripped of any power. Meanwhile, Tristessa as a female movie star is objectified and sexualised, but the truth is that she is a man.
The Passion of New Eve blurs the lines between sex and gender differences and puts into contention the chicken-and-egg question, which came first? Is our perceptions of what makes us men and women determined by our sex, or is it growing up with these gender stereotypes that we then force these ideals on the sex?
Growing up, I always assumed that there was a clear logic that the role of men and women in society was always determined by biology – this book made me question how much of our stereotypes can we attribute to our sex. And when can we stop blaming the way we see gender roles on our past generations, when can we start being more perceptive of how meaning originates, sometimes, from the most biased origins of culture and religion?
As a whole this novel made me more open-minded towards the idea of gender as something absolutely abstract – and here I quote Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire …
So, till next time!