Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Who am I to define beauty? A Close Read on Defining Beauty in WOTB

Quote: “I don’t lack self-confidence but I’m not beautiful, that is a word reserved for few people, people such as Louise herself. I told her this”(85).

This passage caught my attention by its distinction of self-confidence and beauty. Often times people associate self-confidence with beauty, and by separating them, they are left in a state that makes one question what beauty is and how it is defined. The author narrows down the definition of  beautiful by saying that it is only a word “reserved for few people”(85). By doing this, the author made me feel a sense of intention behind the word. I felt as if when the word was used again in the text, there was deep meaning behind it.

The author also defines beauty to some extent by saying that beauty is not self-confidence. Reading this passage in the context of the book, I feel as if the word self-confidence is a blanket for the word boldness. I use the word bold to describe unthoughtful action. The speaker is bold in their decisions for who they sleep with and how they interact with the ones that they “love.” Time and time again throughout the novel the speaker lets down important people in their life by showing a pattern of attachment, cheating, and deserting relationships.

The word “beauty” is ambiguous. It can mean many different things to different people. By allowing the definition to be up for interpretation, allows for somebody to step in and out of feeling “beautiful.” Given the context of the book, and parts of the definition being already framed (as beauty being limited to a select few people and as being kind and thoughtful (the opposite of bold)), I think that the definition for beauty within this book digs deep into describing devoted love. Everything is confusing and clear, defined and undefined, wavering in emotion, but always grounded in intention. Louise embodies devoted love because from the start of her relationship with the speaker, her relationship with Elgin was clear in that they were not in love. I believe that in this stage of the book the speaker does not feel beautiful because they had just messily broken up with Jacqueline. They had many components that might have embodied characteristics of beauty, but they did not have grounded intention in the way that they treated Jacqueline. They acted with confidence, but not with beauty.

Reference:  Winterson, Jeanette. 1993. Written on the Body, 85. New York: 1st Vintage International (Random House).

3 Comments

  1. The statement in your analysis “the word beauty is ambiguous” has me wondering if this passage could also be related to the mystery of the narrator’s gender. Could it be toying with the fact that the word beautiful is most often associated with feminine qualities but still could be referring to a male? This reminds me of a different line in the novel, “But I’m not a Boy Scout and never was” (58). Referring to the Boy Scouts initially makes the reader assume maleness, but because of the language, it could also be interpreted as female. I agree that the definition of beautiful is up for interpretation, including interpretation of gender, a recurring debate for the reader of the novel.

  2. Nickname (required)

    September 26, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Your interpretation of “beauty” as ambiguous is well founded. I also agree with the close association between beauty and self-confidence. I believe that the narrator is explaining how he/she does not look down on them-self, but they are nothing in comparison to Louise. I love your point about self-confidence acting as a blanket for boldness. I found myself asking at what point self-confidence becomes insulting/inappropriate. I connected this to the passage on page 86 where the narrator hits Jacqueline. Forcing her outside is one thing, but raising a hand and hitting her in the face is a step (or two) too far. It is quite clear that the narrator was feeling far too self-confident in their actions.

  3. Hi! I really liked your analysis of this passage– particularly your insights to the word “bold.” I noted the same approach to “boldness” while reading the book. Like you, I think that the author is also saying that beauty–in this instance at least– is more than just the physical. Louise is definitely physically beautiful but also a kind, beautiful soul while the narrator is debatably not. Your point that the ugliness of the breakup with Jacqueline really ties into the contrasts that the author makes between the narrator’s other relationships and the new relationship with Louise. The others were ugly and messy while being with Louise is beautiful–a reserved word.

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