Jacqueline and ‘Normal’

“I wanted the clichés, the armchair. I wanted the broad road and twenty-twenty vision. What’s wrong with that? It’s called growing up. Maybe most people gloss their comforts with a patina of romance but it soon wears off. They’re in it for the long haul; the expanding waistline and the little semi in the suburbs. What’s wrong with that? Late-night TV and snoring side by side into the millennium. Till death us do part. Anniversary darling? What’s wrong with that?” (Winterson, 26)

This passage comes at a point in Winterson’s text where the narrator has just met Jacqueline and is trying to decide whether a relationship with her is what she wants and/or needs. Jacqueline is different from anyone the narrator has previously been with: “She worked nine to five Monday to Friday, drove a Mini and got her reading from book clubs. She exhibited no fetishes, foibles, freak-outs or fuck-ups. Above all she was single and she had always been single. No children and no husband” (26). Jacqueline is strikingly normal and mundane, and as the narrator considers their past relationships, they find themself wanting to test the waters of normalcy. They are thinking in circles, considering what they want, what they need, what they should want, and how being with Jacqueline will be different. Deep down, however, they know a relationship with her will never be fulfilling. The repeated question “what’s wrong with that?” clues the reader in to the narrator’s anxieties around long-term commitment and their fear of an unsatisfying relationship, and shows that they are questioning whether they can really be happy with Jacqueline. The narrator seems to be trying to convince themselves that “growing up” and settling into a comfortable, clichéd relationship isn’t actually that bad; however, the way they imagine that relationship reveals a different story, as they describe a loss of romance, growing old with their partner, and having nothing more exciting than late-night TV and anniversaries to look forward to. The relationship becomes stagnant, unchanging, and boring. “What’s wrong with that?” the narrator asks themself. Nothing, except that a stagnant, boring relationship is at odds with what they really want. 

When considering this passage alongside ideas of ‘normal’ and ‘queerness’ as imagined by Warner and Rubin, it becomes apparent that the narrator is trying to reconcile their queerness with the desire to conform to given norms. Though the narrator’s gender and sexuality are never revealed, they fit into several categories in the “outer limits” or “bad/abnormal/unnatural” section of Rubin’s sexual hierarchy. They are unmarried, promiscuous, and their sex life is focused on pleasure rather than procreation; regardless of their gender, they have had relationships with both men and women, and thus can also fit into the category of homosexuality. Jaqueline, on the other hand, seems to fall into more of the “good/normal/natural” categories, though not entirely. Her sexuality is rather complex, as she is introduced as “the mistress of one of [the narrator’s friends] the confidante of both… She traded sex and sympathy for £50 to tide her over the weekend and a square meal on Sunday” (25). She therefore fits the “commercial” and (potentially) “sadomasochistic” categories in Rubin’s sexual hierarchy. Yet the narrator believes a relationship with her will be calm, clichéd, and normal, to the point of boredom. There is no passion between the two of them, and once together, their sex life becomes stagnant (28); it doesn’t seem too much to assume, considering the boredom and lack of romance, that it is private and vanilla as well. The narrator wants to try this calm, mundane kind of relationship with Jacqueline, seeing it and her as a welcome respite from the affairs they have had in the past. The problem is, the narrator is lying to themself on some level. They insist that they want “the clichés, the armchair,” when in reality, they will eventually become bored and frustrated with Jacqueline and her mundanity and leave her, choosing Louise and queerness over Jacqueline and normalcy.

4 thoughts on “Jacqueline and ‘Normal’”

  1. This post relates to another post, “It’s the cliches that cause the trouble,” because it illustrates the opposite end of the spectrum of ideas for the narrator. The narrator does have some concerns about settling into a mundane, average life, but also seems to be trying to convince themselves to settle down and become the stereotypical, comfortable, cliched couple in the suburbs. This opposes the other idea that the narrator explains, that “It’s the cliches that cause the trouble” (Winterson 10). The narrator seems to have two opposing views: (1) that cliches are problematic and should be avoided, especially when they are with Louise, and (2) that they will be happier and feel more content if they were to settle into a cliched, stereotypical relationship with Jacqueline.

  2. It is interesting that you emphasize the relationship between cliches and metaphors– I like that you suggest the metaphors are what reveals the intensity of these cliches. I am reminded though of a different post (Jacqueline and Normal) and the quote in the story which says “I want the cliches… what’s wrong with that?” I wonder what kinds of implications can be drawn from this seemingly contradictory statement. Can the cliches simultaneously be the troubles AND what someone desires in a loving relationship?

  3. It’s in the sense of normalcy as you stated that embodies the cliche of a relationship. I think that your analysis of normalcy equating boredom is true. We see this also in a passage about contentment potentially being the “absence of feeling.” How it’s similar to going to the dentist because one is desensitized to notions from the drugs. “Contentment is the positive side of resignation. It has its appeal but it’s not good wearing an overcoat and furry slippers and heavy gloves when what the body really wants is to be naked.” (76) The narrator describes their conflict conforming to blandness by trying to relate to us. We are also people who desire to be naked because with nudity comes vulnerability, openness, and desire for a comfort that doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity. The narrator finds these qualities in Louise, who provides beyond satisfaction but passion in their connection.

  4. It is really interesting how you use this idea of cliches, especially in contrast with the post “It’s the Cliches that Cause the Problems,” as you both focus on different sides of this phrase. The idea that Jacquline represents this cliched relationship for the narrator, especially knowing the repeated mantra of “its the cliches that cause the problem” is particularly impactful. Had the narrator not partaken in that cliche (meaning their relationship with Jacquline), in which they forced themselves to want something that was not true to their actual desires, then some of the problems in the novel would have been avoided. This is not to say all of the problems, however, had the narrator not pursued this cliche then they would not have broken Jacquline’s heart.
    As brought in by the earlier comment talking about the duality of cliches (something the narrator chases with Jacquline and runs from with Louise) the timing and context of this is essential. The narrator wanted the cliche of a simple committed life with Jacquline and was burned by it, but that cliche is for the most part a positive one. However, the narrator’s relationship with Louise falls into a more negative cliche involving an affair.

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