The Blame Game

“Adultery is as much about disillusionment as it is about sex. The charm didn’t work. You paid all that money, ate the cake and it didn’t work. It’s not your fault, is it?” (78).


This quote, from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, contains two of the central themes of the novel. Commitment, and responsibility. The meat of the quotation is spent discussing marriage, an institution built on commitment, and always tied to a breaking of that commitment in the narrator’s experience. As is clear from their description of “pay[ing] all the money, [eating] the cake” the narrator views marriage as only its traditional, shallow, commercial parts, with the use of “charm” implying a sort of magic ritual, an act towards the production or achievement of a fantastical goal.

Focusing more on the third sentence, the narrator lists these traditional, shallow planning choices as boxes to be checked off, putting the focus of marriage on its physical elements rather than emotional ones. The disillusionment comes when these physical aspects do not change the emotional ones. The last line of this quotation is the most important. Once resigned to disillusionment, the disappointment turns to blame. Twice in the quotation does the narrator reference the self directly, “you ate the cake, you spent that money” and “it’s not your fault, is it” However the self is absent when discussing “the charm” failing. Adultery is the inevitable result, the product of some failure beyond your control. To the narrator, responsibility is foreign, and this quote shows that. None of the failures have to be their fault if the magic of marriage independently failed. There is no internal problem to address, no personal flaw, because “the charm” just didn’t work.

The narrator has disconnected their awareness from their actions, living in a place of technical innocence, pondering the inner wound they feel and fill with partners they will never assume responsibility for. Keeping just far enough from these women that they don’t hold emotional weight, already committed to another, yet close enough that they will relieve the narrator’s loneliness on the most superficial level. And when the superficial no longer fills them the way it once did, they can comfort themselves saying, its not my fault.

However, Winterson doesn’t write this last sentence as a statement, but rather as a question. “Is it?”. While this question could be read as indignation, it could just as easily be read as a demonstration of the narrator’s inner conflict, and the start of their self-reflection. A genuine question, as well as an insecurity. They feel failed by commitment because they fail at commitment but cannot fathom themselves at fault. The problem must be institutional, their failure must be out of their control. During their discussion of fading feelings, they site a natural circadian clock of love, removing blame once again, however doubt is evident in their subconscious if nothing else. The question is sincere, and they are desperate for a reassuring answer despite all odds. They spend most of the novel discussing the emotional wreckage they leave behind, wondering why without stating the obvious common factor in all of it. It’s not their fault. Isn’t it?


4 thoughts on “The Blame Game”

  1. I totally agree with everything you said here, and this reminded me of the other parts in the book where the narrator talks about how love is this uncontrollable force that takes you by surprise. That’s also kind of just a general idea in media I think, which is then used as an excuse for cheating or getting romantically involved with someone you shouldn’t because you “couldn’t help it.” The narrator of Written on the Body definitely uses this as another way to pass the blame for their actions, even though everyone (including themself) know that you can in fact physically stop yourself from hooking up with a married person.

  2. I agree with this analysis and it reminded me of the part of the novel I wrote about when the narrator is talking about taking and taking from her partner but then their hands are empty. They use their distaste towards marriage as a way to minimize the effect of their actions. I also liked the over arching theme of commitment because in the end, after leaving Jaqueline, she could not even commit to Louise either.

  3. I agree that the narrator seems to blame everything but themselves throughout the novel until the very end when they realize they regret leaving Louise, and by that point it’s too late. They are able to maintain an innocence even when their actions are objectively questionable, and that’s what enables their behavior. They essentially deceive themselves into thinking they are never in the wrong, never thinking about how their actions have consequences for others. As said in the blog post “Guiding Star,” the narrator treats Louise like a child, never fully understanding how their actions have impact on her and therefore making all the decisions in their relationship.

  4. I really like your focus on the disconnect the narrator has from themself and the consequences of their actions on other people. By blaming the institution of marriage rather than themself, they can pretend that it’s not their fault that they cheat. The moment that starts their true introspection is the death of Louise, but they knew subconsciously that it was their fault all along but managed to suppress their feelings by refusing to feel.

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