The Difference Between Loving and Becoming

“You are still the colour of my blood. You are my blood. When I look in the mirror it’s not my own face I see. Your body is twice. Once you once me. Can I be sure which is which?” (99)

The protagonist in Written on the Body loses themselves to their obsession with becoming Louise, not loving her. Winterson warns about the dangers of perception — how our own perceptions and views of a situation can cause us to ignore the desires of others. Five months into their relationship, the narrator has adopted the essence of Louise, both her personality and physical being. Through their ruminations on past lovers, one can notice that the protagonist picks up traits and copies the actions of their current lover. For example, they imitate their terrorist girlfriend, Inge, or try to emulate Jacqueline’s stability and want for a “normal” relationship. The narrator has always tried to match their partner, whether that’s to seem more appealing or simply because of their own lack of an individual personality, but never to the same level as they have with Louise. 

Here, the protagonist blurs the line between “you” and “me,” making “your blood/body” their own. Through the symbol of a mirror, the narrator sees themselves as a reflection or copy of Louise, literally seeing her face in the mirror. The narrator has no physical manifestation of who they are, and this is heightened by the lack of an assigned name and gender. The narrator instead is meant to reflect the experiences and personality of others, whether that is the reader who projects onto them or the other characters in the story whose personality they adopt. Mirrors are often used to represent the true self, which the narrator sees as Louise. By saying “once you once me,” the narrator implies that what once was Louise’s — namely her face, body, and personality — is now theirs, so much so that you can no longer differentiate them from one another. 

There’s this common theme throughout the novel that “it’s the cliches that cause the trouble.” The trope of two lovers becoming so intimate and in tune with one another that they become one soul is common, however this is perverted by the narrator, who wants to become Louise instead of “combining” with her. Louise is a very passive figure in the novel, who’s fate and control over her own body is decided by Elgin and the narrator. Both believe they have a claim to her body, and that their ideas and wishes are the same as hers. Namely, the narrator thinks their decision to leave aligns with Louise’s, because they think they are Louise. The narrator ignores Louise’s real wishes and her distrust of Elgin, instead deciding the fate of the body, their body, on their own. This “one mind, one body” mindset ignores Louise’s individuality, making her a passive owner of her own body. 

Interestingly enough, the narrator sees themself as the worst part of Louise, a part that is hurting and killing her by staying in the relationship. So, by cutting themselves out of Louise, like a tumor, they can “save her” from her cancer. However, just like a body part that has been amputated or removed, the narrator can barely survive on their own, doomed to wander aimlessly without the rest of it. This trope of a soulmate, or someone who is not whole without their lover, reappears here, with the narrator not being whole without the rest of their body and soul. The narrator’s worrying obsession and reliance on Louise as a source for life, literally their blood and body, points out the unhealthy dynamic in this relationship. The narrator doesn’t seem to love Louise for who she is, the strong woman who will do anything to leave her husband, but as a body, a thing, that can be used and abandoned. This warped perception of their body and the relationship only causes pain for both of them, and serves as a warning to the projecting reader. 

3 thoughts on “The Difference Between Loving and Becoming”

  1. I really love your point about the narrator seeing Louise’s face when they look at their reflecttion. I knew it pointed more toward their obsession with her and becoming her, but I didn’t think about the gravity of that when we consider that we have no concept of what the narrator looks like. It’s almost like imagining this faceless person, just stealing bits and pieces of an identity and even appearance from the people around them. When you read it through that lens, it can even be a psychological thriller.

  2. I think this is such an interesting interpretation of the narrator seeing louis on themselves because I read it in a very different way, that rather than literally seeing Louis’ face in the mirror or feeling their own body to feel closer to her because their body has become hers, they saw what louis had written on their body and were reminded of Louis by feeling the marks she had left on their skin. But I think that the idea of her consuming them and covering their own identity is very present in the text and true for the narrator as someone who struggles with their own identity.

  3. On page 159 the narrator refers to Louise as “My child. My baby.” I think this really highlights their warped view of her – they cherished Louise and wanted to protect her, probably because they viewed her as some purer offspring of themselves, but they also believed this gave them some claim over her autonomy. By “loving” her they reduced her into something with no agency, something they could project their own desires on to.

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