Hero or Villain

“Run out on her? That doesn’t sound like the heroics I’d had in mind. Hadn’t I sacrificed myself for her? Offered my life for her life?” (159)

In Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, this passage is one of the first times that the narrator’s perspective is acknowledged as being biased. Throughout most of the novel, the narrator frames themselves as a side character as other people use them as a tool to mess up their relationships. During this passage, they start to question if they actually are morally in the right. Using the phrase “had in mind” draws attention to the fact that this whole story is the internal monologue of the narrator. It is entirely their perspective of events. At this point in the novel, it seems like the narrator’s narration of the story starts to be questioned. I think that this is the start of the narrator realizing that they might have been the one to mess things up with Louise.

A theme throughout the novel was a lack of a gender for the narrator. The author frequently made the reader question their own gender stereotypes by doing this. In this passage the author uses both feminine and masculine words to describe the narrator questioning their actions. Using ‘heroics’ and ‘sacrificed’ seems like a continuation of this. Heroics is usually thought of as a masculine thing whereas sacrifices are stereotypically thought of as feminine. Running out on someone, as a way to describe leaving someone, is used predominantly used when describing men leaving women. I think that ‘offered my life for her life’ however seems like a feminine role in a relationship. This might be a stretch but in this sense, I think its referencing sacrificing your happiness for someone else’s and that to me is something that has been associated with femininity. The authors use of both feminine and masculine stereotyped words adds even more question to the gender of the narrator.

5 thoughts on “Hero or Villain”

  1. I see your point about how they are self-centered. To your point about how they frame it as “heroics,” it almost seems like they have some kind of complex, viewing themself as above others–even as a “side character” as you pointed out, they still manipulate and exert control. It reminded me of pugluvrrr’s post “Narrator and trust” about how the narrator describes how cheating drains trust silently. As pugluvrrr notes, they try to rationalize their actions despite knowing they are wrong, which ties into your point about playing the “hero.” I think that deep down, the narrator knows they are only doing what benefits them, not Louise, but they claim they are “giving up their life for her” to make it easier to cope with their self-centeredness.

  2. Agreed, this passage does complicate the gender for me as well. Before reading your post, I always thought of the narrator as a woman, even with everything we had talked about in class, but when you brought up the point about heorics–it does seem like something stereotypically associated with men. I really like how Winterson uses these stereotypes to mess with the reader and keeps us on our toes.

  3. I agree with this interpretation of gender in this section. This was the point in the novel for me where I really could not tell what the gender of the narrator was. But I think that trusting Elgin with Louise’s life had feminine aspects to it. I know that Elgin is a doctor but something about the narrator thinking that they were not capable of taking care of Louise like Elgin could did not seem like a stereotypical masculine trait to me.

  4. I think what’s so interesting about this scene is that it shows the full extent of the narrator’s selfishness for the first time, as well as their awareness of it. Up to this point, the narrator’s ambiguous gender allowed readers to interpret most scenes in ways that varied depending on how we perceived their gender. I think this is one of the first scenes where, regardless of the narrator’s potential gender, the implications of what they said remained equally shocking. This is the point where I began to question if the narration was as unbiased as I’d initially believed.

  5. I do agree that there is a “use of both feminine and masculine stereotyped words” but for this particular quote and moment in the story that you selected, the narrator for me was definitely a man/masculine aligned person, but the way the narrator speaks in both dialogue and narration, is very descriptive and flowery which is commonly associated with being feminine. This may raise the question about the comparing and contrasting the narrator’s actions (more masculine) and the narrator’s language (more feminine).

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