Liberation from Society and our Bodies

“I wanted my words to be seen. I wanted Martha to be in the vision of the world, with her low-slung belly swaying in the morning of a culture. Martha, the adamant vision: the woman standing on the scalloped shell emerging from the sea (Stinson, pg 106).”

Amanda’s writings about Martha have created a sense of freedom that she has never felt. She feels a sense of liberation from the societal norms that had haunted her through her marriage, and she has slowly felt less stifled by the biblical world that she has been stuck in. Her imagination and innovation as a woman in her community are remarkable and the idea that she can freely write creates a sense of female liberation. She has become a role model for the women in her community, and the readers of the novel as well. Amanda’s character development shows how a supportive and loyal partner can bring out the best in us.

The passage is important to the main themes of the book because it shows Amanda’s true feelings for Martha, and her sense of body positivity when describing Martha’s physique. At the beginning of the novel, Amanda would not have had the courage to discuss or write about these ideas and thoughts. However, Martha’s influence on Amanda was liberating for her and her words on the page reflect this.

The concept of body and body image in this novel is a breath of fresh air. The way that Amanda describes Martha, and her low-slung belly would be an insult to many people, however, Martha’s body is celebrated by Amanda and her descriptions of Martha’s bodies reflect her feelings rather than what society might dictate. This is another example of the freedom and liberation that forms throughout the novel.

I often wish that I had the tenacity to discuss bodies in the way that Susan Stinson does in her writing. The ability to worry about one’s judgment and to have a positive outlook on what society dictates as bad or disgusting is in its way liberating and takes off the pressure that society weighs us down with. Many women see our physique as a form of identity, and society perpetuates this. What we wear and how we look, should not be what defines us and is certainly not the only aspect of our identity that matters. Susan Stinson is a true role model for redefining female identity and looking at who we are on the inside rather than how we look on the outside.


“Mala wished she could go back in time and be a friend to this Pohpoh. Shou would storm into the house and, with one flick of her wrist, banish the father into a pit of pain and suffering from which there would be no escape. With piercing eyes, she would pull the walls of that house down, down, down and she would gather the two children to her breast and hug them tightly, rock and quiet them, and kiss their faces until they giggled wildly (pg. 142).”

This passage encapsulates many themes presented throughout the novel and is in response to the trauma that Mala experienced with her father. She yearns to have a motherly figure in her life and someone to protect her, she created Pohpoh, originally her childhood nickname, to represent her younger, freer self. Mala seeks to protect Pohpoh and envisions her through this outside lens, disassociating herself from the harsh reality that was her childhood. The passage shows the importance of Mala’s relation to self, as well as her relationship to Asha. Mala is projecting these dissociative scenarios to show her compassion and empathy towards herself and her sister. However, because Asha is gone and the girl Mala once was is also gone, she can only imagine a scenario where she is her savior.

One of the major themes presented in the novel is the concept of healing one’s identity. Mala is often disassociated from herself due to her childhood trauma and is unable to form a complete identity that is her own. She describes her compassion and love for the two girls because she wishes that she had a strong protective female presence in her life and understands that a female role model is important. In the passage, Mala describes Pohpoh as if she is her daughter rather than her younger self. Due to the emotional and physical trauma that she experienced; she is unable to create the strong relationships needed to form a stable family but based on her dissociative states she is showing growth in that she understands the importance of safe physical contact. She says “she would gather them to her breast and hug them tightly, rock and quiet them (pg 142)” this shows her emotional capacity despite her trauma. To Mala, being able to “save” Pohpoh and Asha is a way for her to save herself, by showing that if she was put in this scenario as an adult, she would continually protect the two girls.

Identity and healing are two important concepts that we have seen in this class and in our communities. This particular passage shows the need for protection, and we often feel that protection from our origin family. However, the LGBTQ community often feels rejected and neglected by their own origin families, so they seek out their chosen family within their community. This is similar in the way that Tyler sees mala as a familial figure and how mala sees herself as the familial savior. We often find ourselves stuck in a repressive and negative environment, but with this adversity beautiful relationships often form as we grow and find our independence. Mala and Tyler formed a bond that was extremely special and needed for their personal growth.


Hidden Wings and an Empty Fruit Bowl

“Depression is one of the unknown modes of being.
There are no words for a world without a self, seen with impersonal clarity.
All language can register is the slow return
to oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape
and habit blurs perception and language
takes up its routine flourishes.” Page 107

This passage is important to the novel as a whole and encompasses the major themes presented. Depression is all-encompassing and can be an unknown barrier that prevents you from being your true self, it leaves you unable to connect with others on a level that one may truly desire. This passage represents the struggles of Geryon and his lack of knowledge on depression and the way it reflects in his relationships. This is because he continuously struggled to find a healthy balance in his romantic relationships while also lacking necessary communication skills. Geryon lived unconsciously for many years due to his abuse and neglect contributing to his lack of healthy relationships. However, as he gets older, he grows and begins to change pushing through his loneliness to try and develop a life for himself after Herakles but is still weighed down by depression and darkness.

Geryon’s loneliness and insecurities leave him unable to share his true self with the world because he fears vulnerability and being vulnerable can leave you susceptible to attack. He truly is a little red monster, not because he is a frightening creature but because he is a true outsider, unable to communicate effectively and forced to hide his wings. His hidden identity is a main component throughout the novel, and it leaves him secluded, for he is different. This exacerbates his depressive state, and he is unable to spread his wings.

Loneliness and insecurities are strong themes that follow Geryon throughout the novel. Geryon was a child of neglect and abuse, left to solitude. Due to his unhealthy relationships, he is unable to create healthy ones and longs for affirmation and attention. However, even if he receives what he is looking for, it is unlikely he will ever be satisfied because only he can fill and fix the void that was his childhood. Geryon’s past traumas had left him living an unconscious life, until the culmination of his trauma, the empty fruit bowl. The empty fruit bowl is a representation of the emptiness he has felt and the nourishment he so desires. The empty fruit bowl is a symbol of Geryon’s being, he is lonely and left unfulfilled by his relationships, just as the fruit bowl is left bare. His depressive state is a causal response to his life, yet when he sees the empty fruit bowl it seems as though a spark ignites inside of him. It is clear why he left, and there is hope.

It is clear to me that Geryon’s life is not a representation of one lonely outsider, but he is representing an entire community. Society perpetuates a heteronormative way of life and if you are unable to fit in, you must hide your wings, living in fear. Identity is an important aspect of this book, but also to our society. Our identities are an important part of our lives and something that we alone wish to control, losing that control leads to loneliness and ambivalence towards a successful life. This can be seen with Geryon throughout the novel as he hides himself, his sexuality, and the little monster that lurks within him.

To be or not to be vulnerable

“Louise dipterous girl born in flames, 35. 34 22 36. 10 years married, 5 months with me. Doctorate in Art History. First class mind. 1 miscarriage, 0 children. 2 arms, 2 legs, too many white T-cells. 97 months to live (Winterson, 144).”

This passage occurs after the narrator has left Louise after finding out her diagnosis. They then describe Louise to a woman named Gail in a manner that is unloving and callous of the past that they once shared. They repeatedly say throughout the novel that they love Louise and that they would never leave her. However, their actions and thoughts show a different intention. The narrator has a fight or flight response leaving the reader feeling just as empty as each lover they leave. The cold-hearted nature of Louise’s description “2 arms, 2 legs. (144)” shows how unreliable the narrator is. This is an important aspect of the novel because they perpetuate such vulnerability to the reader and their lovers, yet they leave all of us wanting to know more and feeling slightly empty. This is a common theme throughout the novel, and it is apparent that the narrator has betrayed the sense of trust that we all placed on them and the unreliability of their stories leaves us wanting to hear the stories of their various lovers. A narrator just like a romantic partner needs to be honest, open, and vulnerable, and just how Louise and Jaqueline once felt, we feel as though we did not get the whole story and despite having finished every page there is still so much left to uncover, yet we have also been cut off.

The concept of reliability is significant in our lives because trust and authenticity allow us to be our full selves. We can share our identity with those we trust and those who have trust in us. When we are vulnerable with unreliable people, like the narrator, we close ourselves off, unable to share our true selves, for if we do, we may get hurt. The narrator’s unreliability and inconsistencies are a symbol of the toxicity that eats away at our identities and prevents us from being our true selves. The relationships that we have with those around us influence how we are able to display ourselves and just like the narrator does with Louise we often feel the need to run and hide from our true selves when things go awry.