E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. We have probably all heard of it. We most likely know the plot. But just in case, Fifty Shades follows Anastasia Steele, a young college grad who falls in love with the wealthy entrepreneur Christian Grey. However, when Anastasia learns of Christian’s (ahem) “lifestyle choice” of BDSM, she must choose whether or not to become his.
OK. I apologize in advance because I know this post will easily become an essay. So, if you are looking for a short summary, here it is: I give the series three out of five stars. Obviously, I have many issues with the unhealthy relationship between Anastasia and Christian. On the other hand, both characters undergo so much change that I truly do believe the series is worth a read if you are interested. Though I cringed at parts and was angry at others, it was so easy for me to get caught up in the storyline and watching the relationship between Christian and Ana develop. Now, back to the review/rant/discussion on this controversial series. (I also apologize for any minor spoilers I give. I must console you that even if I give away any details – which I will try my hardest not to – none of my details will actually ruin the story itself.)
I know that it seems very out of character for me to read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I started reading this trilogy because I was tired of reading ABOUT it. I was tired of hearing everyone rag on it and complain and judge anyone who had read these books. Furthermore, I was tired of hearing about how awful it was that Anastasia would submit to the whims of a sadomasochistic man. “Why wasn’t she strong enough to stand up for herself? How could she let him do those things to her? That Christian Grey is obviously an awful human being who deserves to be treated as he treats women.” I kept reading these articles (most of which were written by people who refused to read the books) and hearing these complaints, so I decided to do my own critical reading of the text. I wanted to see the nature of the relationship myself. I wanted to read about the supposed mistreatment of women and make my own deduction. And what I found out actually surprised me.
First off, let me start by saying that this is truly one of the most conflicting books I have ever read. On the one hand, it made me extremely uncomfortable to read about this man who was so possessive; but on the other hand, who doesn’t love a dark and moody, brooding Byronic hero? I wanted to keep reading, to learn about Christian Grey’s life and what made him the way he is. I wanted to hope that this sweet innocent girl could “fix” him, or at least help him adjust to a healthy romantic relationship. Personally, I did not enjoy reading the… heavier… sections of this book. I am the kind of person that can’t even stand to watch kissing scenes on television – they make me uncomfortable. But I would be lying if I said I did not become invested in this story and the characters. However, because of the conflicting nature of this book, I am going to flesh out my thoughts as best I know how – by making a pros and cons list.
– E. L. James/Anastasia makes some harsh word choices when describing the relationship between Ana and Christian. For instance, during the sex scenes, Anastasia uses phrases such as “assault” or “merciless onslaught” (chapter 18). She uses these words while she is enjoying herself (which we will come back to soon), yet the words themselves give such a violent image and make me cringe.
– The initial nature of the Christian-Anastasia relationship is not healthy. I find it deeply troubling any time Christian makes Anastasia seem “less than” him by requiring or expecting her to be submissive. Furthermore, Anastasia does not think highly of herself apart from Christian. She has low self-esteem, only finding her “inner goddess” through her sexual relationship with Christian. And while it is great that she realizes her worth and power, she should not feel like she absolutely needs him. Yet, she herself remarks about how she feels empty: “This is the first time I have ever had sex in my home . . . But now I feel like a receptacle – an empty vessel to be filled at his whim” (chapter twelve). So two things about this statement strike me as very wrong. First, she needs him to fill her up – no bueno. Second, it is heartbreaking that she feels empty after what should be such an intimate, satisfying, and fulfilling act.
– Speaking of unhealthy… Let’s talk about Christian’s scary psycho tendencies. The man is an absolute control freak. He has a written contract for his Submissives, guidelines that control everything from what they eat and how much they sleep to enlisting a personal trainer to help keep the Sub in shape because, you know, all that sex will require some stamina, as Mr. Grey clarifies. Now, I understand that the Submissive-Dominant relationship was to be more like a business agreement, but this contract just shows Christian’s deep and unhealthy need for control. Ana is her own person, an adult who should be allowed to make her own decisions. Yet, Christian Grey often treats her like she is a petulant child who needs discipline and careful watching. Which leads me to my final issue…
– CHRISTIAN GREY IS THE BIGGEST STALKER ON THE FACE OF THIS PLANET!! (Because he is a control freak) Not only does he shower Ana with expensive gifts that she does not want, but he also sends them to her home because, you know, he knows where she lives. The man truly knows almost everything there is to know about her. If you have not read the book yet, you will be shocked when you see the extent of his stalking. If I were Ana, I probably would have freaked out and filed for a restraining order. Then again, he would probably charm the pants off the judge and prevent that from happening.
So now to the things that I felt more positively toward.
– Christian and Ana develop this unique relationship that is unlike anything Christian has ever been in. He shows himself to be more than a pragmatic businessman, more than a controlling Dominant interested in punishing his adult partner. He and Ana end up sharing a lot of firsts together, and this has a drastic effect on Christian and his relationship with Ana. (BEWARE OF MOVING FORWARD! I DON’T THINK THERE ARE ANY SPOILERS, JUST TIDBITS OF INFORMATION. BUT IF YOU LIKE TO BE COMPLETELY IN THE DARK, STOP READING NOW!!)
No really.. stop reading if you like to be completely clueless or are afraid I might give something important away. It is safe to come back when the print is bold again…
– Though Christian presents a contract to Ana, the majority of the book involves them discussing the contract and Ana negotiating with Christian to release some of his controls. Christian actually breaks many of his “rules” for Ana. So though there are rules and a contract, Christian actually relinquishes much of his control to Ana.
OK, so now that I have worked through my pros and cons about the book, I want to discuss some issues I have with people who are talking about the book.
1. Many people who are talking about the book have either not read the book and refuse to do so, or they have only read some of the first book. No. This does not fly. You cannot understand the entire scope of the story or follow character arcs if you have only read a segment. Everything has its context. Without reading the entire novel, you cannot put the snippets that you read into context, into the bigger picture, just like I cannot pass my final judgment on this series until I finish the series. Yet so far I have already seen so much character development and growth that, had I just stopped reading after one chapter, I would never have gotten to! Never judge a book by its cover; never pass judgment when you don’t know the full story. And instead of just jumping on the bandwagon and condemning the series because everyone else is doing it or because your friends say you should hate it, think for yourself. If you really do not want to read it, if you feel like you should not, there is nothing wrong with that! Just don’t knock it if you haven’t read it.
2. Until someone shows me otherwise, I cannot agree with the statement that Fifty Shades of Grey is “glorified rape.” Never does Ana say, “No! Please, stop!” as Christian does X, Y, and Z to her. She always says, “Yes! Please, more!” In fact, she revels in the erotic sex. It makes her “inner goddess” come alive. The relationship between Ana and Christian is a relationship between two consenting adults. Ana is given a contract, and Christian ask her to amend the contract and tell him her limits on what she will and will not do sexually. She is given safe words to say if Christian does anything she does not like, and she can at any time choose to leave or to end the erotic activities. She knows what she is getting herself into because Christian prepares her as best as possible. Ana even researches BDSM for herself. So how is this rape? We may not agree with their choice. We might not like the spanking or flogging or Dominant-Submissive relationship, but it is a relationship that works for some real couples. There are couples out there that actually enter these relationships or agreements, and it works for them. And I believe that what two consenting adults do in their own private time is their business. So until someone convinces me otherwise, I do not agree that this is glorified rape. Is this trilogy book porn? Sure, I can see the truth in that argument. But glorified rape? Nope. (Side note: There was significantly less BDSM in the book than what the world led me to believe. So that was a relief.)
3. I have a really hard time calling Christian abusive. In my head, an abusive person is someone who hurts another person in order to exercise their power over the other. By this definition, Christian could be called abusive, I suppose. However, I do not think that Christian’s intent is to be hurtful or malicious. Instead, he finds pleasure in having control over the Sub, and a normal Sub (ie: not someone as independent minded as Ana) would find pleasure in being controlled and bringing pleasure to the Dom. (This is something Anastasia struggles to understand throughout the first book.) Is he mentally and emotionally and physically draining? Absolutely! But I have a hard time calling him abusive in those three areas because I do not see malicious intent in his gray eyes.
Those who have been avoiding spoilers can come back now! The coast is clear.
On a lighter note (and more to the review side of this blog), I recently learned that this trilogy started out as Twilight fanfiction. If you have read the beloved vampire series, then you will pick up on the similarities. However, I do believe that it is easy to get caught up in the story and forget about the Twilight roots. It is also a testament to James’ writing (or a testament to my foolish, hopeless romantic, always rooting for the Bad Boy heart) that she creates this character in Christian Grey that we both want to run from and hug all at the same time. If you are
weak anything like me, you will often root for this dark man, hoping that he realizes that Anastasia deserves so much better, that women do not need to be spanked because you want to control them. Then again, I don’t know if we should give James or Stephenie Meyer credit for the brooding billionaire. Is Christian Grey James’s creation, or is he Edward Cullen 2.0, thus all credit being owed to Meyer? You tell me.
In short, I write all this not to defend the unhealthy relationship and all the negatives of the Fifty Shades trilogy. I write this to say that though I do not agree with/like some things about the series, I cannot go so far as to call Fifty Shades “glorified rape.” I also cannot agree with people who pass final judgment on the series without having read the series.
Will I read this book again? Probably not. I give it three out of five stars. Despite my closet Twilight fandom, the remaining two books will have to blow me away, the relationship will have to develop into a much healthier and more stable one, Christian will have to relinquish a bit more control, and Anastasia will have to gain some confidence before I come back to this. But if you are remotely considering exploring what all the fuss is about, I urge you to go for it and pass your own judgment when you finish. I myself will continue with this series and write the reviews as I go.
Food for thought: What if the roles were reversed – if the Dominant was a female and the Submissive a male – would we still have such a problem with this and call the relationship abusive, or would we just think the book was kinky and weird (perhaps almost comical) then?
Any general thoughts on Fifty Shades? Comment below!