E.l. James' 'Fifty Shades of Gray': A Critical Analysis
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Although by no means a literary masterpiece, E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Gray offers tantalizing insight into sexual fantasies and their impact on the individual psyche. The books' shallowness is offset by the ability to extrapolate from its steamy drama issues that are pertinent and global in nature, including the persistence of gender performativity and gendered hierarchies. Symbolic male hegemony is implied in the fact that Christian is the "top" to Ana's "bottom." Christian manipulates Ana, who allows herself to be seduced by a man who has already admitted himself to be incapable of providing "hearts and flowers" in the format of storybook romance (James 72). His "polite and slightly distant" nature intrigues Ana, who allows herself to be subsumed by the larger-than-life, mythical, and almost unhuman presence of Gray. Ana is an apt contrast for Gray, who symbolizes cold, steely materialism and the pervasiveness of patriarchal ideology. Using pornographic exploitation to lure Ana, Gray prays on Ana, and she is an easy target because of her low self-esteem. The vampiric relationship between Ana and Christian evolves, and devolves, and it is doubtful any meaningful self-awareness dawns on Ana. Therefore, Fifty Shades of Gray misses the chance of offering any social commentary. Still, Fifty Shades of Gray offers ample opportunity to gaze on gendered identity, gendered hierarchies, and heteronormativity.
Gray's wealth and social status sets him apart from Ana, enforcing the