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Sadism and masochism in The Passion of New Eve

Beziehungen zwischen den Geschlechtern sind schlussendlich auch Machtkonstruktionen. Sadismus und Masochismus sind dabei die deutlichsten Zeichen von Machtbeziehungen. Der Roman „The Passion of New Eve“ von Angela Carter spielt hervorragend mit Geschlechterrollen und -bezeichnungen und dekonstruiert klassische Erwartungen einer allzu geschlechtsfokussierten Gesellschaft.

1. Introduction

This term paper is to show the links between gender and acts of violence such as abuse, rape etc. Masochistic and sadistic actions evoke a deep impact on the recipient as well as on the actor of the deed him-/herself. These deeds are presented within The Passion of New Eve and deal with feminist topics and questions about gender and sex: the question of a female sadism as a natural given fact; male definitions of women and their influence on women; prototypical features of men and women and the contribution of culture and society to these stereotypes. All these aspects are presented within the novel with the help of violence and rape towards both sexes in order to direct the reader’s view to power relations between man and woman. Hence, feminism and emancipation generally denounce the gender imbalance and therefore claim gender equality.

2. Definitions of Gender and Sex

“Gender” and “sex” have been used as two terms that distinguish each other from the socially and culturally determined “gender” and the biologically given fact of “sex”. This usage presents “gender” referring to personality and behaviour in distinction to the body. However, the increased usage of “gender” led to the opinion that it refers “to any social construction having to do with the male/female distinction” (Signs p. 79) because of the notion that society not only prescribes personality and behaviour but also the appearance of the body. If the body itself is a social construction, then “sex” is a part of “gender”, too, or at least they have a certain connection and something in common.
Judith Butler elaborates this thought in her book Gender Trouble. As Butler states, women become women because of cultural pressure and expectance. Therefore, the philosophical question of having a free choice is doubted. The predefined cultural identities exclude certain identities themselves. Those who do not conform to gender in combination with sex are not tolerated. These developmental disorders do not follow the rules of culture, but offer the possibility to gain access to new areas within these barriers of society. The category of “woman” exists as a default term that is put on women by phallogocentric power structures. These patriarchal societies exploit women in order to establish their aims and wishes. Butler claims that the biological given sexual organs are just culturally produced, as well as the notion of gender. Her argument is that the origin of oppression is an imposed mark of the oppression itself, i.e. the compulsory heterosexuality of culture. Finally, Butler’s conception of gender or sexual orientation is that of doing or acting out one’s desires, not that of being something gendered.
This argumentation of a phallogocentric power structure is partially supported by Angela Carter. The encounter between Evelyn and Leilah, for example, shows an ambiguous depiction of the impact of both on each other. At the beginning, Leilah clearly determines, which direction they take, and leads him to her home. There they start their sexual adventure, which is dominated by Evelyn. Although Leilah throws herself upon Evelyn, she does not enjoy the sexual intercourses and even is tied to the bed and paradoxically punished for befouling the bed sheet.

3. Definitions of Sadism and Masochism

The Passion of New Eve is full of elements of sadism and masochism and both terms are connected to violence and sexuality. However, they have different recipients of violence and pleasure deriving from pain. In order to get a clear-cut analysis and interpretation it is useful and necessary to explain both sadism and masochism.
Masochism describes the fulfilment of sexual pleasure by physical or mental cruelty or abasement. These cruelties or abasements arouse satisfaction through pain and sufferings that are inflicted him/herself or by another person. Especially, the desire of these tortures is regarded as being masochistic (Frauen sind keine Masochisten, p. 9). A common explanation of society about the apparently masochistic nature of women was, for example, that the pain at birth is a signal of being used to it (Frauen sind keine Masochisten, p. 57). Therefore the objectification of women to sexual figures was justified and not questioned by men as well as by women (Frauen sind keine Masochisten, p. 21).
Sadism, on the other hand, is a form of sexual perversion marked by a love of cruelty. Now understood as cruelty that evidences a subconscious craving and is apparently satisfied, sexually or otherwise, by the infliction of pain on another by means of aggressive or destructive behaviour or the assertion of power over that person.
Both terms are connected to power as well as terror, because the possibility to inflict pain on somebody means also to decide when punishment ends. As Eve states: “[…] terror is the most seductive of all drugs” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 15). In conclusion, rape is a sexual act that overrides the choice of the raped person, no matter male or female. In contrast to societies where virginity is important and the rapist would be killed, “rape arises under particular cultural contexts, involving male domination, interpersonal violence, and separation of the sexes” (Sex and Gender, p. 127). Furthermore, a raped person but also the rapist him/herself is alienated to his or her own identity:

“[…] just as [the woman] is disposed of in a rape, which is a kind of physical
graffiti, the most extreme reduction of love, in which all humanity departs
from the sexed beings. So that, somewhere in the fear of rape, is a more than
merely physical terror of hurt and humiliation – a fear of psychic disintegration,
of an essential dismemberment, a fear of a loss or disruption of the self which
is not confined to the victim alone.” (The Sadeian Woman, p. 4)

4. The depiction of men on the example of Evelyn and Zero

Evelyn is in some aspects an archetype of a male person in respect of sexual desire and dominant behaviour. However, there are also moments when Evelyn’s behaviour is not brave and superior, but much more submissive and whiny.
First of all, the archetypical man has to be sketched and defined. According to Sex and Gender there are a lot of attributes that are clearly assigned to stereotypical male or female behaviour. For example, a typical man is much more aggressive, cruel, dominant and unemotional than a typical woman. On the other side, a woman is affectionate, dependent, submissive and meek (Sex and Gender, p. 21). All these aspects are cultural constructs that are imposed on men and women by culture and society. Comparing to the terms of “sex” and “gender”, they are not natural given, innate sets. Interestingly, both male attributes and female ones are not regarded as being negative. In conclusion, it is considered being normal and all right that a man is aggressive and sometimes cruel in order to rule and make the decisions, whereas a woman normally is the one who is ruled and obeys the decisions made by men.
This has been analysed within an experiment, which observed the aggression of boys and girls. When both sexes did not know that they were watched the amount of aggressive behaviour was he same. Whereas, when they noticed that somebody was observing them, girls reacted shyly and boys almost boasted themselves with their aggressive behaviour (Frauen sind keine Masochisten, p. 174). It shows that aggressive is a part of male behaviour because society and culture define it that way. If women behave aggressively, they are regarded as being unnatural and not feminine. Hence, transgressive women wield power by actively having sex and thereby overturning the “normal” dynamic of sexual relations because women are passive during the sexual intercourse, they receive.
The active-passive distinction is also important for the interpretation of the novel and the distinction between sadism and masochism. The combination of male dominated world and typical aggressive behaviour of men goes hand in hand with the notion of a patriarchal governed system. Therefore, in a male-dominated world an active and aggressive sexual behaviour of women does not last long which can be seen that Evelyn tortures Leilah in a sadomasochistic play of (sexual) power. This feeling of being superior to women has become manifested in Evelyn’s youth. He has dreamed of Tristessa as a naked and died woman.
Tristessa is famous for his masochistic depictions, a mythically suffering blonde. For Evelyn, Tristessa is the object of his sadistic sexual fantasies (The Passion of New Eve, p. 7) and that is why he thinks that it is not something abnormal and unfair that he can control a woman according to his wishes. The fact that Evelyn, already as a young boy, dreams of Tristessa as a tied and tortured woman, supports the view that this image is constructed through the regulations of society. In order to confirm this typical development of a man he plays rugby football and takes up fornication. Both activities are mentioned almost casually, as if these acts are necessary to become a proper man. However, Eve, as the narrating I, mentions puberty and the impetus of hormones, too. The question then is if men can direct their actions or are they controlled by their libido what would indicate an inevitability of male acts.
Nevertheless, when Evelyn is in America he gets in contact with rape on his own. He is sexually harassed or abused by a woman dressed like a dominatrix. She takes the penis of Evelyn and makes fun out of it. Her hand is not that of a typical woman but strong and gnarled. She disrespects Evelyn’s free will of his sexual organ and although Evelyn does not feel pleasure his penis is helplessly erected. This reversed master-slave relationship between man and woman is also underlined by the appearance of the woman because of her booted heels. Like Leilah according to her psychic trauma, Evelyn feels like being in a reverie and represses his memories. However, he remembers his years of teaching in which he was not regarded as a masculine, strong and male person. He rather received pity than respect.
Furthermore, it is not absolutely clear if Evelyn is the active part within the sexual intercourses with Leilah including the pursuit scene. Actually, Evelyn has the passive and reacting part, whereas Leilah determines the direction which way they are going. Also their sexual intercourses are sometimes shaped by Leilah’s not ending desire of sex “as if forced to the act again and again by, perhaps, an exacerbated, never-to-be-satisfied curiosity” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 18). Although Leilah is said to feel a curiosity of never-ending sexual adventures, she also feels vindictiveness towards herself and despises the craving. This displays Leilah as a figure that has accepted the male view of pornographic women but tries to get rid of these repulsive illustrations. She supports this because she sees sex as a ritual and exorcism.
When they start having sex his penis is described as a “voracious break [tearing] open the poisoned wound of love between her thighs” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 25). Their affair is not romantic, but connected to pain and an one-sided experience or request. So, Leilah is made a “domestic brothel” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 29) and therefore is the object of Evelyn’s reification.
Although Leilah does not want to have sexual intercourse with Evelyn, he takes her and he does not care about it. After Evelyn is satisfied he gets bored of Leilah, but he has impregnated her. In spite of that he does not care about her and their baby and forces her to abort the pregnancy, which results in the loss of Leilah’s womb because she cannot afford a proper abortion.
Despite of these violent and brutal sex acts, Evelyn shows everything but no brave and male behaviour when the women of Mother who transforms Evelyn into Eve capture him. When Evelyn is captured by the Women of Mother he is as helpless and at their mercy as Leilah was. They are the complete opposite of the prototypical woman because they act intimidating, menacing, dominating, independently, and aggressively (The Passion of New Eve, p. 45). Moreover, Mother calls herself “Great Parricide” and “Grand Emasculator” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 49) which indicates violence towards men. Eve, as the narrating I, calls the metamorphosis to Eve a vengeance because of what her former male identity has done to Leilah (The Passion of New Eve, p. 50). He is shaped in a figure that is preferred by a woman, just like Evelyn has shaped women on his own will. When Evelyn reacts fearfully and cries, the inhabitants of Beulah who observe him laugh at him and carry out psychic humiliation on Evelyn. So, Evelyn is as week and helpless as Leilah has been. Moreover, she is forced to have sex with Mother who is described as a creation of her own that looks frightening and monstrous. Evelyn cannot escape, because Mother is twice as big as he is. She can handle Evelyn the way she wants and clearly is the dominant person. Normally, the man proposes and woman is disposed of (The Sadeian Woman, p. 6) just like the uterus is a whole that has to be filled and the penis has the function to do so. However, the intercourse between Mother and Evelyn reveals these roles to be changed. The intercourse itself therefore is humiliating and disgusting like a rape is for a woman, too. His semen then is used to impregnate Eve herself, so that she will give birth to a baby due to his own sperm. Also here is a parallel to female repression because abused women lose the control of their own reproduction. The reason why Eve is impregnated is “to produce the ‘Messiah’ of a new matriarchal world order to overthrow the old patriarchal one” (Women’s Studies, p. 727).
In contrast to Evelyn, Zero is the archetypical man according to a disgusting and brutal rapist. He is a scarred and disabled man who actually is not very tall. However, he has established a little patriarchal world on his own. Zero’s language to his women is animal-like and therefore he does not allow them to communicate to each other eloquently. Zero calls himself a poet, but his lyrical results are not really a peace of art, if Eve can be trusted. Hence, the degradation of his women not to speak can be interpreted as an inferiority complex that is to be concealed through his own pretended poetical talent. This complex is underlined through the fact of his impotence. Zero tenaciously believes that Tristessa is the reason for his impotence, so he thinks all the day about finding her hiding place and about killing her in order to repair his virility. Female emancipation causes male impotence (Frauen sind keine Masochisten, p. 20), but actually Tristessa played mainly roles in which he displayed female victims. So, normally Tristessa should have supported his masculinity and should not be the reason for his impotence.
Nevertheless, his semen is introduced to his harem as an essential fluid for life. For his sexual pleasure, beside his indoctrination of his way of thinking, he also shapes his harem physically. The front teeth of Zero’s women are knocked out in order prevent injuries to his penis while performing oral sex.
Zero also fulfils the typical role of a pimp and a resolute objector towards lesbians. He sends his women to Los Angeles, where they earn money as dancers and spent it for meat when they are in Zero’s little town again, so in the end Zero earns the money. His attitude towards lesbians is not tolerant what is also indicated by the term he uses for lesbians, i.e. dyke. Zero establishes not only a cruel but also superstitious and religious system. Violence, as a convulsive form of the active, male principle, is an option for men to inflict pain as a sign of mastery. The masters have the right to wound one another because that only makes women fear men. They almost fear them like ancient people feared the arbitrariness of their gods (The Sadeian Woman, p. 22).
Finally, both figures, Zero and Evelyn, present at least some aspects of typical male behaviour whereas Zero’s is apparently dominant and more evident. Angela Carter herself also gives this indication by naming the characters. Evelyn can be transformed to Eve by removing the last letters, just as removing the penis. Though, for example the streets in New York are labelled in numbers and not names in order to point at their function. In comparison to Zero, his function of reproduction is decreased to nothing. Zero already is nothing, like the number, so nothing can be removed and Angela Carter gives a clear evaluation on her own which male character she likes more,

5. The depiction of women on the example of Eve, Tristessa and Zero’s harem

The most important categories that are attributed to women are emotional and submissive actions. Furthermore, according to Luce Irigaray there are three central female archetypes: mother, virgin, prostitute. Such archetypes are cultural constructs that prescribe and reinforce stereotypical gender roles and behaviour rather than “innate” categories. Interestingly, Eve serves two of these stereotypes by giving birth as a virgin (Women’s Studies, p. 720).
In addition, men mainly create these social prescriptions and women carry out their instructions by disguising themselves as their sexual fantasy. Another fundamental male fantasy, as it is written above, is the wish to torture and tie women. When Eve is captured the second time, Zero greets Eve by raping her without any embarrassment and integrates her into his harem. Eve experiences Zero’s violent abuses, just as Evelyn acted upon Leilah. Zero’s brutal rapes turn Eve into a savage woman and depict women as the objects of male sexual violence. But, when Zero for the second time rapes Eve, she feels a sense of grateful detachment (Passion of New Eve, p. 91). She seems to be accustomed to rape and she has learnt to repress the psychic violence. Nonetheless, Eve recognizes that rapes do not only cause physical but also mental and psychic pain and injuries (Passion of New Eve, p. 101/2).
Another widely spread characteristic of raped women therefore is that they do not see the situation of rape exactly as a rape due to suppress their psychic pain. Generally, a lot of women that had unwanted intercourse do not say that they have been raped (Sex and Gender, p. 128). Eve claims that she screams and cries during a rape of Zero, because she does not want Zero to hear the groans of pleasure of the other women. However, shortly after that reasoning she denies it and admits that her cries were caused by pain.
The typical masochistic desire of women that is projected by men upon them is also visible within Eve. When she is lost with Tristessa in the desert and there is only little hope to survive she feels an erotic shudder within her.
Eve has an instantly pleasured clitoris without an assuaged desire for unity within the self and for unification with another. This installation is also a little revenge, because Evelyn has sought for his perfect image of an ideal, sexual woman, and now is turned into the perfection of his own fantasies.
To sum it up Eve develops and becomes a prototypical woman that even gets maternal emotions when she sees the militia of children.
Zero’s women, on the other side, obviously depict the opposite of emancipated and independent women. They have no individuality because they wear uniform-like dungarees, look identical and instead of individual names they are called after their appearance. The only function they have is to serve Zero’s desire and will. Moreover, they are masochistic, because they behave like sex objects on their own who seem to want and need Zero’s affection in respect of his semen. Hence, his “community is essentially an androcentric pornotopia” (Women’s Studies, pp. 728/29). When the women hear Zero’s grunts and moans because of sexual pleasure they are excited and impassioned so that they start masturbating themselves and each other. It seems that they have been conditioned to a behaviour and mental attitude that sex is one of their central aims and thoughts.
A crucial and difficult thing is the sub-culture created by Zero’s women. Within this society the women speak and communicate like human beings without any notion of animal-like demeanour. Moreover, they masturbate and even practice lesbian sexual intercourse, although Zero does not tolerate it, but detests it and punishes every woman who is detected of lesbian activities. In spite of that it cannot be said that Zero’s women form a sub-culture that undermines Zero’s authority. The harem is and stays throughout the plot a bunch of animal-like beings that only want to satisfy their most natural needs. Just like Zero their “[c]haracterization is necessarily limited by the formal necessity for the actors to fuck as frequently and ingeniously as possible” (The Sadeian Woman, p. 13). These characters that are limited to this behaviour cannot develop and stick within this affects like animals that have not developed over the last centuries.
Tristessa, finally, is the perfect woman, at least for male fantasies, because a man has created the figure of Tristessa. Anyway, Tristessa did not stay a man but hid her penis completely towards her appearance to the environment as well as towards herself, so that he is shocked and dismayed when he sees his penis. Both Tristessa and Eve represent the ideal woman although Tristessa is the ideal pornographic and sexual ideal expressed by men and Eve is constructed violently to the utmost perfect woman, at least Mother says so. Furthermore, Tristessa biologically is still male, however disguises himself like a woman. Therefore, it is said that he is able to create the perfect woman – albeit he does not embody a male sex maniac. So, Tristessa really is a case in between the sexes. For example, at the beginning of his revelation of his actual sex he reacts like a woman and cries. But by and by Tristessa becomes braver and more masculine till the encounter with the militia of children. He resists all humiliations acted upon him and even states that his looks are not important and decisive to him (The Passion of New Eve, p. 155).

7. Eve and Tristessa: the perfect couple

Although all sexual and emotional relations throughout the story seem to lack of something or have some notion of violence and rape, at least Eve and Tristessa show another picture.
David Punter explains that the relationship stands for a “symbolic parallelism between Eve and Tristessa” (Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, p. 216). Though, he says, that it also presents the boundary between the genders and the incompatibility of desires due to the short sexual interlude between Tristessa and Eve (Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, p. 221). Nevertheless, there is also evidence for a different interpretation. As noticed before, there is the discussion about the importance and interaction between body and soul. Throughout the plot the opinion seems to be confirmed and strengthened that looks and desire due to sexual craving is to be despised. So, consequently, the sexual intercourse between Tristessa and Eve does not have to last long. Of course, Zero and his harem just as their marriage itself force the first sexual intercourse between Eve and Tristessa after their marriage. All the time Eve, as the woman, has to play the passive part and receives Tristessa, who is not turned on. Hence, one of Zero’s women has to stimulate Tristessa who sees his penis only as an useless appendix. Although he does not feel any pleasure and cries out, surprisingly he gets an erection. This is a sign of the ambiguous contradictory connection of body and soul. While Tristessa does not enjoy the sexual encounter, his penis is purely a symbol of function and the dominance and pre-eminence of the whole body as a doer of the hormones. Eve herself throughout the novel that “[f]lesh is a function of enchantment. It uncreates the world” (The Passion of New Eve, p. 148).
However, Tristessa on later sexual intercourses approaches Eve warily and not as forcing and brutally as Zero did. After their intercourse they do not separate but lie together side by side and hug each other. Even after the murder of Tristessa Eve thinks a lot about him and yet wants to escape from the militia of children to run to Tristessa’s grave so that she can die beside her for the reason of love.
One of the most obvious but also most important elements of the close relationship between Eve and Tristessa is that the whole plot is told as if Eve is talking to Tristessa, as if Eve stands in front of Tristessa grave. When Evelyn still existed there was only superficial craving because of Tristessa’s looks. Now Eve feels close to Tristessa because of her story, Eve is able to show sympathy what she could not do when she was a man.

8. Conclusion

All in all, Angela Carter’s novel not only presents a differentiated view of violence between the sexes, but also leaves a lot of space for individual interpretations. One of the most interesting points remains the importance of one’s sex in combination with his or her identity. The notion, experience and identification with masculinity or feminity determine the rest of the life of every person. The fact that both sexes are connected to a lot of cultural attributes has been discussed and doubted due to fairness and morality. Nevertheless, these culturally constructed stereotypes are as flat, unable to develop and not representing reality as Zero and the created pornographic and suffering ideal of Tristessa. Therefore, feminist opinions have formulated the claim that patriarchal systems have to be abolished.

Primary literature

Carter, Angela. 2006. The Passion of New Eve, London: Virago Press

Secondary literature

Archer, John and Lloyd, Barbara. 2002. Sex and Gender, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Caplan, Paula J.. 1986. Frauen sind keine Masochisten , Zürich, Köln: Benzinger Verlag

Carter, Angela. 1979. The Sadeian Woman, London: Virago Press

Nicholson, Linda J.. 1994. “Interpreting ‘gender’” Signs, Fall; 20 (1): 79-105

Punter, David. 1984. “Angela Carter: Supersessions (Abschaffung) of the Masculine”, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Summer, 25 (4): pp. 209-222

Rubinson, Gregory J.. 2000. “’On the Beach of Elsewhere’: Angela Carter’s Moral Pornography and the Critique of Gender Archetypes”, Women’s Studies, Vol. 29, pp. 717-740