“But I’m a selfish man. I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty; beguilingly innocent… the list is endless. I’m in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.”
– E.L. James, “Fifty Shades Darker” Trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Throughout history, the arts have served as a mirror of the human characteristics that are praised in a given society. Even though these valued characteristics change constantly throughout the ages, there are values or morality standards that remain the same. This is attributed to the fact that despite socio-historic and cultural differences, human nature shows itself to be almost immutable. For example, Ancient Greece was a patriarchal society, where men in literature were portrayed as heroes engaging in quests, and finding along the way temptations that would distract them from their main goal; which usually included women whose offerings, pleasures and rewards they must refuse. Talk about “Le Femme Fatale”, right? In today’s literature, gender roles haven’t changed much, but the trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” written by E.L. James suggests differently.
As its also the case in Homer’s “The Odyssey”, both Calypso and Christian Grey are pictured as the Forbidden Fruit that must always remain to be unattainable to the Hero. Calypso, in Greek Mythology is a sea nymph condemned to live in solitude in the Island of Ogygia, and once there, she is cursed to fall in love with sailors arriving to her shores. Despite her beauty and charms, she would find herself in solitude, as her overwhelming, and selfish love would drive them away from their heroic goal. On the other hand, in “Fifty shades of Grey”, the successful, young billionaire and bachelor, Christian Grey, troubled by the demons of his past, would find himself proposing to women a life of luxury and adventure in the exchange of bearing with his overwhelming, controlling and abusive manifestations of love. Both Calypso and Christian Grey, fall under the “Not everything that shines is gold” theme.
Calypso is a beautiful nymph, who has the power to turn anyone of her choosing immortal and he would in return live in her island full of pleasures and commodities forever. She would seduce sailors, and they would stay for a short period of time; but as her curse promises, she would fall in love and offer them the option to be immortal by her side forever, or leave and never return. The sailor would eventually leave and she would be lonesome in her island. Calypso’s loving, though charming and promising of a life full of pleasures, is depicted as toxic for the hero, since it was selfish and controlling; keeping the hero from his ultimate goal, reaching Ithaca. As Homer would describe Calypso:
“Her ladyship Calypso
clung to him in her sea-hollowed caves –
a nymph, immortal and most beautiful,
who craved him for her own.”
– (Homer, Odyssey, Book One, lines 14 ff.)
On the other hand, Christian Grey a handsome Seattle, billionaire bachelor, CEO at Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. slowly seduces innocent and virginal literature major Anastasia Steele into his secluded and secret world of BDSM (“Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism and masochism”). Grey would promise Anastasia a world where luxuries and pleasures are at her disposition, at the expense of taking part in his sadistic sexual pleasures. Christian would offer Anastasia a contract with the Terms and Conditions of their relationship, (as Calypso does with Odysseus) where she would either decide to comply and stay with him forever, or leave and never return. In book one, like Calypso’s story, though Christian’s love for Anastasia would be passionate and real, his abusive and often obsessive arrogant manifestations of love eventually drove her away, leaving him in his perpetual loneliness. E.L. James represents Christian’s narcissistic and somewhat misogynistic arrogance in the following fashion:
“Ana asks: ‘why would I want to do this?
Christian responds: ‘To please me’.
‘What would I get out of it?’
Christian responds: ‘Me’ ”
– E.L. James, trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” vol. 1
Unlike in the Odyssey, the protagonist of Fifty Shades of Grey is not the hero, but rather the obstacle of the hero, Anastasia, towards her self-actualization into womanhood. Christian Grey was presented as the character contrasting with her innocence, as Calypso’s hedonistic personality contrasted to the practical personality of Odysseus. It is also noteworthy the gender differences between the authors and the repercussions it has on gender representation. In Homer’s “Odyssey” women such as Circe, Calypso and the sirens used their womanly charms to keep Odysseus from reaching Ithaca. In E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” Christian uses his seductive manly appeals to seduce Ana into his world of sexual sadism, succeeding and preventing Ana to discover her sexuality under traditional parameters. Homer shows a male hero corrupted by the treachery and seduction of women, E.L. James shows a female innocent hero corrupted by the treachery of a seductive, successful and possessive man; a rather contemporary portrayal of 21st Century women reality. So, “Femme Fatale” or “Homme Fatale”?
A comparison as such calls for a reflection on how heroes are viewed in modern society. In Ancient Mythology, in general, the hero would be that who followed the parameters and duties established by his society. In modern day literature, a heroine is that female character that challenges the predisposed role which she is forced to assume. Anastasia was mistakenly assumed by society, that it is typical of women to embrace and use her inner sensuality to capture successful man like Christian Grey’s attention having as sole goal, his life of luxuries: The forbidden fruit. However it is through her natural rejection of such embodiment that Grey is the one in need to seduce her. Despite this rejection of female sexual representation, Anastasia also has flaws as Odysseus does. Meaning that they are not idealized heroes but rather, realistic heroes. Just as Odysseus is shown to be unfaithful to his wife Penelope, Anastasia is shown to be submissive to Grey, not just physically but mentally, as she feels it’s her duty to cure a psychologically troubled man through BDSM.
Another important critic, E.L. James makes towards modern society, is through Grey’s inability to show affection through anything else other than sexual encounters, reflected perhaps on our society’s recent “Hook-Up” culture. Essentially, the underlying moral of Christian Grey and Calypso’s story is how deceiving appearances are. Superficially Christian and Calypso would be the partner anyone would dream to have, they would appear to be the shortcut to a life filled with happiness and joy, “The hen of the golden eggs”, the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. But both E.L James and Homer stress the idea that a life of commodities, excesses: Gluttony, will not come free, as the price to pay may be higher than expected.
In both stories, these characters embody the Snake in the garden of Eden, the treachery behind psychological manipulation, at the expense of the Hero’s emotional and sexual company. It is up to our discretion and our judgement to discriminate healthy relationships from unhealthy relationships. Healthy relationships, associated with mutual voluntary ownership of the two parties, as opposed to unhealthy relationships, involving the possession of one individual by another. Nevertheless, the title of the series “Fifty Shades of Grey” reveals an even deeper truth about these two characters, and about human nature as a whole: that there is no such thing as “Black or White” people. We are all a scale of “Shades of Grey”.