Androgynous Gender Identity in Orlando: a Biography

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In the novel Orlando: A Biography, Virginia Woolf utilizes the story of a person who switches genders to illustrate how gender identities are not inherent, but molded by society. This story reiterates how gender is socially constructed and supports the conviction that all human beings are androgynous organisms by nature. Throughout the novel, the main character, Orlando, displays mental characteristics that are neither unequivocally masculine nor feminine; Orlando's gender traits remain primarily stable between the two polar ends of the gender spectrum. Although his/her inherent, physical sex changes – in effect changing such things as rights and title – his/her personality remains the same, only later to be altered by the effects of society. For example, amongst the initial transformation of Orlando's sex, Orlando acknowledges that he/she has become a woman “without showing any signs of discomposure” (Woolf, 138), exemplifying the idea that Orlando's mentality has remained exactly the same. Woolf even goes on to claim that “the change of [humans'] sex, though it [alters] their future, [does] nothing whatsoever to alter their identity” (Woolf, 138). Woolf here is clearly defining her stance on gender identity as something learned, not something inherent. One distinct example of Orlando's unchanging mentality is is his/her consistent desire to write; normally an endeavor for men, Orlando continues writing through her sex change and even goes on to have her work published by an influential critic. Another example of Orlando's persistent persona despite sex transformation is in his/her intrinsic love of nature – something neither entirely masculine nor feminine – supporting the conviction that Orlando is an androgynous being (nature can be considered an entity consisting of all life forms, male, female, and unsexed, and those partaking in it are doing so in neither a masculine nor feminine sense, but in a hominal sense). Orlando's love for nature is consistent, for...
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