Sex and Gender in Sally Potter's Orlando

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Critically assess Judith Butler’s notion that gender is not a primary category, but an attribute, a set of secondary narrative effects. Your answer should make reference to Sally Potter’s film Orlando. Though Judith Butler asserts that gender is not of any importance, her writings on this notion, understandably, must put a lot of emphasis on the subject of sex. How else could she prove her theory, if not through a discussion of the unimportance of gender? In any case, her hypothesis is one that practically defines Sally Potter’s Orlando. Based on the novelette of the same name by Virginia Woolf, the film depicts an androgynous young man’s curiously long and forever-youthful life, and his slow transformation from man to woman. It is surely a tale that represents Butler’s concern of the eventual unimportance of gender throughout history. Orlando opens with the assertion by the narrator (voiced by the eponymous character) that “there can be no doubt about his sex, despite the feminine appearance that every young man of the time aspires to.” The young nobleman Orlando acts as messenger for Queen Elizabeth, who, captivated by the young man’s beauty, offers him a castle, land and an inheritance for him and his heirs. These possessions will only be his on the condition that he does not “fade”, “wither” or “grow old”. We see the young Orlando fall deeply in love with a young woman, Princess Sasha, whom he loses to another man. Heartbroken, he decides to travel the world throughout the early stages of his long life. Orlando, having experienced war, violence and other such male endeavours, becomes disenchanted with the way men think and behave. He returns home to his estate as a woman. Here, she is told that as the estate belongs to Lord Orlando, or to his heirs, she must leave, as neither title applies to her. Rejected by society, Orlando finds acceptance and solace in the arms of the handsome Captain Shelmardine, the first man with whom she is sexually intimate. It is...
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