Sexuality, Corruption, and Power Dynamics in the Bloody Chamber

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Sexuality, corruption and power dynamics in The Bloody Chamber Sexuality is a prevalent theme in Angela Carter’s story The Bloody Chamber. Sexual violence within a relationship often reveals aspects of each party’s identity and character as well as affects its power dynamics. Carter depicts sex both explicitly and implicitly in the story through the heroine’s own thoughts of her newfound sexuality and her sexual experiences with the Marquis. Carter’s implicit and explicit portrayals of sex and sexuality in The Bloody Chamber reflect changes in the power dynamic between the heroine and the Marquis throughout the text, develop the identity of the heroine and reveal aspects of the Marquis’ character, and challenge notions of gender. The first incident of an implicit portrayal of sexuality occurs during the narrator’s train ride away from her childhood home towards her new life with her future husband, the Marquis. No physical act of sex is described, but it is the first time that the reader sees the heroine’s sensual side and departure from innocence through Carter’s use of sexual language. It is as if the train ride away from home symbolizes her departure from innocence and into womanhood. Carter uses words such as “ecstasy”, “burning”, “pistons thrusting”, shuddered”, and “throb” to convey the heroine’s newfound sexual arousal and her thoughts about sex. Carter’s description of the heroine’s “young girl’s pointed breasts and shoulders” depicts her innocence and virginity (Carter, 8), yet she is consumed with thoughts of sex. This contrast symbolizes the development of the heroine’s identity from childhood to womanhood. Implicit sexuality is also seen on the train ride when the heroine expresses her anticipation of sex. She says: “for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.” (Carter, 11). The heroine feels this way because of the way the Marquis watches her with an “assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh”, and sees for the first time the “carnal avarice” of the way he looks at her. The Marquis views her as a piece of meat; similar to the way a predator would eye his prey. From this scene, it is evident to the reader that the Marquis treats his women as possessions, and has a primal instinct regarding sexuality. The heroine has lived a sheltered, pure life and is completely new to such concepts as lust and sexual passion, but it is at this moment that she realizes the potential of becoming a woman susceptible to sexual domination and corruption. This scene reflects the power dynamic in the relationship stemming from the Marquis’ obvious desire for sexual possession, corruption, and control, and the heroine’s recognition of her impending sexual exploitation. The scene further develops the heroine’s identity towards becoming a woman. Despite the Marquis’ obvious misogyny, his actions excite the heroine because they make her feel as if she is a sexual and desirable being. She recounts his marriage proposal, and says: “When I said that I would marry him, not one muscle in his face stirred, but he let out a long, extinguished sigh. I thought: Oh! how he must want me! And it was as though the imponderable weight of his desire was a force I might not withstand, not by virtue of its violence but because of its very gravity.” (Carter, 9) This quote shows how the heroine perceives the Marquis’ sigh as a sign that he is in love with her, when the more likely reality is that it is a sigh of victory, as if he has just conquered his latest possession. Regardless of these opposing interpretations, it is evident in the last line of this quote that the heroine senses the combination of sexual desire and violence inherent in the Marquis’ character, and the harm it poses to her. Little does the heroine know how real the Marquis’ penchant for sex and violence is, and how he channels that desire towards the murder of women. The heroine seems...
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