Rapist to the Rescue: Chapter 5 of EL James’s “Grey”

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Previous Post.

If there’s one thing about these books that will tip me over the edge of frustration into full-on insanity, it’s the often-raised question of authorial intent. Namely, the discussion surrounding whether critics of Christian’s behavior — particularly in the first book — simply don’t understand that this is all part of EL James’s plan; that she absolutely means for Christian to be a monster (at the beginning) because the reader is intended to watch him change from controlling abuser to loving husband as the books progress.

And so all of these complaints about the way that he treats his staff, his family, his ex-lovers, his business partners, Anastasia’s friends, and Ana herself all seek to explain to the audience how troubled, misunderstood, and misguided he was before Ana saved him.

The reason that this argument will drive me insane is twofold:

1) It can’t actually be contradicted. And the reason it can’t be contradicted is because this book so clearly lays him out as a horrible person that nobody with a functioning brain could try to say that he doesn’t come across as controlling, rude, and smug. Similarly, I believe it’s also impossible to make the argument that EL James isn’t fully aware that this is how she’s written him.

2) That the books are obsessed with telling you how much he’s changing, and how far he’s come from the man who could barely stand to look at himself in the mirror — even though he’s so handsome that women everywhere would crawl through glass to lick his shoes. We never see that change happen, but we’re told again and again that it is happening.

So yes, I agree completely: the author intends for this to be a story about a monster who learns to love. And she absolutely intends for it to be a love story of redemption and healing and compromise.

Trouble is, that’s not the book she wrote. The book that she wrote is about a monster who emotionally, physically, and mentally traumatizes a virginal young woman who’s too inexperienced with relationships to recognize his behavior for what it is, and too weak to stand up to it. And it’s about a girl who is constantly told that she has enormous power over her disgustingly rich, powerful white boyfriend/lover/husband because she could leave him and break his heart — even though he proves again and again that he will stalk her and punish her and belittle her and control her so that she’ll never really leave.

This is a horror story.

It is textbook domestic violence and domestic abuse.

And the fact that Ana eventually gets used to it, and the fact that everyone around her keeps saying how much better he is now that she’s with him, just seeks to coerce the reader into believing that Christian is the real victim because of that time he was hungry when he was 4.

This is the last I’ll talk about authorial intent because it’s a bullshit argument to try to defend a character who is — first and foremost — a complete and utter narcissistic abuser. Meanwhile, fans of the book spare literally zero time feeling sorry for Ana whose present-day abuse is evidently no big deal.

And with that, let’s get started:

I’ve slept well for the first time in five days. Maybe I’m feeling the closure I had hoped for, now that I’ve sent those books to Anastasia. As I shave, the asshole in the mirror stares back at me with cool, gray eyes.

Liar.

Fuck.

There it is, everyone. In Ana’s version of events, we got to watch Christian use his supposed self-hatred and insecurity to gaslight her into feeling sorry for him, but here EL James allows Christian to gaslight the reader instead.

Screen-Shot-2014-11-08-at-11.21.56-AM

I hate my ripped abs 😦

How can you hate him when he hates himself so much? And he doesn’t even deserve it, really, does he? After all, can’t you see how Ana is really the one who hurt him — by existing?

But EL James truly understands Christian’s mind — which is why this book is such a deftly-written analysis of a complex man. And below, EL James is going to treat us to what can only be described as her nuanced and intuitive approach to male relationships and brotherhood:

While I’m lost in the papers my phone buzzes.

It’s Elliot. What the hell does my big brother want?

“Elliot?”

“Dude. I need to get out of Seattle this weekend. This chick is all over my junk and I’ve got to get away.”

“Your junk?”

“Yeah. You would know if you had any.”

fellow

Remove any jewelry or clothing at the site of the injury and gently apply some aloe vera because YOU’VE BEEN BURNED, SUCKER.

It’s not just that this dialog is turgid, outdated, wooden, juvenile, and sexist. The real problem is that it’s completely pointless — like the majority of James’s dialog. This conversation — which goes on for a while, so thank me for sparing you from the witty repartee reminiscent of Poochie D and Pauly Shore — is just intended to establish that:

1) Elliot is a “player” who definitely won’t fall in love with Ana’s friend Kate as soon as he meets her.

and

2) That Elliot is the “normal” brother because he behaves like an average dudebro who loves the pussy and mountain biking. Or something.

EL James has this habit (and you saw this quite a bit with Kate in Ana’s version) of telling the reader that a character “never behaves” in the way that they spend the entire book behaving. So Kate “totally” isn’t a giggly girl who falls quickly for boys, but then that’s all she is throughout all three books. So now Elliot “totally” isn’t some chump who lets bitches mess with his game, and yet that’s exactly what’s going to happen in like 3 pages.

My complaint isn’t that it’s bad characterization — though it obviously is. My complaint is that this is what EL James consistently presents as “true love”: that moment when you meet that one special person who will completely change your personality.

That seems a little disturbing, no?

Anyway, these two chill broskis confirm their wicked sick plan to go to Portland to mack on some dope babes, and Christian muses at how Elliot will definitely not ever fall in love, and it’s important to establish that this isn’t foreshadowing at all:

Elliot has always had a problem containing himself. As do the women he associates with: whoever the unfortunate girl is, she’s just another in a long, long line of casual liaisons.

And, later:

Elliot sleeps most of the way to Portland. Poor fucker must be fried. Working and fucking: that’s Elliot’s raison d’etre.

lady

Watch out, ladies.

While in the car, Christian thinks about the fancy metaphor books that he bought Anastasia, but makes sure to mentally insult his female staff as he does so:

Have the books been delivered yet? I’m tempted to call Andrea again, but I know I’ve left her with a ton of work. Besides, I don’t want to give my staff an excuse to gossip. I don’t normally do this kind of shit.

Then either don’t ask your assistant to send fancy metaphor books to the college girl you’re trying to bone, or else accept the fact that using work time and resources to take care of your personal business is going to result in people knowing your personal business. You brainless, sexist fuck.

Do you think Olivia and Andrea are having a small party right now because they’re not going to have to spend the next three days terrified about whether or not he takes milk in his coffee? We can only hope.

I made passing reference to Christian’s horrendous treatment of women in the last post, and I can see how that argument may have seemed unfounded. Because I was getting ahead of myself, but trust me: as the series progresses, you start to notice that Christian can be completely friendly and conversational with any number of men he encounters, but that’s not a courtesy he ever extends to women. And so while, for the millionth time, I get that he’s meant to be a dickbag, it’s passages like these that convince me that his dickbaggery is almost exclusively aimed at women:

My father is a polymath, a real renaissance man: academic, sporting, at ease in the city, more at ease in the great outdoors. He’d embraced three adopted kids…and I’m the one who didn’t live up to his expectations.

But before I hit adolescence we had a bond. He’d been my hero. He used to love taking us camping and doing all the outdoor pursuits I now enjoy: sailing, kayaking, biking, we did it all.

Puberty ruined all that for me.

Now is probably a good time to remind you that it was his mother who was the pediatrician treating him at the hospital when he was starving, and that she’s the one who decided to adopt him. But whenever his mother is mentioned (that’ll happen later, don’t worry), she’s a nuisance, an embarrassment, and an inconvenience. And when Ana discovers that Christian named a boat after her, Ana is inwardly shocked because she assumed that he didn’t like his mother.

But dad? What an understanding saint.

And no, Christian doesn’t explain — at this point, at least — what he means by “puberty ruined all that for me,” but I assume that once Christian was a fuck-hungry, violent teen he had no more time for his Dad’s saintly polymathy.

Either way, misogyny is an undeniable trend throughout both this book and the original: women are largely rude, silly, embarrassing, slutty, interfering and irritating (to both Ana and Christian). Men, on the other hand, are usually kind, patient, smart, capable, and warm. Unless they want to sleep with Ana, in which case they’re moustache-twirling psychos intent on hurting Christian — because Ana’s his property, after all.

So I do wonder whether this portrayal of women as almost universally awful, and men as almost universally great is an intentional portrayal that works toward the book’s main goal of isolating Ana from her mother and her female friends, and to make it easier for Christian and the reader to blame Ana when she dares to have thoughts or wants or needs.

Back at the endless car ride to Portland, after Christian has told us for the thousandth time that Elliot loves to bang all the chicks, EL James suddenly realizes that this may be too one-dimensional a character even for her, so she has Christian helpfully throw in this extra layer of bullshit:

Beneath his somewhat casual exterior my brother is an eco-warrior. His passion for sustainable living makes for some heated Sunday dinner conversations with the family, and his latest project is an eco-friendly development of low-cost housing north of Seattle.

“I’m hoping to install that new gray-water system I was telling you about. It will mean all the homes will reduce their water usage and their bills by twenty-five percent.”

“Impressive.”

“I hope so.”

Oh, nevermind — I thought he was just a dumb frat asshole, but it turns out he’s a dumb frat asshole who cares about trees. Don’t I feel foolish.

We drive in silence into downtown Portland just as we’re pulling into the underground garage at the Heathman — the last place I saw her — Elliot mutters, “You know we’re missing the Mariners game this evening.”

“Maybe you can have a night in front of the TV. Give your dick a rest and watch baseball.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

And, later:

Keeping up with Elliot is a challenge. He tears down the trail with the same devil-may-fucking-care attitude he applies to most situations.

BRO SPORTS BRO?

BRO MY DICK BRO.

BRO YOUR DICK BRO.

BRO SPORTS, BRO.

BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS.

BROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOS.

That’s the last bit of brochacho back-and-forth I’m going to subject you to. It goes on for-fucking-ever and all it serves to do is let you know that Elliot is SUCH a bro. And I feel like you get it. He’s a bro. He’s crazy for the pussy. No female is gonna lock down his Johnson, etc. etc.

So instead, we skip ahead to the moment where Anastasia calls Christian from the bar that she’s drinking at (legally) with friends that she’s known for years:

Anxiety blooms in my gut. She’s a young woman, drunk, somewhere in Portland. She’s not safe.

Who wants to bet that if anything did happen to her, Christian is exactly the kind of person who would immediately ask her what she was wearing, and what she did to lead her attacker on?

Just kidding — the only person who’s going to kidnap and assault Ana is Christian, of course. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next passage takes great pains to walk you through Christian’s decision to track Ana’s phone so he can go and “rescue” her at the bar, even though she hasn’t asked him to do so and has given no indication that she’s in trouble. I say it takes great pains, except what it really does is just narrate him doing it. He doesn’t really properly rationalize the action and EL James makes no attempt to excuse or explain it. That said, he recognizes, just so we’re all on the same page, that what he’s doing is illegal — and that’s why he sure as shucks won’t use a company resource for this:

I wander into [Elliot’s] bedroom while I decide if I should call Barney or Welch. Barney is the most senior engineer in the telecommunications division of my company.

I need to stop here for a second. I thought you owned and ran a telecommunications company. So why is there a telecommunications division of your telecommunications company?

He continues:

He’s a tech genius. But what I want is not strictly legal.

Best to keep this away from my company.

I speed-dial Welch and within seconds his rasping voice answers.

“Mr. Grey?”

“I’d really like to know where Anastasia Steele is right now.”

“I see.” He pauses for a moment. “Leave it to me, Mr. Grey.”

I know this is outside the law, but she could be getting herself into trouble.

Oh go fuck yourself. She’s a 22 year old college student who can legally drink and is out celebrating with her friends. You’re a grown-ass man choosing to stalk her because you think women should be shamed for all behavior that isn’t sitting quietly and looking at their shoes. This isn’t a kink, it’s his overblown male privilege and sense of entitlement.

And now we really get to the meat of Christian’s (and really EL James’s) misogyny:

I spot Katherin Kavanagh. She’s with a group of friends, all of them men, sitting in a booth.

Only loose women sit in booths with men.

There’s no sign of Ana, but the table is littered with shot glasses and tumblers of beer.

Shot glasses and beer — AT A BAR? What a reckless slut.

Well, let’s see if Miss Kavanagh is as loyal to her friend as Ana is to her.

This will be terrible.

“Katherine,” I say by way of greeting, and she interrupts me before I can ask her Ana’s whereabouts.

“Christian, what a surprise to see you here,” she shouts above the noise. The three guys at the table regard Elliot and me with hostile wariness.

Because everyone is intimidated by your impossible beauty. Thank you for making sure to throw that in at least once a chapter.

Anyway, as you might imagine, Kate — who never fawns over guys — and Elliot — who never falls for some rando skirt, bro — immediately fall in love. Who could’ve seen it coming?

And as you already know from the first book, Christian wanders outside to find Ana’s scary Mexican friend Jose assaulting her in the parking lot (which — to be fair — fuck you as well, Jose) and valiantly tells Jose to fuck the fuck off:

He releases Ana and she squints at me with a dazed, drunken expression.

“Grey,” he says, his voice terse, and it takes every ounce of my self-control not to smash the disappointment off his face.

It’s really hard to know which would-be rapist to hate more. But I think we can safely hate them both and wish that this confrontation had ended in some kind of mutual destruction.

But it doesn’t. Ana barfs and Christian holds her hair while Jose walks away, rape-y plans discarded. Once Ana has finished puking, Christian decides to make her feel guilty and distract her from the fact that he stalked her here:

“I’m sorry,” she says finally, while her fingers twist the soft linen.

Okay, let’s have some fun.

“What are you sorry for, Anastasia?”

“The phone call, mainly. Being sick. Oh, the list is endless,” she mumbles.

“We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you.” Why is it such fun to tease this young woman? “It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia. I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale. Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?”

I know I don’t have to spell this out, but Jesus fucking Christ. Oh, sorry — I cut him off too soon. He had more to add:

Perhaps she has a problem with alcohol. The thought is worrying, and I consider whether I should call my mother for a referral to a detox clinic.

You stalked her here, you crazy asshole. She’s at a bar with her friends after finishing her college exams. This is normal behavior. This cannot be a red flag to anyone, so why is EL James pretending that he’s doing anything other than trying to make her feel terrible so that he’s removed from his own deserved guilt?

But it gets worse. Because, as he’s convincing a drunk girl to come back to his hotel room, he gets pissy because she wants to let her friend know where she’s going. Which, for a man supposedly obsessed with her safety, is an odd reaction to have when someone is trying to follow the most basic guideline for ensuring their safety — ie. make sure a friend knows where you’re going.

As it turns out, however, Christian has another reason for being pissy — he doesn’t want Ana to bother telling Kate where she’s going (ie. with some guy neither of them really know back to his hotel room while she’s drunk) because Kate is such a terrible friend to her. When you think about it, it’s Kate’s fault that Ana was nearly assaulted. Because it can’t be Jose’s fault that Jose tried to take advantage of her while she was drunk:

Kavanagh wasn’t worried about her being out here with the overamorous photographer. Rodriguez. That’s his name. What kind of friend is she?

Fuck you forever, Christian Grey.

Then this happens:

[Ana] mumbles something incoherent and I know she’s stil conscious. I know I should take her home, but it’s a long drive to Vancouver, and I don’t know if she’ll be sick again. I don’t relish the idea of my Audi reeking of vomit. The smell emanating from her clothes is already noticeable.

I head to the Heathman, telling myself that I’m doing this for her sake.

Yeah, tell yourself that, Grey.

If you are a fan of these books, please comment below, e-mail me, message me, send me a raven, send me an owl — whatever you have to do. But contact me and explain how you can forgive him for this.

The rest of the chapter describes Christian carrying Ana up to his hotel room, taking off her clothes, putting her into bed, kissing her hair and stroking her cheek as she sleeps, and then — because none of that is bad enough — he does this:

Before I check my e-mails I text Welch, asking him to see if Jose Rodriguez has any police records. I’m curious. I want to know if he preys on drunk young women.

I’ve tried to type a reaction for about the last 5 minutes now and I just can’t. I don’t want to be glib or hyperbolic or funny. This man is a hideous sexual predator who has just done something unforgivably vile. He stalked and then kidnapped an unconscious woman, took off her clothes, and touched her while she slept. But hey — he hates “real” rapists so much that he’s going to try to get Ana’s friend arrested if he can. I mean, he’s Mexican — so he must have a rap sheet, right?

You should be ashamed of yourself, EL James. You should be deeply, deeply ashamed of passing off this kind of behavior as romantic, or noble, or even borderline excusable.

But you’re not. Because after this entire violation sequence, she ends on this cute little back-and-forth with the El Dude Brothers:

      Ana is with me.

If you’re still with Kate, tell her.

He texts by return.

Will do.

Hope you get laid.

You soooo need it. 😉

His response makes me snort.

I so do, Elliot. I so do.

Hope you fuck that chick that was literally unconscious and intoxicated when I last saw her, dude!

Haha, me too, bro!

I’m going to set everything on fire.

Next Post.

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9 thoughts on “Rapist to the Rescue: Chapter 5 of EL James’s “Grey”

  1. Pingback: Sexy Contracts and Demon Spawn: Chapter 9 of EL James’s “Grey” | Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

  2. Pingback: What Would You Like to #AskELJames? | Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

  3. I am with you on the difference between the author and the narrator in any story. And I think even E. L. James manages to realise that she has to write as if this is someone else than Ana or herself. Still, if she wants to describe a character, who doubts himself, who is an accomplished businessman with tons of issues – she just doesn’t pull it off.

    There is nothing in Grey’s inner monologue, which even hints at such a depth of character or any possibility of redemption through ‘true love’. Grey’s thoughts and dialogue shows a one-dimensional character with little possibility of change. Where should it come from? His ‘doubts’ are a few thoughts about loathing himself. And even those are just ‘put’ there – Grey does not reflect upon on them, other than blaming everybody else in his vicinity. As Tea Leaves points out, this monologue does nothing to explain how he became the man he is. It’s just a bunch of random sentences, which should ‘explain’ why he is how he is. But where is the hint of a loving caring soul, who has been crushed under the ordeal of his younger years? Where is the longing for another person in his life, a person he can trust, love, and respect? Where is the showing of Grey thinking and saying one thing, yet acting in a whole other way – to show the reader, that, yes, he has the potential to change? That he will become a better person in time, with the right guidance? Five chapters into the book, and still not the slightest ‘glitch’ in Grey being a monster. Shouldn’t the reader have picked up some kind of feeling for the character? Being able to suss out where the flaws in Grey’s own thinking about himself are?

    As far as I can tell, E. L. James tells a story in which she wants to have Grey look like a monster turned respectful lover – but as an author, she is not capable of doing so. She simply lacks the knowledge and skills.

    • Totally agreed on James biting off more than she has the talent to pull off (and that is both a criticism of James as a writer and acknowledgement of how difficult a subject this is to write well).

      I’m expecting this trilogy to be a total train wreck.

      Also totally agreed that Christian in Grey comes across as a monster without any hints that a softer side lurks underneath.

      I don’t actually believe that makes it impossible to do a redemption story about him, though. Ebenezer Scrooge transformed from a complete monster with no hint of a softer side to a warm, generous man over the course of a novel, for example.

      Like Scrooge, there’s no real reason for us to see any hints of redemption in Christian until he is exposed to stimulus which evokes them. In Scrooge’s case being reminded of what he lost, what he was missing and what he would lose caused him to reflect on his life and become a better person (kicking and screaming all the way).

      As I recall the original Fifty Shades trilogy (and I’m willing to concede my memory may be a little rusty, but please don’t make me read it agaaaaain! xO), everything was business as usual for Christian until the end of the first book when Ana left. Until that point, I suspect he was largely unaware that he even *had* feelings for her.

      Realising what ‘business as usual’ had lost him is the first breach point. Other potential ones are encountering Leila Williams again and seeing first hand the damage he wrought on another and coming to see “Mrs Robinson” (and thus his past) through new eyes.

      I don’t see Christian’s redemption as a submerged good side breaking free. I see it as beginning with Christian being forced to face just how screwed up he and his actions are and how much that has cost him and everyone around him. And I see redemption resulting from him wanting to be more than that.

      Incidentally, Tea Leaves keeps mocking the “magic vagina” thing, but we *do* repeatedly see that people can be in dark, dark places and not turn their lives around until they find that one thing they care enough about to face their situation and make a change. That can be a person, like a lover or a child or a role model. Or it can be something else. And yes, it’s not healthy to be reliant on another person for your well-being (for either of you). But it beats staying at rock bottom. It also generally isn’t permanent. Once you’re no longer in a hole, you may still love the person who provided the impetus to get out of it, but you aren’t desperately *reliant* on them in the same way.

      P.S. Yeah, I figured this was a reply to me. 🙂 No prob.

      • Well, Scrooge. That is a whole other story. First of all, it’s not written in first person, and everyone around Scrooge tell and show him, how to be a nice person and how people should treat each other. This makes it a lot easier for the reader to decode appropriate behaviour and see Scrooge as the twisted, lonely, sad person, he is. Would be interesting, if there is a first person tale from the view of the ‘monster’ out there – I mean, something with a tad more reflected than Grey…

        E. L. James does nothing to articulate the problematic behaviour of Grey. Not one single character stands up against him, not one single hint of how things could be. Quite to the contrary, as Tea Leaves points out.

        As for the Magic Vagina – isn’t that just a cheap trick? I mean, if this story really wanted to be different, shouldn’t salvation come in new clothes as well? Then again, E. L. James can’t do it.

        On the other hand, how many books have started these kinds of conversations, discussions, blog-entries, and other really, really interesting reflections about abuse, domestic violence, and the like?

        I, for one, am very happy, Tea Leaves reads and reviews Grey – I want to know, how it is written and told, but rather not read the actual book. This is so much more fun and enlightening!

      • LoL, yeah, I’m glad Tea Leaves is reading this so I don’t have to, too.

        Disclaimer: Imagine an invisible “a better author probably would’ve written it better though” against basically every paragraph I write. You’re right that James’ writing consistently fails to do what it needs to to make the story work.

        Scrooge isn’t an exact analogy, but it comes pretty close. There might be closer examples but I’m not familiar with them. (Interestingly, actual monsters like Frankenstein’s tend to be more self-aware and mournful of their state in fiction).

        Christian has lots of positive, loving people in his life. His entire family for starters (they *are* the Cullens, after all).

        Does EL James actually *have* to articulate how problematic Christian’s behaviour is? As it is, he’s so spectacularly unlikeable a villain that readers are screaming for his lynching. It’s obvious that he’s problematic and she’s underscoring the point that Christian lives in an ivory tower isolated from reality where he doesn’t have to face up to responsibility. (Note: see disclaimer).

        The same stories get told again and again. Whether they’re a “cheap trick” depends a lot on whether they bring something new to the table and how well they’re executed. And… nuff said on that front.

        Yup. If nothing else, Fifty Shades has been an impressive cautionary example.

  4. “This is normal behavior. This cannot be a red flag to anyone, so why is EL James pretending that he’s doing anything other than trying to make her feel terrible so that he’s removed from his own deserved guilt?”

    That’s not EL James pretending, it’s Christian lying to himself. This novel is written in first person present tense which means that *everything* you read is filtered through the narrating character’s perspective.

    Which brings us to:

    “And now we really get to the meat of Christian’s (and really EL James’s) misogyny:”

    I’m probably going to call you on this one every single time you do it.  EL James is an *author* writing a book from the perspective of a misogynist *character*.  Authors write from the perspective of monsters all the time. That’s not the same thing as *sharing* their perspective and beliefs. Thomas Harris is probably not really pro-cannibalism.

    I don’t know James – maybe she *is* a misogynist. But you can’t *infer* she is just because she writes about a misogynist character.

    “That the books are obsessed with telling you how much he’s changing, and how far he’s come from the man who could barely stand to look at himself in the mirror — even though he’s so handsome that women everywhere would crawl through glass to lick his shoes. We never see that change happen, but we’re told again and again that it is happening.”

    James’ real challenge will be the second and third books where she has to put her money where her mouth is, show us that Christian has changed *and* keep everything consistent with the original trilogy.

    I suspect a good enough author could possibly pull it off. I’m fairly sure James can’t. Time will tell.

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