Sex and violence

8 August 2016

Sex and violence are possibly the two main themes in the story of ‘The Bloody Chamber’. They are closely linked throughout the story, through a variety of writing techniques. The symbolism of the ‘ruby choker’ is very significant, and it is arguably the key image which links the two themes together. Carter initially presents the ‘slit throat’ to the audience, with some context on the violent meaning behind it – after the Terror, wearing a red ribbon symbolised a wound. In this description, many references are made to beheading, using terms such as ‘blade[…] sliced it through’ and ‘crimson[…] arterial blood’.

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Considering the intentions of the character of the Marquis, this is greatly foreshadowing and extremely violent. Carter’s writing techniques vary between a lack of description, such as the consummation of the main characters’ marriage, and a lot of description, such as the imagery of the ‘ruby choker’. This is because Carter aims to emphasise the importance of the symbolism of subtle images in her stories, as they provide a lot of meaning and various interpretations. The ‘ruby choker’ also symbolises sex.

The colour imagery of the red rubies does not only symbolise danger, but can be associated with sensuality. The term ‘choker’, on the other hand, can link the two themes through its multiple interpretations. For example, the obvious explanation for choking someone would be to do them harm. However, it is also common, especially in Carter’s stories, for choking to play a part in sex – in fact, the term for ‘orgasm’ in French, translates to ‘a small death’, and as the story is set in France, this becomes very relevant and supports the argument that the two themes are greatly linked.

Therefore, when the Marquis ‘made [her] put on [her] choker’ during the consummation of their marriage, it immediately causes the audience to associate sex with the violent image that was initially presented along with ‘ruby choker’. Furthermore, this link is emphasised to its full extent at the end of the story, when the protagonist’s death ‘ritual’, parallelly mirrors the consummation of their marriage. She is, again, ordered to put on ‘the necklace that prefigures [her] end’, the Marquis ‘ripped [her] dress’ and exclaimed that they ‘shall have absolute privacy’ and he ‘twisted [her] hair into a rope’ ‘as he had done once before’.

Even though some readers would argue that the two scenes differ, in the sense that one to derive pleasure in the female character and the other harm, other readers would argue that that is not the case, as the consummation of their marriage is far too similar to the protagonist’s violent death ‘ritual’. The idea that it was a negative experience is presented through the narrator’s use of language – words such as ‘shrilling’, ‘fighting’, ‘struggle’, ‘deathly’ and ‘shatter’ are used throughout, and female character’s description of this experience, concludes with her lying in a room which resembled an ‘embalming parlour’.

This creates an image of murder in the readers’ minds, which as a result, links the themes of sex and violence inextricably. Carter’s symbolism of the Marquis’ ‘prayerbooks’ is another disturbing image, which links the two themes together. Violent terms such as ‘cunt’ and ‘prick’ are used to describe the pornography that is shown in the books, and one particular piece contains the term ‘Immolation’ in its title.

Whereas this would have been very shocking and completely unacceptable to the readers of the time, a modern audience may argue that this link between sex and violence is merely a fetish, due to the increasing exposure to and availability of pornography in media, on the internet, etc. The character of Marquis refers to these books as his ‘prayerbooks’, which suggests that he worships the idea of violent sex, and therefore allows the readers to argue that Carter links the themes of sex and violence in the story of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ only through the use of the character of the Marquis.

For example, when the main character’s mother comes to the rescue at the end of the story and puts ‘a single, irreproachable bullet through [her] husband’s head’, the violent imagery has no connotations or references to sex whatsoever. Instead, it is presented matter-of-factly, making it seem cold hearted and violent. As a result, it is therefore fair to argue that sex and violence are linked through Carter’s portrayal of the character of the Marquis, and if it was not for him, then these two themes would not be linked.

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