Blood and Chocolate, Annette Curtis Klause
Sexuality and Maturity Female Sexuality and Monstrosity Female Sexuality and Animal Nature Animal Nature and Patriarchy Heteronormativity Paranormal Romance The Werewolf As Monstrous Hybrid
Sexuality and Maturity: Sexuality is a central component of the YA novel since it is in adolescence the we tend to form our ideas about our adult and "finished" selves which include developing a better understanding of our sexualities. Of course, sexuality does not develop in a vacuum, but is instead mediated through various cultural institutions such as the family, the school, and religious organizations. Sexuality is more than just the unfolding of a biological phenomenon, but is something closely tied to gender, itself mediated by cultural institutions. How we will feel about and perform our particular sexuality is not just related to biology, but also deeply tied to what these various cultural institutions tells us about gender, about what it means to be a man or a woman. So, for example, in The Chocolate War, it is a given that as Jerry develops an increasing sense of his own individual agency, he is becoming less shy with girls, and so it makes perfect sense that this is the time in his life when he works up the nerve to call a girl he has seen at the bus stop, when earlier, even looking at Playboy made him feel sick. Jerry's family and even his church and school would see his interest in girls as natural, though the institutions of his church and school (which are one in the novel) might make him do some small penance during confession for the sin of lust. But in Annie On My Mind, Liza must struggle with her sexuality since it is condemned as unnatural by society at large, by the authorities in her school who use religion to denounce it, and even by her family. Because Liza is a girl, her sexuality is seen as doubly unnatural, both because she is gay and because she is not normatively feminine. It is frequently pointed out in the novel that she doesn't pay much attention to her clothing or her hair, and she has very few domestic skills as well.
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Female Sexuality and Monstrosity: While Vivian Gandallion's sexuality is normal for a lycanthrope, for a human female it is monstrous due to its intensity and insistence, which is demonstrated through the novel's fairly frank representation of Vivian's and her mother's sexuality (frank for a YA novel anyway). Vivian is not conflicted about having overt sexual feelings, and she is far from passive in her relationship with Aidan. When she plays the demur girl, it is only part of a plot to get him in bed. Secretly, she curses him for being such a tentative lover. Her body and choice of clothing also send very strong sexual signals. On her first day in her new school, Vivian wonders why the other girls stop talking when she approaches, or why they respond to her overtures of friendship with terse words, but it is fairly obvious that she is seen as competition in a situation where their own femininity is demonstrated through their ability to attract boys. Vivian is not submissive to this or any group of girls, and is one of those girls who just "feels too good" about herself and so the queen bees of the group will feel the need to take her down a notch in order to demonstrate their own superiority.
When Vivian goes to meet Aiden's parents, she wears a short red cotton sheath dress believing that parents liked to see girls in dresses, and perhaps not quite understanding that her choice of clothing is inappropriately sexual for the occasion. Aiden's father reacts to Vivian's appearance the way that most adult heterosexual males are expected to react, while his mother seems to bristle and comments to her husband that she seems "rather mature" (79) for their son. Aiden's mother sees Vivian as someone who could lead her son into trouble, whereas Aiden's father sees Vivian as a different type of trouble. Girls like Vivian are not conventionally feminine. She is too powerful and too confident in her sexuality and will not accept any subordinate subject position, at least not with other humans.
Also, Vivian does not adhere to a normative model of femininity in that she gets jealous and is openly angry. To be appropriately feminine is to not appear to feel these emotions. Because nice girls aren't supposed to get mad and fight, anger is driven underground. But anger does not go away. Instead, it festers and comes to the surface in other ways that are not obvious signs of aggression. This the anger that erupts in girlfighting, that bitchy, back biting nastiness that is though to be a "natural" consequence of femininity. Nevertheless, Vivian knows enough about how she is expected to behave to make her fear her anger. When Vivian awakens the next morning after Aiden scorns her and she has the taste of blood in her mouth, she fears what her loss of control might have done in the same way someone awakens after a night of drinking fearful about what s/he did the night before while all of his/her inhibitions were down (171).
While Vivian is not conventionally feminine, Aiden is not conventionally masculine. He has long hair and writes poetry, and is a very polite and tentative lover. Aiden's father, who is a model of conventional masculinity, is deeply disturbed by his son with his weird friends and interest in witchcraft, something not only condemned by his religion, but also not usually practiced by men. Aiden complains that his father is disappointed in him because he won't go hunting with him the way a "real American father and son are supposed to do," while Vivian thinks that "she'd give anything to be able to go out and kill something with her father again" (79).
Nevertheless, Aiden is not prepared to deal with a woman who is not conventionally feminine, in spite of his own lack of desire to be conventionally masculine. When Vivian reveals her true self to Aiden, not only can he not accept her, he is so horrified that he eventually tries to kill her.
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Female Sexuality and Animal Nature: Vivian cannot be conventionally feminine because she is not human. However, her species can pass unnoticed among humans because they adhere to our deepest prejudices about our own sexuality, that it is something "animal" and therefore foreign not to be trusted. Folklore and popular culture are full of stories of people who have permitted their animal nature to take over, much to their peril. However, this animal side is often seen as a natural part of masculinity that must be controlled at times, whereas it is viewed as completely antithetical to femininity. Therefore, in the human world, Vivian's male relatives can pass relatively easily provided they do not kill other humans. After all, men who enjoy fighting and chasing women are conventionally masculine. But women who are openly sexual and who get angry and fight are not conventionally feminine, and so are much more heavily sanctioned for transgressing the boundaries of their gender.
Furthermore, "animal" behavior, set of behaviors characterized by an obvious sex drive and an open display of dramatic emotions such as anger and jealousy, is often attributed to the subordinate classes and to non-white men and women. In this way, some of Vivian's behavior is represented as a natural consequence of her class status--the members of her extended family are not bourgeois pillars of the community, but instead have working class jobs (when we know what sort of jobs they have at all), frequent biker bars, and have rather casual and unstable living arrangements that are not typical of bourgeois life.
Yet Vivian cannot deny her anger or her sexual desire, so when she tries to be like humans she gets her into trouble. At the beginning of the novel, Vivian's mother warns her to not date where she cannot mate, and she's right. Her relationship with Aiden could have led the pack to exposure just as Gabriel's relationship with a human woman could have brought trouble to the pack. They cannot enjoy themselves fully if they are not in their fur, which is a mistake when they are with humans. Towards the end of the novel, after Aiden shoots Vivian, she is stuck between forms, representing how she has a stake in both worlds. It is only when Vivian lets Gabriel kiss her that she can completely change forms once more. When Vivian accepts Gabriel as her mate, she had become fully adult and embraced her nature, as a woman and as a werewolf.
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Animal Nature and Patriarchy: The animal world as represented by the lycanthropic society of this novel is extremely patriarchal, much more so than human culture. Tribal leadership is decided by brute force which leaves out women, if not through the letter of the law, then in its implementation. Astrid insists on competing with the men in the Ordeal, and Gabriel quickly demonstrates to her that she is no match for any of them. Astrid is an unsympathetic character in part because she does not adhere to any norms of behavior we see appropriate for women. She is hypersexual in a way that is not palatable even to 21st century humans. It may be one thing for her to be an openly sexual creature, but quite another for her to sleep with several young men and cause them to fight. Vivian and Esmé, on the other hand, are sympathetic characters because they do adhere to a model of normative femininity. While Esmé too is openly sexual, her character is softened through her relationship with her daughter. Vivian too demonstrates that she is conventionally feminine through her relationship Esmé. She becomes Queen Bitch, not because she covets power, but accidentally in an effort to protect her mother from Astrid. Her reticence with Gabriel further demonstrates how she is conventionally feminine. Her reluctance is that of the virginal heroine of romance fiction, who is "naturally" frightened at first by the advances of the conventionally masculine hero whose roughness frightens her.
Gabriel demonstrates that he is conventionally masculine and therefore suitable to govern the pack through his treatment of Vivian. The Five threaten to take "what belongs to them" by force if Vivian refuses to choose one of them soon, whereas Gabriel is sufficiently confident to wait until Vivian will accept him. In this way, Gabriel demonstrates that he better understands how to use power than do the younger or even some of the older members of the pack.
Vivian's reticence to be Queen Bitch further demonstrates that she is conventionally feminine after all, even for a lycanthrope. She is attracted to Gabriel, but not completely honest with herself about this attraction because she is also fearful about what it means.
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Heteronormativity: The novel concludes with a fairly conventional romance novel ending. The hero is revealed to be not as rough as he initially seemed, and in fact, he woos the heroine by taking the place of her dead father. Gabriel tells Vivian that he understands what she has gone through as he has experienced something similar, but worse, and furthermore, he has muscle to spare for her, no questions asked. When Vivian objects that Gabriel could have warned her, he gives her a response that would come from an experienced parent, "would you have listened"? indicating that like a good father, he understands that she must have time to make her own mistakes in order to mature. And Gabriel has been waiting for Vivian to grow into a maturity that, in the tradition of the romance novel, is characterized by her acceptance of her role in a heterosexual relationship. When Vivian ask Gabriel why he chose her, or rather, why she was "chosen" for him by the dance of the bitches, he says that she "cared so much for her people that it broke [her] heart to see the pack in ruin" (264). So Gabriel is attracted to Vivian then, in part because she is conventionally feminine in her motherly feeling for her extended family. In this way, the heroine's maturity at the end of the novel is no different than what is found in other novels of female development that end in "the marriage plot" whereby marriage and motherhood are the pinnacle of female development.
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Paranormal Romance: Blood and Chocolate is an example of paranormal romance, a type of romance fiction with supernatural elements. As a romance, Blood and Chocolate would fit into what Tania Modleski in Loving with a Vengeance would classify as a Harlequin romance. In the typical Harlequin romance, a relatively young and inexperienced heroine finds herself attracted to an older, brooding male whose behavior confuses her at first. He seems gruff and dismissive of her instead of tender and attentive the way she has been taught to believe that a lover will behave. Yet in the end, the heroine realizes that the hero's gruff behavior, which is an extension of normative masculinity, actually demonstrates his love for her. The typical Harlequin romance replays contemporary discourses of gender that uphold feminine subordination. In the typical Harlequin, feminine subordination is eroticized as the inevitable consequence of what is represented as men's and women's essential nature.
In “Paranormal Romance: Secrets of the Female Fantastic," Lee Tobin-McClain describes the paranormal romance a genre with a unique perspective on women’s feelings and fantasies because it allows for the “exploration of unspeakable elements of contemporary gender identity and relationships” (Tobin-McClain 300). Blood and Chocolate deals with many of these unspeakable elements, some that challenge a notion of normative femininity that denies women's sexual desire and makes their anger illegitimate, and others that reinforce these confining aspects of normative femininity. As noted earlier, Vivian is very comfortable with her sexuality and even many facets of her anger, while her human sisters might not be as comfortable with these things. Furthermore, Vivian's werewolf culture is comfortable with these aspects of herself. Women in her culture are expected to have powerful sexual urges and to get angry enough to brawl. Vivian's mother is not terribly concerned that she might be having sex with her meat boy so much as she is concerned that her daughter's relationship with a human could expose the pack. And only Vivian is really disturbed when Esme beds Gabriel, someone at least 10 years her junior. When Esme and Astrid brawl, members of the pack are only concerned lest the fighting destabilize the unit, but for the most part, their behavior is considered acceptable.
Blood and Chocolate also explores Vivian's desire for the older Gabriel, something that would be "unspeakable" in a more traditional contemporary romance due to their age difference. Vivian is young enough that her coupling with Gabriel could be considered salutatory rape, as could Astrid's coupling with Rafe.
Blood and Chocolate also explores how discourses of gender set women up for victimization. At the beginning of the novel, Vivian does not fully question contemporary discourses of gender that enable women's subordination. When the Five are getting out of hand, she does not report their dangerous antics to her father in part because she too is predisposed to see their behavior as another example of "boys will be boys" rather than something that should be arrested lest it get out of hand. As a consequence, one of the Five kills a human girl and exposes the pack's presence to nearby humans. As a result, they pack's communal home is burned and Vivian's father is killed.
However, the novel also reinforces other aspects of normative femininity that are reproduced in discourses of gender that perpetuate women's subordination. While women in Blood and Chocolate may be strong and independent, they are still not genetically suited to lead the pack. This is demonstrated when Astrid demands the right to compete in the Ordeal. While the pack law can be technically interpreted as permitting females to compete with males for this role, Gabriel quickly illustrates why tradition has bared women from competing. When the Ordeal begins, Astrid is eliminated almost immediately by Gabriel, who is able to draw first blood from her with very little effort. And when Vivian objects to the pack's sexist traditions, she is given the excuse meant to console women about the unequal distribution of power in patriarchy--as Queen Bitch, her mother "really" controlled the pack rather than her father since Esme held her mate's "tail between her teeth." This reasoning is no different from the line of reasoning which represents women as being the "most powerful" members of the family since they supposedly run the household.
The conclusion of Blood and Chocolate also reinforces aspects of normative femininity that perpetuate women's subordination. At the end of the novel, Vivian ends up with Gabriel, the stronger older man that she cannot control. True, he does not try to control her either, and is accepting of her when she confesses her lapse in judgment when she revealed her nature to Aiden. He's true to his word as well about how he has muscle to spare for her, no questions asked. Yet Gabriel loves Vivian most of all because she is conventionally feminine: when her anger is at its most powerful, it is in the service of protecting someone she loves. So is her anger legitimated then because when it is most violently expressed, it is in a conventionally feminine context, the protection of others? Or might Vivian's anger, when it is most powerfully expressed, and most effective, demonstrate how women's anger overall is something natural and even desirable rather than something monstrous?
The Werewolf As Monstrous Hybrid: The werewolf is most frequently represented as a monstrous hybrid, both human and animal, but not fitting comfortably into either category. This is what makes the werewolf a dangerous creature that needs to be destroyed. But in Blood and Chocolate, this hybridity is what makes werewolves stronger than humans. It gives them a flexibility that humans lack. Humans too have a best within, but they keep it tightly under lock and key, and nothing good happens when this "beast" emerges.
Vivian is stronger than her human counterparts because she rejects this Cartesian dualism that perpetuates the mind/body split. She does not deny her "animal" or her "human" natures, something that permits her to be more autonomous than human girls who must deny a good deal of what is designated as "animal" in the interests of being conventionally feminine.
Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-produced Fantasies for Women. New York: Methuen, 1982.
Tobin-McClain, Lee, “Paranormal Romance: Secrets of the Female Fantastic.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Vol. 11, Issue 3, 2000. pp. 294-306.