The first thing I noticed about our “Romantic Hero” Christian Grey is how he very quickly, by the second chapter even, begins to fit the Abuser Checklist. Stalking her at work was the first red flag (“Saturday at the store is a nightmare. We are besieged by do-it-yourselfers wanting to spruce up their homes. Mr. and Mrs. Clayton, John and Patrick – the two other part-timers – and I are all rushed off our feet. But there’s a lull around lunchtime, and Mrs. Clayton asks me to check on some orders while I’m sitting behind the counter at the till discreetly eating my bagel. I’m engrossed in the task, checking catalogue numbers against the items we need and the items we’ve ordered, eyes flicking from the order book to the computer screen and back as I check the entries match. Then, for some reason, I glance up… and find myself locked in the bold gray gaze of Christian Grey who’s standing at the counter, staring at me intently. Heart failure. “Miss Steele. What a pleasant surprise.” His gaze is unwavering and intense. Holy crap. What the hell is he doing here looking all tousled-hair and outdoorsy in his cream chunky-knit sweater, jeans, and walking boots? I think my mouth has popped open, and I can’t locate my brain or my voice.”, p. 21) What he is doing Ana is stalking you.
Christian also stalks Anastasia out in other public spaces by tracking her down through her cell-phone. (“My phone rings and it makes me jump. I yelp in surprise. “Hi,” I bleat timidly in to the phone. I hadn’t reckoned on this. “I’m coming to get you,” he says and hangs up. Only Christian Grey could sound so calm and so threatening at the same time. Holy crap. I pull my jeans up. My heart is thumping. Coming to get me? Oh no. I’m going to be sick… no… I’m fine. Hang on. He’s just messing with my head. I didn’t tell him where I was. He can’t find me here. Besides, it will take him hours to get here from Seattle, and we’ll be long gone by then. I wash my hands and check my face in the mirror. I look flushed and slightly unfocused. Hmm… tequila. … “How did you find me?”, “I tracked your cell phone Anastasia.” Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.”, p. 44, 47)
Christian actually blatantly states in the scene where Ana goes to attempt to negotiate the terms of her contract-undergirded sexualized subordination to him that he ‘can’t’ stay away from her, (“ “Now term. One month instead of three is no time at all, especially if you want a weekend away from me each month. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from you for that length of time. I can barely manage it now,” he pauses. [Anastasia Steele’s thoughts]: He can’t stay away from me? What?”, p. 155).
Then there are his unpredictable, melodramatic mood swings and his intense, scorching jealousy at Anastasia interacting with other men (“Paul has materialized at the other end of the aisle. He’s Mr. Clayton’s youngest brother. I’d heard he was home from Princeton, but I wasn’t expecting to see him today. “Er, excuse me for a moment, Mr. Grey.” Grey frowns as I turn away from him. Paul has always been a buddy, and in this strange moment that I’m having with the rich, powerful, awesomely off-the-scale attractive control-freak Grey, it’s great to talk to someone who’s normal. Paul hugs me hard taking me by surprise. “Ana, hi, it’s so good to see you!” he gushes. “Hello Paul, how are you? You home for your brother’s birthday?” When I glance up at Christian Grey, he’s watching us like a hawk, his gray eyes hooded and speculative, his mouth a hard impassive line. He’s changed from the weirdly attentive customer to someone else – someone cold and distant. “Paul, I’m with a customer. Someone you should meet,” I say, trying to defuse the antagonism I see in Grey’s eyes. I drag Paul over to meet him, and they weigh each other up. The atmosphere is suddenly arctic.”, p. 24 - 25).
Christian also begins the process of isolating Anastasia from her social circle. He leads her into signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) which, for those unfamiliar with what that entails, states that she cannot share anything that occurs between them with anyone (“ “This is a non-disclosure agreement.” He shrugs and has the grace to look a little embarrassed. “My lawyer insists on it.” He hands it to me. I’m completely bemused. “If you’re going for option two, debasement, you’ll need to sign this.” “And if I don’t want to sign anything?” “Then it’s Angel Clare high ideals, well, for most of the book anyway.” “What does this agreement mean?” “It means you cannot disclose anything about us. Anything, to anyone.”
I stare at him in disbelief. Holy shit. It’s bad, really bad, and now I’m very curious to know. “Okay. I’ll sign.” ”, p. 69). Readers can chalk this up to Christian taking a necessary precaution to protect his social and professional reputation, but it can also be of a dual use: not only to protect his empire but also to assert and ensure he has control over Anastasia. Even Anastasia notices how limiting the NDA makes her relation with Christian when she realizes she cannot ask for any advice from her close friend and roommate Kate about him.
As a hint to future upcoming isolation, early into their relations in the first book, Christian brings up the prospect that Anastasia will eventually be living with him as well (“Rather than going back downstairs, he turns right out of the playroom, as he calls it, and down a corridor. We pass several doors until we reach the one at the end. Beyond it is a bedroom with a large double bed, all in white… everything, furniture, walls, bedding. It’s sterile and cold but with the most glorious view of Seattle through the glass wall. “This will be your room. You can decorate it how you like, have whatever you like in here.” “My room? You’re expecting me to move in?” I can’t hide the horror in my voice. “Not full time. Just say, Friday evening through Sunday. We have to talk about all that, negotiate. If you want to do this,” he adds, his voice quiet and hesitant.”, p. 73) Spoiler alert: she does move in.
As a reader who is the target audience for this novel (a female, presumed heterosexual or with heterosexual attraction), I’m supposed to be taken aback by his wealth, excessively described Calvin Klein good looks, and his power and influence over nearly every character he interacts with (All women, from restaurant waitresses to nameless auxiliary characters giggling in Ana’s graduation scene, and enough men to bother brief minor mention, are under his spell. No one’s immune to the outside persona of the philanthropic Mr. Wall Street). He’s a man who needs (or more accurately wants) to assert power and control, which we are explicitly reminded of both verbally from him and by his (inter)actions. This range of influence and control also includes angrily or bitterly coaxing Anastasia to eat as much as he demands, ([Christian Grey]: “Have you eaten today?” I stare at him. Honest[l]y… Holy crap, he’s not going to like my answer. “No.” My voice is small. He narrows his eyes.
“You have to eat, Anastasia. We can eat down here or in my suite. What would you prefer?” “I think we should stay in public, on neutral ground.” He smiles sardonically. “Do you think that would stop me?” he says softly, a sensual warning. My eyes widen, and I swallow again. “I hope so.”, p. 153). Mind you, Christian insisting on having control over Anastasia’s eating habits throughout the book is a consistent theme. He also enforces a standard, in a legally null and void contract no less, that Anastasia must be waxed, shaved, and exercised to idealized perfection, personal trainer and beauty shop/spa stops included. He also tells Anastasia, that for the sake of keeping their relations suited to his ego, that Anastasia is not permitted, yes permitted, to look him in the eyes (p. 121). His reason? It’s a Dom/sub thing, the Dom/sub thing also includes her being his property (p. 120), a romantic, fair title for a man to give a woman no doubt.
I think what is more telling about Christian Grey is his select “romantic interest”, i.e.: victim. Anastasia, the character female readers are supposed to relate with, is early into her 20s and is completely unfamiliar with the fundamentals of not just sex with others, but her very own sexuality. The Powerful Man/ Inexperienced (Naïve) Woman power-relation/dynamic screams at my senses as a red flag because Ana is perfect for grooming, both in her personal timidity and in her child-like sexual naivety (Ana is in her early twenties and is completely unaware of her own sexual desires, or what it feels like to be aroused, has never attempted masturbation, has never experienced an orgasm, and has never had a sex dream prior to the intrusion of Christian Grey into her life). Christian Grey enables Anastasia access to her own sexual carnality. As a choice of characterization it is telling and because this is a sex driven-‘romance’ novel, sexuality is of primary significance both in narration and in any analysis of the narrative and Anastasia’s chaste, demure demeanor should not be assessed as textually neutral just as much as Christian Grey’s overbearing, “Control Freak” characterization is important to discuss as an issue.
The emphasis on the power differential between Christian Grey and Anastasia is, obviously, eroticized, but the power differential is not just sexual, it is also characteristic. Both characters are drastic, contrasting, foils to one another. Christian is described as graceful, as looking and moving like a model, Anastasia – like the female character she is based off of, Bella Swan from the Twilight series -, is clumsy and this is especially important because of how she is introduced to Christian. When she goes to interview him in place of her roommate Kate, she stumbles onto all fours in his office (p. 10) and because of her formal honorific use of “Sir” during the interview, Christian actually interprets Ana to be a natural ‘submissive’. The fact that this is their first interaction and Christian zeroes in on her speech patterns as a quality indicative of a supposed sexual predisposition that he can train to suit his own sadistic needs also caught my attention as a point of analytical concern.
It should also be noted that Anastasia repeatedly refers to herself in infantilizing, child-like terms. She reminds readers how often she feels like an “errant child” (p. 13), at one point even compares her visceral reactions to Christian as those belonging not to someone who can legally vote (“I am all gushing and breathy – like a child, not a grown woman who can vote and drink legally in the State of Washington.”, p. 28), and at another instance even stating that Christian “makes [her] feel like she’s fourteen years old” (p. 22), or makes her feel like a school-girl. And readers do get that impression as Anastasia is quick to flush at nearly every look that Christian gives her and nearly everything that he says to her.
In one of the many sex scenes, Ana is in the process of being seduced by the purportedly enigmatic Christian Grey and in this experience, a point is made about Ana’s hairstyle. This may seem innocuous, but let us not forget that with the power to author comes the ability to emphasize aspects that are significant to the story. Author E.L James could have excluded details in this scene that are actually mentioned, but chose not to for a reason. I’d actually connect this to the “pornographic imagination” (Dreamworlds 3, Sut Jhally), in which the sexualized school-girl fantasy imagery can be readily referenced in the style of pig-tailing one’s hair, which is symbolically infantilizing. (“He takes my hand and leads me back to his bedroom, leaving me reeling, so I follow him meekly. Stunned. He really wants this.
In his bedroom, he stares down at me as we stand by his bed.
“Trust me?” he asks suddenly. I nod, wide-eyed with the sudden realization that I do trust him. What’s he going to do to me now? An electric thrill hums through me. “Good girl,” he breathes, his thumb brushing my bottom lip. He steps away into his closet and comes back with a silver-grey silk woven tie. “Knit your hands together in front of you,” he orders as he peels the towel off me and throws it on the floor. I do as he asks, and he binds my wrists together with his tie, knotting it firmly. His eyes are bright with wild excitement. He tugs at the binding. It’s secure. Some boy scout he must have been to learn these knots. What now? My pulse has gone through the roof, my heart beating a frantic tattoo. He runs his fingers down my pigtails. “You look so young with these,” he murmurs and moves forward. Instinctively, I move back until I feel the bed against the back of my knees. He drops his towel, but I can’t take my eyes off his face. His expression is ardent, full of desire.”, p. 99)
There’s also another Abuser Trope that I would like to make mention of. Christian Grey repeatedly states to Anastasia that she is impacting him psychosexually, that her involvement in his life is altering his state of being. Christian, for example, seems to have a mild case of haphepobia (a fear of touch), he deplores it as much as he abhors any romantic or casually romantic gestures, but Anastasia is credited by him to having changed that or be changing that. The idea that a woman can remedy either the instability, insecurity and/or abusiveness of their male partner is not just an overused trope, it is unrealistic and a culturally dangerous notion to promote.