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Religious Denunciation In Contemporary Fiction English Literature Essay

In this essay I will focus on sexuality and the transformation that religious views of sexuality have undergone over time. Sexuality and religion have an allergic fascination for each other. I will show how this double fascination is still with us and is readable in the shocks surrounding contemporary representations of same-sex desire, if no longer of ‘normative’ heterosexual relations. This makes a nineteenth-century novel such as Awful Disclosures which presents themes on religion and sex seem less a historical curiosity than might be hoped. I will use this one novel in order to tie together my argument, focusing on whether contemporary novels show if we’ve moved on much since Monk’s work or whether there is still a conflict between sexuality and religion. This sensationalist novel distinguishes between sexual practices on a religious basis. The novel condones how religion is seen as a way of guidance and direction towards sexuality, however at the same time shows the condemning of sexuality within a religious circle. This process is echoed in later works such as Rabbit, Run, The Handmaid’s tale, The Drowning of Stephan Jones, The Female Man, and Brokeback Mountain. These claims will be traced though three different chapters: Sin and Sexuality, Social Constructions of Sexuality, and finally Affirming Sexuality. The pairings in each chapter aim to show exemplary but distinct attitudes towards sexuality. Novels which will be looked at in this dissertation are from a variety of backgrounds. The earliest work starts from 1836 and sets out a grid for the later novels to be analyzed against. These later novels are all recent or contemporary ones. I have chosen to use these novels in order to illustrate the series of views on the treatment of sexuality, ranging from what is seen as the ‘normal’ to what is seen as the ‘abnormal’. This will help me show the range of issues that have been raised over a century before in what seems a very different novel from the contemporary novels I have chosen to look at. Each work will present a different understanding of sexuality and convey the way in which different ideas have developed, and more interestingly, how they may or may not have changed.


The introduction will begin by talking about sexuality and religion in a broad sense, the way in which the two ideas have been perceived. I will talk about what the words mean and what thoughts come to mind when talking about both. Maria Monk’s work will be thoroughly examined in the introduction, focusing on the main themes and ideas. This book is perhaps a surprising choice in terms of the choice of timeline. The text shows a different account of sexuality on a deeper level, the fact that the story could have been a true story makes the novel more profound to an individual of a religious or non religious background. Opening my dissertation with this novel later will allow my ideas and theories come in to perspective. The fascinated horror of the corruption of religion is a pretext for indulging sexual interests. I will compare this with Foucault’s idea of the Victorian age as one in which sexuality is more talked about than ever before, it is shown to be more policed, repressed and theorized.

Maria Monk – “Awful Disclosures”

James William Bernauer – “Michel Foucault and theology: the politics of religious experience”

Chapter 1 – Sin and Sexuality

Updike’s’ novel Rabbit, Run shows sexuality to be quite shocking, like Awful Disclosures, Updike tells powerful truths about the fundamental facts of life. The fact that the novel portrays the life of a man caught between the rocks of societal responsibilities and desires, links to Maria Monks work through the portrayal of how the priests and nuns religious responsibilities and their sexual state of mind are presented. I will explore how the characters seem to be aware of what they are doing in the text yet at the same time know that, in terms of their religion, it is still wrong. Updike is a committed Christian himself; therefore he perhaps tries to show his characters wrestling with the implications of their beliefs. I will look at Freud’s theories in this chapter and present how the novel struggles with sexuality and the characters’ own religious feelings. Freud’s atheist views may come in to perspective here as he defines religion as an illusion; I will shed light on his theory of ‘The future of an illusion’ by talking about how the concept of religion claims our belief.

John Updike – “Rabbit, Run”

Pamela Thurschwell – Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud – The Future of an illusion

Chapter 2 – Social constructions of Sexuality

This chapter will focus on feminist ideas and challenges to sexist views. The Handmaids Tale by Atwood presents women’s views and explores the changing ways in which women experience subjection. The fact that one of the characters gives birth on a two-tiered birthing stool, so that she can fulfil the biblical practice of the maid giving birth on the knees of the wife, exemplifies how Atwood uses religion to show that it is still part of their life. Women have always been striving for change in the world and in today’s society. I will use this text to show how feminism has had an influence on women and the way in which these ideas have been socially constructed and developed. The Female Man by Russ on the other hand is a feminist text which focuses on the control of sexuality; the main aspect of the text is to show how different sexual relations which are supported by the bible are accepted.

Margaret Attwood – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Joanna Russ – “The Female Man”

Chapter 3 - Affirming Sexuality

This chapter will focus more on the difficulty and struggle of homosexual people. Brokeback Mountain by Proulx shows the difficulty of life for two gay lovers. The fact that they go on to marry heterosexually shows that society would never have accepted their true feelings for each other. Affirming their own feelings and thoughts to a society which was so controlled in terms of gender roles makes it harder for them to express themselves; both book and film affirm this. The main theme of Brokeback Mountain is that sex between two men is not a sin but a natural force of nature. What is seen as "Christian" by the condemnation and forcing of living unnatural lives in pain and unhappiness is a sin against God who has created them as Gays. The persistence of condemnation and fantasy can relate to Maria Monks work by the way in which sex in portrayed in a religious circle. Another novel which I will focus on in this chapter will be The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Greene. This novel presents readers with homophobic hate; it shows how being gay can affect a person’s life dramatically. The book, which represents gay youth, presents a world of verbal abuse and harassment. This section will allow me to look more in depth at the way in which the characters deal with their homosexuality. “There didn't seem to be a single eye that wasn't now staring at the men who stood publicly condemned". This passage shows the issue of condemnation as being an ongoing issue from Monks work to contemporary novels.

Annie Proulx – “Brokeback Mountain” (1997) and film adaptation released in 2006

Bette Greene – The Drowning of Stephan Jones

Internet site: Sin and Sexuality: Psychobiology and the Development of Homosexuality

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