Insight on Necrophilia
The author Barbara Gowdy has succeeded in “We so Seldom Look on Love” to arouse our curiosity through a romanticized depiction of what most would consider a sin, necrophilia. It is most probable that society in the nineteen fifties influenced the style and choice of characters to explore such delicate and obscure behavior. Barbara Gowdy proved herself to be very clever by opening a passage through the soul of a young woman, in order to humanize the inexplicable lust for dead flesh.
What better way to translate imagination in its purest form than through the soul of a young women: “When you die and your earthly self begins turning into your disintegrated self, you radiate an intense current of energy.” (p. 1) Certainly the author wishes to offer an approach to necrophilia that defies the reader’s expectations. The idea that such a disturbing behaviour can evolve in the heart and body of a girl at such a young age, can alter the reader’s preconception on the necrophiliac’s physical and emotional profile: “Necrophiles aren’t suppose to be blond and pretty, let alone female.” (p. 4) With this statement, Barbara Gowdy reinforces the contrast of the story versus the judgement of her society in the fifties.
When the author decided to explore a controversial matter of sexual nature, such as necrophilia, she made a thoughtful decision by choosing a woman as the vehicle of this sin. Society tends to perceive certain sexual behavior with varying degrees of acceptance, based on the gender of the person in question. Masturbation is an example of one such sexual behavior easily accepted when performed by a man but perceived as unhealthy when performed by a woman. I doubt that a descriptive story on necrophilia would have been published should the main character have been a man. Woman have the power to soften what would otherwise seem arch: “…he would push it into the penises of dead men to make them look semi-erect, and then he’d sodomize them”. (p. 4). In society, the woman’s sexuality is represented as less intrusive or perverse compared to the masculine sexuality. When describing her encounter with the dead cadaver, the character explains that her sexual act is limited to “Cunnilingus”. The ability to penetrate or invade is non-existent in the female gender; perhaps it makes the sexual behavior less threatening, therefor easier to romanticize.
The first person narration style was another important element into the reader’s understanding of this subject. The author gave us shivers while her character was describing the different rituals with her naivete and imagination: “I ran my hands over his skin. My hands and the inside of my thighs burned as if I was touching dry ice.” (p. 6) How to better experience what the author wants you feel than to catapult you directly into the character’s mind. Here I was, reading out loud, and thinking to myself that it could have been me. No other writing style would have given me the sensation of living and breathing the character’s emotion. The first person narration takes the reader into the character’s most intimate moments and feelings. It makes you feel as if it was you.
For a society to go beyond its preconception when exploring a dark and unusual topic such as necrophilia, the writer must create an appropriate climate to eliminate feelings of guilt and increase the areas where the reader can relate, justify or feel compassion for the character involved. In “We so Seldom Look on Love”, the author preserves the integrity of her female character; which makes us reevaluate necrophilia from a more sensitive perspective. Barbara Gowdy gave us the unique chance to overcome our preconceived judgements and savour our curiosity of the unknown, through a carefully selected narration style, and a thoughtful decision on the gender of her principal character.