Sex, As a Commodity
In the development of human civilisation, people were exchanging good for various payments; many material objects and services were treated as a commodity. On the other hand, the most universal commodities were and remain a human being and its sexuality. Through ages, the most popular and existential profession was prostitution. On the other hand, there was no society which would mind against arranged marriages and selling of sexuality for certain benefits under particular circumstances. Just as centuries ago, sex and favouritism was a key to power, it remained a means for certain goals achievement. In this context, the aim of the present paper is to analyse the use of sex and sexuality as commodity by the main characters of the book "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood.
The main peculiarity of the book is that although some main themes of the narration can be quite obvious, the deepest meaning is hidden behind allegories of the stories narrated inside the story itself. Therefore, first of all, attitude of the main characters should be outlined and then symbolical support of the inside-story shall be provided. Since Atwood describes the time between two world wars, the society is driven by few ideas - survival and material prosperity. Under conditions of war, famine and death, human life and body turn into simple commodities and firm currency in the unstable world. The main protagonist of the story Iris became such commodity. In order to save her family business from collapse and provide herself and her sister with relatively stable life, she agreed to marry Richard Griffen, "a sweatshop tycoon" (Atwood 177). From the economical perspective, the purchase of her sexuality and sex services took place. Although, from her perspective, she sacrificed her feelings and female happiness in the name of family prosperity, in reality, Griffen's treatment of her as a sexual slave and an actual object in his belonging made the whole sacrifice look like an act of purchase. On the other hand, since he did not save her family business, mainly because it could give her certain independence, the whole deal is more like barter - she gave up her sexuality for one simple thing - survival. In this context, Iris did not just provide Griffen with sexual services as his wife, but she also was giving up her sexuality as hi actual slave for whom sex was a simple act of humiliation rather than anything emotional.
Further commodification of sex was seen on the example of Iris' sister Laura, who was forced to have sex with Griffen in order to save the life of her beloved Alex Thomas. Just as in case of Iris, sex was a payment for another action for the benefits of the third party. In both cases, the law of supply and demand was distorted by one person controlling the whole system of interactions - Richard Griffen, as the ruler of the patriarchal society, where women were deprived of their sexuality and rights. Making female sexuality and sex itself a commodity, society deprived women of their femininity and one of the crucial parts of life - giving birth. This statement was proved by Laura's pregnancy and the subsequent abortion Griffen made her do. In this regard, female body lost its femininity and became nothing but an object of utilisation. Atwood develops the idea further to the level that such society could not function efficiently and that although patriarchal rule with the means of commodification of human existence was conditioned by two World Wars, it could not continue because human beings were deprived of their humanity.
This idea was further described in the pulp fiction story told in the inside story of the novel. Wealthy classes of society were using children slaves for the satisfaction of their needs, when they were not useful anymore; they had two options to become blind assassins or sexual toys. Until certain extent, it can be argued that Atwood was showing how extreme conditions of war might make human beings return to animalistic world perception and complete loss of humanity. In that world, human beings were loosing not only human features, but also animal instincts of the true nature - ability to cherish life and procreation. In this context, she wrote:
"Second, there was no birth as such. These women grew on trees, on a stem running
into the tops of their heads, and were picked when ripe by their predecessors"
Through this surreal description, the author showed the implications of commodification of sex and sexuality in the post-war patriarchal society. It was no longer a society as such, but rather an artificial structure existing for its own sake, and Griffen was a classic example of that structure. Atwood also emphasised that inside-story society, which was depicted in this allegory, did not accept the book well mainly because it showed the gruesome reality of their society.
Atwood Margaret. The Blind Assassin. New York, NY: Virago. 2001. Print.