Fifty Shades of Grey is a Marxist allegory, covering the development of the protagonist’s class consciousness, while tearing down, one by one, all non-revolutionary forms or resistance to capitalism generally, and in America particularly.
by looking at the names of our two main characters: Anastasia Steele and
Christian Grey. Anastasia is her given name,
which is to say, the name her parents chose.
They gave her the name of a famous royal, a class to which they do not,
and could not, ever belong, but nevertheless this is how they choose to think
of themselves. Yet the family name is
Steele. The associations between steel
and infrastructure and manufacturing are obvious (she actually works at a
hardware store), and we cannot forget that the labor movement in the United
States grew in large part from the Pittsburgh steel workers. Her name itself is an example of class unconsciousness,
identifying with a class to which she cannot belong (further, it is a class which
is not supposed to exist in America, and the particular royal was part of the
family overthrown in the communist revolution).
Likewise, Christian’s given name presents a false front. Obvious connections to the “protestant work
ethic” and the prosperity gospel aside, Christianity promises a moral system,
or some spiritual righteousness. But his
family name is Grey. Shades of Grey
refers to moral ambiguity, not certainty.
Grey is in fact unconcerned with morality, Christian or otherwise. And of course the 50 Shades is a pun on 50
States. Grey is the personification of American
capitalism. (There is also some clever mirroring in the names. Besides the obvious “steel grey” pun, Grey is
the traditionally British spelling, which, if we consider America’s heritage as
a royal colony, would mirror his family name with her given name.)
Over time, Anastasia begins to doubt this parity, and Christian
co-opts means of non-revolutionary dissent.
After the aforementioned failure of education and journalism, he woos her
by buying her a first edition Thomas Hardy novel (thus co-opting art). Christian breaks the contract without penalty
(showing the futility of law). Perhaps the most dense example of this is the “Dom
Jeans.” Blue jeans, invented by a Jewish immigrant for physical laborers during
the California gold rush, became popular in counter-culture and youth movements
in the post-war era. As with much
counter-culture, they were appropriated as a fashion commodity, eventually becoming
banal and innocuous, becoming “Mom Jeans,” something suburban soccer moms would
wear. And thence “Dom Jeans.” Even if it takes time, counter-culture just
becomes another commodity for the capitalist class.
(If you find yourself taking the above seriously, please direct all comments to E.L James.)