43 pages 1 hour read

E. L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2011

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Cultural Context: Pulp Fiction and Sexuality

Rarely does pulp fiction—mass-marketed paperbacks that deal in racy or sensational topics and are expected to be read by a broad audience—become the object of copious critical and cultural analysis, yet that’s what has happened with Fifty Shades of Grey. The book has inspired numerous articles and essays in scholarly journals, as well as competing arguments about what the book suggests about women’s current cultural situation. There are entire books about Fifty Shades of Grey intended to facilitate and expand the sometimes-heated discussions the story seems to generate. All the conversations and critique make sense. When a book rife with sex rises to the level of popularity Fifty Shades achieved, especially among women, discourse is necessary.

Much of the critique concerns assessments of why the book is so popular. In the Newsweek article “Working Women’s Fantasies,” Katie Roiphe argued women readers can access sexual boundary-crossing inside the safe narrative of romantic love (Roiphe, Katie. “Working Women’s Fantasies.” Newsweek, 16 Apr. 2012). In most stories considered “romantic,” whether in romance novels or on screen, love comes before sex, or at the very least, sex is secondary to love. In Fifty Shades, the sex and sexual tension between Christian and Ana comprises most of the book.