Breaking the Socio-Cultural Norms: Gender and Identity in Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Rita Mae Brown’s Ruby Fruit Jungle

  • Abstract:

    In 1990 Judith Butler asserted in her path breaking work, Gender Trouble that sex is biological and gender is a performative, and an illusory social construct. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Rita Mae Brown’s Ruby Fruit Jungle are canonical works of lesbian fiction known for their unconventional protagonists who stand in opposition to the gender binaries. The Well of Loneliness was published in 1928, and lead to much outrage and criticism because it dealt with non-normative sexuality. Ruby Fruit Jungle was published in 1973, soon after the 1969 Gay rights Movement. Theorists like Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adrienne Rich wrote about breaking of the hegemonies of sexual identity and gender in the late twentieth century. The protagonists of these novels stand strong against these rigid structures of the society. Through characters the writers boldly portray ‘Sexual Inversion’, a term for homosexuality used by the sexologists of the late 19th and early 20th century like Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Havelock Ellis. The precocious and independent character of Moly Bolt from Brown’s novel stands in contrast to the anguish of Stephen Gordon, a lesbian and one of the first ‘invert’ characters in the history of lesbian fiction. The duration of forty five years between the publication of the works would help track the progression in the social construction of lesbian identity. This study aims to discuss the struggles and subjugation that lesbians encounter in the persisting heterosexist milieu. Hall and Brown through their semi-autobiographical works urge the readers to deviate from binary thinking. The paper is a comparative study of the novels with emphasis on the evolution of the queer culture and the changes in attitudes that permeated the society in the twentieth century.