This essay sample on Androgynous Gender provides all necessary basic information on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.
Woolf utilizes the story of a person who switches genders to illustrate how gender identities are not inherent, but molded by society. This story reiterates how gender is socially constructed and supports the conviction that all human beings are androgynous organisms by nature. Throughout the novel, the main character, Orlando, displays mental characteristics that are neither unequivocally masculine nor feminine; Orlando’s gender traits remain primarily stable between the two polar ends of the gender spectrum.
Although his/her inherent, physical sex changes – in effect changing such things as rights and title – his/her personality remains the same, only later to be altered by the effects of society. For example, amongst the initial transformation of Orlando’s sex, Orlando acknowledges that he/she has become a woman “without showing any signs of discomposure” (Woolf, 138), exemplifying the idea that Orlando’s mentality has remained exactly the same.
Woolf even goes on to claim that “the change of [humans’] sex, though it [alters] their future, [does] nothing whatsoever to alter their identity” (Woolf, 138). Woolf here is clearly defining her stance on gender identity as something learned, not something inherent. One distinct example of Orlando’s unchanging mentality is is his/her consistent desire to write; normally an endeavor for men, Orlando continues writing through her sex change and even goes on to have her work published by an influential critic.
Orlando A Biography Summary
Another example of Orlando’s persistent persona despite sex transformation is in his/her intrinsic love of nature – something neither entirely masculine nor feminine – supporting the conviction that Orlando is an androgynous being (nature can be considered an entity consisting of all life forms, male, female, and unsexed, and those partaking in it are doing so in neither a masculine nor feminine sense, but in a hominal sense).
Orlando’s love for nature is consistent, for in the very beginning of the story, when Orlando is a young man, Woolf explains how he loved “to feel the earth’s spine beneath him” (Woolf 19); later – while Orlando is still a man – he tries to compare things of beauty, things he holds the deepest of passions for to natural forms: Sasha, his first love, was perhaps like “snow, cream, marble, cherries, alabaster, golden wire … a fox, or an olive tree; like the waves of the sea … like an emerald; like the sun on a green hill which is yet clouded” (Woolf 47).
This comparison between a beautiful woman and nature makes evident Orlando’s strong infatuation with the natural world. Even when Orlando has become a woman herself, she still feels passionately for the natural environment around her; “she burst into a passion of tears” at her phantasm of an English summer day with “an undulating and grassy lawn … oak trees … thrushes hopping among the branches … deer stepping delicately from shade to shade, and … the hum of insects and the gentle sighs and shivers” (Woolf 150-151).
Though Orlando’s love of nature remains constant throughout, some of his/her thoughts about nature do change in the latter portion of the novel when he/she realizes that plants and animals cannot communicate as humans do. However, this thought is more of an ideological realization rather than a belief brought on by sex alteration; any major changes in Orlando’s personality are solely brought on by society’s inflictions on the female sex. These examples of Orlando’s constant personality traits are to illuminate the fact that his/her gender identity does not change merely by a physical transformation; the alterations are due to society.
Not long after his/her metamorphosis, Orlando realizes that, as a young man, he “had insisted that women must be obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled,” but now, as a woman, knows that “women are not … obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled by nature … they can only attain these graces” (Woolf 156-157). Woolf here is explicitly representing a person’s gender identity as something created over time instead of something automatic that comes with the physical attributes of a sex.
As time progresses in the latter half of the novel, Orlando begins to change more based upon society’s distortions of gender; she notices that, even though “men cry as frequently and as unreasonably as women,” as she well knows from first-hand experience, “women should be shocked when men display emotion in their presence” (Woolf 180). Therefore, she was shocked. It is uncanny to see how much of an effect society has on different sexes, so much so that a human’s gendered mentality can morph entirely based solely upon his or her sex.
In Orlando’s case, thankfully, this does not happen, for he/she retains his/her fundamental mental and emotional traits throughout the novel, such as his/her philosophical evaluations of life and passions for nature and writing; it is only malleable traits that are modified. For example, over the course of time that Orlando is a woman, she becomes less ambitious, a trait normally associated with masculinity, and more passive, a trait normally associated with femininity.
The former can be demonstrated in Orlando’s relishing of her new sex – “better to leave the rule and discipline of the world to others; better to be quit of martial ambition, the love of power, and all other manly desires if so one can more fully enjoy the most exalted raptures known to the human spirit, which are … contemplation, solitude, love” (Woolf 160). It is obvious here that Woolf wants to convey that being “feminine” does not necessarily have to be an unfortunate persistence as society makes it appear to be; the loss of ambition and power can intensify such things as contemplation and love.
The latter is shown primarily through the second half of the novel in Orlando’s lack of explicit action; though it is implied that Orlando is speaking or fulfilling a certain action, it is left up to others within the story to make the action apparent. One striking example of this is when Nick Greene proposes to publish Orlando’s “The Oak Tree. ” Not one decision-making word comes from Orlando’s mouth during one of the most important times in his/her life, allowing his/her passive side to take over as she “[submits] to what was evidently [Greene’s] wish and the fervent desire of the poem itself” (Woolf 281).
Here, Orlando is letting life take its course without her intervention, as opposed to when he/she was a male ambassador in Turkey. Although Orlando’s gender identity does begin to have more feminine qualities in societal terms, he/she does maintain some of his/her masculine qualities, creating an androgynous existence for Orlando. Woolf supports the conviction that all humans are androgynous by nature by stating that “different though the sexes are, they intermix.
In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is the very opposite of what is above” (Woolf 189). Woolf here is saying that what a person is actually like has nothing to do with his or her sex, and clothes create the appearance of sex to the outside world, regardless of how that person is gendered. Orlando is the prime example of an androgynous being, for he/she has lived for half a century, experienced all there is to experience, and has done so with a sex transformation.
Woolf reiterates this by saying that “it was this mixture in her of man and woman, one being uppermost and then the other, that often gave her conduct an unexpected turn … though bold and active as a man, it was remarked that the sight of another in danger brought on the most womanly palpitations … whether, then, Orlando was most man or woman, it is difficult to say and cannot now be decided” (Woolf 189-190). It is undeniably clear that Woolf has created an individual so characteristic of both the masculine and female gender traits that Orlando no longer falls into either category: Orlando is purely a human being.
Thus, Woolf is making the claim that society is the entity that truly creates our identities; that how we think and act is mandated by how society thinks we should think and act based on our sex; that, naturally, all humans are indeed androgynous beings, and if we strive to reverse the effects that society has on our gender identities, we will all lose our sense of masculine and feminine mentalities – this is the persistence that will lead to a truly utopian universe.