Effects of reading Written on the Body in a college classroom
The main story of Written on the Body states that the dramatis personae, known “I” in the book, had many lovers before the encounter with Louise, a middle-aged woman who is married to some medical expert named Elgin. Louise is nothing like the girls the narrator dated before who would renege on their promise towards love - she chose to leave her husband and came to live with the narrator. They enjoyed their time together, not for long however, and this pleasure died young as Elgin announced the terrible news that Louise is dying of lymphocytic leukemia. He claimed that he would be more suitable to take care of her than the narrator would because of his medical experience. As a result, the narrator left and the rest of story focuses on showing the narrator’s unrequited love for Louise.
The topic of interest today centers around the effects of reading this novel in a college classroom, which turned out that in general, students’ subconsciousness feels a calling of equality in love, no matter whether it is homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual upon reading this novel and they would more respect this equality than they used to. Other effects are not hidden in the oblivion. On one hand, Winterson’s distinctive taste towards the utilization of language to express romance is so uncanny and innovative that students would learn from Winterson’s writing style to compose beyond ordinary and dogmatic restrictions. On the other hand, possible downsides of the effects indicate themselves, first of all, in Winterson’s lack of discussion and emphasis on the responsibility that love bears and the fusion with society, thus making the possibility that students fail to take obligations for things they should take obligations for and that students lose faith in the benign aspects that society carries. Written on the Body is also weak in pointing out what love in the real world looks like and how people could distinguish it from Utopian love.
The equality of different genres of love is ingeniously presented by the love experience of Winterson’s creation of the narrator “I” in her book and readers are subconsciously led to a state where this equality scores more place than before. According to a psychology analysis conducted by Maja Djikic and Keith Oatley, researchers at University of Toronto, people tend to substitute themselves into the same context as the narrator hits the road of adventures and experience the narrator’s feelings when reading literary novels. For example, they typically would form a sense of compassion when the narrator feels bad and burst out the tears of happiness when the narrator feels on top of the world. Subconsciously speaking, this would leave readers an expression to a certain level that they hold the same personalities with the narrators’. One is not hard to fully explore in Written on the Body and find out that there is no single detail that sheds light on either the gender or the name of the narrator, as also suggested by a research paper from School of Humanities, Halmstad University. Furthermore, this paper concludes that the narrator is able to seek for the “true love” as the gender is never revealed in this book, thus allowing the room for all kinds of love to coexist with each other. Applying the findings of that psychology analysis to the case of students reading Written on the Body, they thus would have the tendency of putting themselves inside the mind of “I” and as “I” talk about the love history, both involved with men and women, students would connect themselves to the narrator as if they had those relationships as an ungendered person who sees love without wearing a pair of colored glasses and who pursues nothing more than the true love. From a subconscious angle, students believe they share the same personalities as the narrators’, which leads to a reasonable conclusion that students, affected by this psychology effect, should be more inclined to reckon this equality in love regardless of gender than they originally would on a subconscious level.
The merits of Winterson’s novel have not reached the limit yet. One of it attracts students’ attention to the beauty and inventiveness of the language Winterson uses and this would motivate students to write revolutionarily in contrast with cliché ways to express their ideas. According to an experiment conducted by Prof. Al-Mansour and Prof. Alshorman at King Saud University, they aimed at investigating the effect on an extensive reading program on the writing performance of Saudi EFL (English and Foreign Language) university students. They randomly chose 48 students from KSU and assigned them into 2 groups: the experiment group and the control group. What they did to those students was quite simple: they simply asked students in the experiment group to repeatedly read one special book that had been pre-designed with a certain writing style, while remaining the regular teaching scheme for those who settled in the control group. Although this experiment only lasted for 2 months, one of the astonishing results they found is that the writing style of students in the experiment group tend to converge towards that shown in the special book, along with an outperformance in writing skills over the control group. In this case, Jeanette Winterson put the description of sexual passion and romance the way wild but beautiful in Written on the Body (Harper’s Bazaar 1993) and as reported by USA today, the language of this novel is interspersed with witty and inventive wording and writing on the feel of both sex and love from Winterson’s scintillating mind. Therefore, one is hard to defy the conclusion that the writing style of Winterson’s would exert influence on that of students’ and the creativeness of language Winterson wielded in Written on the Body would stimulate students to think extra into ordinary and teach them not to be confined by obsolete definition of writing well just as Winterson did in her book.
However, people hardly come cross perfection in the real world. The fact that Written on the Body has its own limitations, therefore, is not surprising. As stated in a research paper from Institute of English Studies at University of Warsaw, Winterson claimed true love, which calls for the freedom of love from all kinds of restrictions in society and commits to nothing but love itself. This intolerance of anything else reflects Winterson’s unconcerned point of view on the responsibility that a relationship holds inherently. As a consequence, this indifference could misguide some students to term every relationship “casual”, which makes them pale in taking responsibilities, in contrast with the fact such as “responsibilities of a married person” written in the marital law, which is considered to be fair and should be properly applied to everyone worldwide. Similarly, her perspective of isolating love from society could make some students treat society and its bonding with people as a triviality, thus jeopardizing students’ belief in favorable sides society holds for them. This paper also summarizes that Winterson blurred the boundaries between the love in real world and that in fantasy, which is deemed not appropriate as some people may become obsessive in finding unreal fantasy towards love in reality. This would especially be the case when it comes to the love among certain crowd such as college students who are typically young and have little or no experience in looking for true love. On these aspects, reading Written on the Body has its side-effects.
Bringing the above analyses together, one thus should be able to see that the general effects of reading Written on the Body in a college classroom would arouse students’ recognition of equality in love and they should squint towards the respect of love of all forms from where they were. Multiple effects stand as well. Students would learn from Winterson’s flexible and innovative application of words which are not limited by rigid terms defined by the majority when speaking of love and form a decent writing style. However, Winterson failed to elaborate on the responsibility expected from the love and abandoned the society entirely, which could also be misleading signals for college students. She also made it unclear in Written on the Body in terms of drawing the line between love in reality and love in fantasy, which could compromise college students’ dissection of love.
Winterson, Jeanette. Written on the Body. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1992. Print.
Djikic, Maja. Oatley, Keith. “Reading other minds: Effects of literature on empathy.”
John Benjamins Publishing Company (2013): Pages from 41 – 44. Web.
Arman, Judy. “Gender, Sexuality and Textuality in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body.”
Halmstad University (2012): Pages from 7 – 11, 23. Web.
Mokhamar, Nisreen, Walleed. “The Impact of Integrating Reading and Writing Skills on Palestine Technical College Students' Paragraph Writing and Attitudes.”
The Islamic University of Gaza (2016): Pages from 70 – 103. Web.
Sroczynski, Marcin. “Marriage as Hell, Sex as Salvation, and Love as Nirvana: Jeanette Winterson's Concept of Love.”
University of Warsaw (2014): Pages from 62 – 69. Web.