Analysis of Gender in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun
Upon starting Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer, the reader will be immersed in what seems like a distinctly patriarchal story. The beginning of the series concerns a member of a violent all male organization pining for the love of a woman. Although it is not a particularly “action packed” story compared to many other novels within the world of speculative fiction, it certainly has its share of sex and violence, all of which comes from a masculine point of view. However, as one continues the series, the ways in which the author criticizes patriarchy and toxic masculinity become more apparent. Severian’s journey is largely about moving his identity away from the guild he was once a part of. He can only become the planet’s savior after abandoning the cruel ideology that was imposed upon him throughout most of his life. The story is about an immoral person gradually donning a new identity in order to defeat the violent and power-obsessed aspects of himself. However, this does not mean that the story is completely free of misogyny. Particularly towards the end of the series, the implications of the narrative reveal a rather traditional view of gender roles. Within Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, the character of Severian, the organization he belongs to, and his interactions with other characters serve to point out how patriarchy pushes men towards toxicity and cruelty. The text argues that men must eschew certain “masculine” characteristics such as the need to exert power and seek domination in order to dismantle oppressive systems that restrict people’s autonomy. However, it also argues for a worldview where it is “right” for people to embody traditionalist roles based on their gender.
Thesis completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Alfred University Honors Program.
Honors thesis, English Literature, Physics, Social Constructs