Joy in a minor key: The mystery of gender and sex in the thought of C. S. Lewis

James Michael Deschene, University of Rhode Island

Abstract

C. S. Lewis, self-proclaimed representative of "old western man" and defender of classical, Judaeo-Christian tradition, is often perceived as contributing to sexism and gender prejudice and opposing those values held by modern egalitarian and feminist thought. His works, however, reveal that, while working entirely within the limits and premises of traditional, hierarchical, patriarchal western culture, Lewis arrives at a view that is solidly egalitarian and opposed to all brands of domination of any person or party over any other. Lewis deals throughout his works with the specific issues of gender and sexuality. His views on these issues lie at the very heart of his vision of the universe, of nature, and of the relations of men and women. This dissertation examines Lewis's thought, in fiction and non-fiction, on the relationship of nature to the supernatural, for Lewis sees sexuality as not merely a natural phenomenon, but a reflection of a supernatural dimension--an eternal archetype of gender. Lewis's hierarchical view of reality would appear to be an obstacle to his holding strong egalitarian views, especially regarding the sexes. Yet Lewis claims that, as a result of the Fall, while hierarchy remains the constitutional basis of reality, all attempts to reflect hierarchy on an earthly level--socially, or politically, or sexually--are inherently flawed and prone to evil. Though hierarchy is the keynote of reality, on a human level it is risky; for human nature, flawed by sin, subverts hierarchy into forms of domination, often totalitarian in their expression. Thus, while admiring monarchy and finding it valid on the level of myth and archetype, Lewis asserts the absolute need for democracy and laws to protect equal rights against the lust for power and domination of the monarchical self of fallen man or woman. Harmony--the overcoming of sexism, the healing of the battle of the sexes--requires the restoration of human sexual nature to its original pattern, abandoning the monarchical self's aggrandizement, and accepting its role and place in the ever-shifting pattern of the Great Dance.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Modern literature|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

James Michael Deschene, "Joy in a minor key: The mystery of gender and sex in the thought of C. S. Lewis" (1991). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9120416.
https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dissertations/AAI9120416

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