The Construct of Femininity: Passivity and Gender Dynamics in Delirium (Katie N. and Sally C.)

YA dystopian fiction is a relatively recent phenomenon in terms of its genre and popularity. It is widely recognised that the female protagonists in YA dystopian novels strive to fulfil a need for representation of powerful female figures that can save the day with their diverse portrayals of femininity and the potential that comes with it. Lauren Oliver’s Delirium can be read as differing from this trope through the negative way the novel brings into play ideas of femininity and autonomy in the lead protagonist, Lena Hallway.

The dystopian element of Lena’s world is the concept that love is now viewed as a disease and therefore eradicated as part of a procedure implemented by the government. Lena is looking forward to being ‘cured’. However after falling in love, Lena questions everything she knows as she begins her rebellion into the Wilds. Throughout the novel Lena Haloway is set up to be as a powerful female character. Arguably the ways in which Oliver writes Lena’s character in relation to passivity, love, other characters and gender dynamics in the novel ultimately contradicts the reader’s expectations what it means to be a ‘heroic’ female figure. Instead Lena comes across as one dimensional, weak, and passive to the point of uselessness.

Oliver’s exploration of relationships within Delirium holds great significance through the way it comments on the construction of femininity and it’s relation to female power. Lena and her best friend Hana often mirror each other and hold parallel stories throughout the novel. Examining their relationship brings to light different ways in which Oliver has undermined Lena’s femininity, and instead pigeon holes Lena as another passive, love struck, female protagonist; seen in many YA novels. Femininity does not have to be viewed as weakness. Hana is invested in fashion, appearance and loved by all who meet her because of her agreeable and bubbly personality. Through stereotypical feminine traits, Hana stands in stark contrast beside Lena as a female character with the potential to be autonomous and hold power outside of a heterosexual relationship dynamic. Lena herself always describes Hana in vibrant terms. Hana is involved in the rebellion much before Lena after she falls in love with music that has been banned by the government for being too “emotional”. This is what encourages Hana to disobey the rules set in place and look for a space where she can truly express and find herself within the arts.

In comparison, Hana’s passion and drive for music is mirrored in Lena’s passion and love for Alex. Hana’s passion only propels her into a more fully formed and dynamic character, whereas Lena’s obsession with Alex merely groups her in as another trope of the YA female protagonist who can only find and save herself and the world, by falling in love and drawing strength and inspiration from a man. Heterosexual love as the reason for Lena’s rebellion and her awakening as a “strong female character” is yet another negative construction of femininity that only goes to weaken female characters and tie their sense of self worth in with a man.

Furthering this, Lena’s passivity is a significant feature of her personality that comments on constructed views of femininity. As Hana encourages Lena to listen to illegal music, she subtly pushes for Lena to rebel with her, which in turn unnerves Lena. Lena addresses Hana’s rebellion by stating, ‘Listen, I’m not going to get arrested just for looking at some websites… We shouldn’t even be talking about this’ (107). It is clear that there is a complete lack of rebellious spirit within Lena’s character. She lives everyday consumed by fear and willing to conform to the oppressive society built around her, and although Hana prompts slight curiosity, it is not enough to impact Lena. Continuing this, there is a crucial moment in the plot where Alex convinces Lena to escape into the Wilds, ultimately triggering her rebellion. Lena hastily informs Alex that she is willing to go with him, ‘I do want to go’ (268). It is through this line the reader witnesses Lena for the first time wanting to rebel. However, Lena needed to be pushed to do so, by a man, and prior to the influence of her peers she would have willingly accepted the rules enforced upon her by the government. It is widely recognised that passivity is viewed as a stereotypical feminine trait, it suggests that a women is typically less dominant and relies on help from a male in order to succeed, thus Lena’s character merely perpetuates the sexist views that exist within our society and in turn highlights the conflict between what the reader expects of her ‘heroic’ character and instead the gender norms and preconceived ideas of femininity that she conforms to.

Oliver sets up Hana and Alex as Lena’s two main combating relationships throughout the novel. Both Hana and Alex are involved in some sort of a rebellion against their government. Lena feels uncomfortable by Hana’s choices and ultimately rejects her longing to rebel, yet in antithesis willingly accepts Alex’s nonconformist attitude. By stating, ‘I feel so safe. I can’t believe anything bad can happen” (267) Lena confirms that she is comfortable doing anything for Alex and that all her trust lies within him, a trait absent from her friendship with Hana. Moreover, this line marks a poignant moment within the text where the female friendship is broken and sacrificed for Lena’s interest in Alex; it signifies that Hana’s push for rebellion wasn’t enough. Susan Lehr writes that ‘heterosexual relationships are more important and supersede friendships and bonds between women’ (Lehr 15), which we can see evident within this point of the novel. The mere notion that Lena is willing to rebel against society for a boy at the expense of her best friend highlights the significance of romantic relationships In YA fiction. It confirms that heteronormative relationships will always overcome and consequently destroy platonic friendships; it places male and female relationships as more important and in turn reinforces the stereotype that girls are ‘shallow, competitive creatures incapable of camaraderie (188)’ for this relationship to be priority to them. The idea that the presence of a male is needed for a relationship to be significant proliferates society’s negative emphasis on fragility of female friendships; it gives men a sense privilege, suggesting that women are reliant on them in order to succeed. Ergo, the friendships explored within Delirium contribute to the formulaic idea of gender roles and femininity with in society.

Love itself is most times characterised as a feminine trait and ideal. The fact that in this dystopian future love is seen as societies biggest weakness already seems to be putting stereotypical femininity at a disadvantage. Though the capability to love is taken away from both genders in this novel, the readers are only introduced and shown female characters that struggle conforming to this new life. Lena’s mothers, her sister, and Lena herself all fall in love before their surgery (all heterosexual romances), and suffer and are held in contempt by their peers because of it. Readers can assume their male partners also fell in love, but Oliver does not focus on the shame or trials men face because of it.

Whether it is through the exploration of relationships or the passivity of Lena as a character, it is evident that Delirium is a novel conflicted in the way it portrays the idea of femininity. Although we are presented with a protagonist fighting a government with oppressive views on girlhood, the process in which this is done ironically fulfils negative ideas of femininity, which one could argue as problematic being a novel with the audience of YA dystopian fiction.

Discussion Questions:

If Oliver had pursed a queer relationship, (potentially between Lena and Hana) rather than the route of heterosexual romance that dominates YA lit, would this have changed Lena’s passivity and made her a more autonomous character? Could a queer Lena have meant a more three dimensional and engaging main character?

To what extend to do you agree that Lena as a character reinforces negative ideas of femininity?

Citations

Childs, Ann M. M. “The Incompatibility of Female Friendships and Rebellion.”in: Day, Sara K., Green-Barteet, Miranda A. and Montz, Amy L. eds. Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction. Farnham: UK: Ashgate, 2014. p. 187-201.

Lehr, Susan S. Beauty, Brains, And Brawn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

Martin, K. A. and E. Kazyak. “Hetero-Romantic Love And Heterosexiness In Children’s G-Rated Films“. Gender & Society 23.3 (2009): 315-336. Web.

Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. New York: Harper, 2011. Print.

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16 thoughts on “The Construct of Femininity: Passivity and Gender Dynamics in Delirium (Katie N. and Sally C.)

  1. I think your post raises some interesting questions about how femininity is portrayed in Delirium. While I do agree that it perpetuates some gender stereotypes, I thought there were a couple problematic things. I don’t think that Lena is “weak” or “useless” despite not being the strongest female protagonist we have encountered yet. I think it’s fair to say that she is relatively complacent in her society, especially for the former half of the novel, but it’s worth recognizing that she is hesitant for good reason. She is starkly aware of what happens to “Sympathizers” and the shame that she was made to feel because of her mother’s suicide had a large impact. The pervasive circumstances of her society can’t be dismissed in discussion around her strength. Also, I agree that Hana appears to be better equipped for rebellion because of her spirit but I do think class plays a significant role too. Hana’s class positioning – and her apparently neglectful parents – allow for more flexibility than Lena’s circumstances do.

    That being said, I very much agree with your point about it being problematic for Alex to be the inspiration behind Lena’s rebellion. The fact that she is stunned by Alex’s interest in her speaks to the harmful idea that girls need the acknowledgment of boys to feel valuable or able. I do, however, think that her desire to rebel is sparked by Hana at both illegal parties where her main interest seems to be either proving Hana wrong or making sure her friend is safe. This streak is present at her first evaluation too – answering ‘grey’ instead of ‘blue’. Granted, this changes by her second evaluation but I do think we see sparks of rebellious thought and action before she becomes involved with Alex.

    I think it can also be argued that her passivity is extremely normal given her circumstances and that it is not necessarily meant to be an attack on femininity. Fear is what keeps Lena’s society obedient – men and women alike are conditioned from childhood to be submissive. There is yet another layer on top of this fear for Lena because of her mother and Rachel having been “infected”. Lastly, I really loved your point about Oliver not paying attention to the suffering of male characters when women are so obviously held in contempt – I definitely think that issue warrants further investigation!

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    1. I wholeheartedly agree with all the points you have risen here, Jess. I think it would be unfair to discredit Lena of her rebellious spirit. However, you say that her surprise that Alex could be interested in her “speaks to the harmful idea that girls need the acknowledgement of boys” and I do, slightly, disagree with this statement. Lena is surprised that Alex is interested in her because: a) while problematic on some level, she thinks she is average, “plain”, in comparison to Hanna. After the lab encounter, her next meeting with Alex is with Hanna. It could be said that Lena is surprised that a boy would be more interested in her than Hanna (Still problematic). b) Lena believes that Alex is a cured. It is surprising to her that a cured would have the ability to be interested in anyone, let alone her. And further, she is surprised to find out that he is not actually a cured at all.

      I think we, as readers, have grown so accustomed to seeing the male-driven rebellion of this genre that we ignore or are blind to the other factors at play. For instance, you have credited Hanna with sparking Lena’s rebellion and I do agree – I would argue that her relationship with Hanna is the leading factor in Lena’s rebellion. Rather than saying that Alex triggers Lena’s rebellion, I think it would be fair to say that Alex IS Lena’s rebellion. In a world where love is forbidden, Lena falls in love (and with an Invalid). Thus, by the lead and encouragement of her friend Hanna, Lena rebels against the ideals of her society and falls in love with Alex.

      Even further, however, I like to consider Lena and Alex’s relationship as that of a mutual awakening. Alex sparks a fire within Lena that leads her to leave Portland and escape into the Wilds, but Lena also awakens something in Alex: “Everyone is asleep. They’ve been asleep for years. You seemed . . . Awake…. I’m tired of sleeping” (230). She gives him the opportunity to stop blending into the society that he hates so much but rather to fall in love and escape.

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  2. I think this post is so interesting I and have so much I want to say about it! I want to start by challenging the phrase ‘negative ideas of femininity’ in your discussion question. I think there’s an assumption here that masculinity and femininity are simply groups of different, neutral character traits. Hana is bubbly and is interested in fashion and her appearance: these are seen simply as traits. But in a patriarchal society, the notions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are really crucial to upholding hierarchy, so character traits are never just that. So considering this, I want to argue that femininity, as it is constructed in current society as a method of patriarchal control, is negative, and the book’s problem isn’t ‘upholding negative ideas of femininity’ but actually lies in not critiquing the concept itself, and where it comes from and how it functions. I would say that the society that Lena lives in does encourage femininity, as women are expected to be homemakers and have children; and more crucially this is seen as natural, and inherent part of womanhood, and their purpose in life. However, I agree that the emotions or mindsets associated with this role, like empathy and care, are discouraged by the ‘cure’. In this way, women must be gender-conforming in their thoughts and behaviour, but are not emotionally invested, therefore they can be easier to control.

    Lena represents ideas of femininity by passively and unthinkingly awaiting her husband and her future as a wife and mother. She’s also focused on her appearance, often expressing jealousy of Hana’s beauty. Your post points out, though, that Hana seems more feminine than Lena but is simultaneously rebellious. I would say that while Hana appears to be more feminine than Lena, in her looks and attire, Lena still ultimately conforms to the rules of femininity to a much higher extent, embodying the mindset that women are encouraged to have. Despite her disapproval of love and attachment, she pursues heterosexual romance, and puts that above her bonds with other women. As to whether this produces a ‘negative view of femininity’: I would say no, since her attachment to and reliance on Alex is seen as a way for her to rebel and is definitely positive. In this respect, the novel does not critique femininity and its roots at all. However, the novel does also show how the mindset encouraged by female socialisation holds back Lena’s progress, but I don’t think this is a bad thing to point out.

    In regards to your other question– if Lena could be more three dimensional and autonomous if she were in a same-sex relationship– it would definitely create a space for the whole structure of the novel’s society to be questioned, rather than just the ‘cure’ and the evaluation and matching processes. If Lena was to discover she was gay or bisexual, the entire premise of women and men being naturally suited to creating a household together, in their own fixed roles, would be undermined. It wouldn’t just be the arranged marriages and operation that would be up for critique, but the heteronormative and gendered structure of society present before the ‘cure’, as well as real current society, which could give the novel a chance to critique current society more powerfully through the narrative. For the character of Lena herself, this could perhaps kick-start her own rebellion and questioning of the system earlier. Other than that I’m not sure it would cause any huge changes in her journey, as heterosexual love is also forbidden in her world; except as a duty of husband and wives, who even then simply tolerate each other. It could have a powerful effect on a reader, though, whose own assumptions about the path from girlhood to the heterosexual family structure would be challenged; something I think is really valuable and important, especially in a culture which shields these alternative narratives from children and teenagers.

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  3. I think you’ve raised a number of interesting points here! However, I would like to focus on the point you make regarding the incompatibility between Lena’s relationship with Alex and Lena’s relationship with Hana. I do agree the narrative ultimately sacrifices a platonic relationship for a heterosexual romance, but to expand further on this point it is both the narrative that makes this sacrifice and Lena herself. Although the reader is given descriptions of scenes where Alex, Hana, and Lena all spend time together after Lena and Alex solidify their relationship, they are never given a full scene of this type of interaction. The narrative instead focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Lena and Alex. However, Hana would not have even been aware of Lena and Alex’s relationship if it had not been for Alex. When Alex walks in on a conversation that Hana and Lena are having, Lena’s impulse is to continue lying about being in a romantic relationship with Alex and she only yields when Alex says that Lena should tell her. Lena and Alex could have theoretically continued to lie and therefore Lena would have fully separated the two competing relationships and lied to her best friend since childhood. This impulse suggests that Lena has internalized the thought that romance is a more important relationship than friendship because of her instinct to give priority to Alex, further illustrating the constricting female gender roles in Delirium.

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  4. To echo what others have said, I disagree with the idea that the novel brings into play ideas of negative femininity through Lena. Gender roles are definitely present throughout the novel, but I see them more so in the Aunt Carol, and in the process of integrating fully into a cured society, rather than Lena. Aunt Carol washes the dishes, does all the cooking and cleaning, and we know that women are, as you say, supposed to run the households and bear children after being cured. Certainly Lena begins the novel awaiting the cure and wonders about her husband beyond it, but I’d argue a large part of this is due to the trauma she experienced when her mother committed suicide, rather than wanting to be the “ideal woman”. Lena wants her pain to be taken away, the Coldness as she calls it, and learns to fear the way her mother cried for her father in the night. This desire for the cure becomes perfectly understandable, especially as Lena’s mother death gets used to remind Lena of the dangers of love.

    Further, I’d argue that the novel is showing us her journey from passive to active, which doesn’t make her constructed as “weak” or “useless”, but rather centres the novel on a coming-of-age narrative where you actively begin to question whether or not you dare to disturb the universe. Even Katniss, who we all agreed was a strong active character, lived passively in her world before the games. Like Lena, she accepted the idea that this is the way her world works, this is the way life is. Lena is more willing at the beginning to accept her world as “doing the right thing” but because she believes she has seen the sickness take hold and destroy others, as well as living a more comfortable life than Katniss did. The desolation of Katniss world is clear – everyone, even those more wealthy, still don’t have much. Lena still lives in a city that has class divides but no one homeless/starving is ever made known, and no one is seemingly sacrificed to a gladiator death battle every year – they are only said to “growing up” in Lena’s world. It would be a subtler, and in some ways more difficult, journey to begin to distrust a world that keeps you relatively comfortable and “safe”.

    Lastly, I want to comment on your idea that “love itself is most times characterized as a feminine trait…love is seen as societies biggest weakness…putting stereotypical femininity at a disadvantage.” You argue that Lena comes off as one dimensional because of her traditional femininity and her falling in love with Alex, but in a world where being becoming “boy crazy” is a literal disease, is her stereotypical femininity not her biggest strength? The way to beat the system is to fall in love and she does that by getting into a loving relationship. I’m not saying that this isn’t problematic in the sense that Lena ideas of rebellion flourish in heteronormativity and that this doesn’t reinforce ideas that heterosexual relationships are the key to growing up, but I think you are kind of contradicting yourself when you say that the idea of love as stereotypically feminine puts stereotypical femininity as a disadvantage in this novel. I’d argue that Lena’s biggest strength is her stereotypical ability to become “boy crazy” because it’s what allows her to realize she’d rather die than live in a world where love does not exist.

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  5. I agree that Oliver’s focus on the heteronormative relationship between Lena and Alex over the platonic friendship of Lena and Hana is problematic. However, I think the part of the argument that categorizes the characters of Hana and Lena is incorrect. The post states, “Hana’s passion only propels her into a more fully formed and dynamic character.” That being said, a “dynamic character” is described as one who is able to undergo an internal change throughout the course of a storyline. Thus, an example of a dynamic character in Delirium would be Lena, while Hana would be understood as a static character because she continues to believe in the same values throughout the course of the novel.

    By altering Lena’s classification of character, many of the arguments used against her in the blog post have further justification. The post states, “ultimately [Lena] contradicts the reader’s expectations what it means to be a “heroic” female figure. Instead Lena comes across as one dimensional, weak, and passive to the point of uselessness.” Since Lena is a dynamic character, she cannot be labeled as “one dimensional.” Readers are able to follow her growth into a rebellious figure as the novel progresses. Lena is unlike other heroic female figures for this reason. Many rebellious female figures such as Katniss in The Hunger Games and Lauren in Parable of the Sower begin their story aware that their society is corrupt. In many ways, Lena’s ability to discover the corruption within her society and progress as a dynamic character aligns closely with a teenager as they begin to discover the problems within the world they thought they knew as a child.

    Furthermore, I would disagree that the moment Alex convinces Lena to escape into the Wild “ultimately trigger[s] her rebellion.” I disagree that it takes until half way through the novel for Lena to begin to think rebelliously. There are various moments in the novel where Lena’s classification as a dynamic character shines. The first case of Lena defying expectations of her is seen when Hana believes she will never “‘end up like [her mother because she] do[es]n’t have it in [her]’” (Oliver 111). Hana’s assumption “upsets” (113) Lena for reasons she cannot explain. Lena comes to the conclusion that, “Hana said I didn’t have it in me, but she was wrong” (116). From this choice, Lena begins a series of small acts of rebellion by sneaking out of the house after curfew. When considering Lena’s beliefs at the beginning of the novel to simply follow all rules in Carol’s house, Lena’s choice to defy the rules for the first time exemplifies her as a dynamic character. Although it is noted that Lena’s act of rebellion leads her to Alex and continues the problematic tone of heteronormativity within the novel.

    Work Cited
    Oliver, Lauren. Delirium. New York: Harper, 2011. Print.

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    1. In regard to your last point, I understand where you are coming from, however I would argue that the small acts of rebellion carried out by Lena do not define her as ‘dynamic’ or ground breaking, she is merely shadowing what Hana does to rebel to prove her wrong, going to the party and listening to music is something that Hana already has done. I do not believe that Lena would have done rebelled by running into the Wilds just to prove Hana wrong. The only time that Lena commits a significant form of rebellion is for Alex, thus I believe that while Lena flirts with rebellion at the beginning of the novel it does in fact take until half way to ultimately trigger her rebellion that holds significance.

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  6. Hi Katie and Sally,
    While I agree with much of your post regarding Oliver’s adherence to stereotypical feminine characteristics, I must also agree with the many comments already posted, in that Lena does also exert some agency and defy many other gendered norms. Although Lena does require both Hana and Alex’s influence to kick-start her rebellion, once initiated she does take on many challenges in a powerful, individual manner. Take for example her decision to first meet Alex out past curfew. Rather than submissively remain in her home and adhere to social rules, she sneaks out of her home and fiercely attempts to meet him out. Though ultimately she does return home not having met Alex, her initial decision to go meet him can be evidence of her independence and defiance.
    Similarly, Lena does act agentically when again she sneaks out of her home in a desperate attempt to find Hana and warn her of the raids taking place when Hana is out at an illegal party. Lena powerfully speeds to the party location, and thus highlights her strength once again as an independent, rebellious young woman.
    However, this scene can also be problematized, as ultimately Lena’s need to be saved by Alex, rather than Lena saving Hana, does function within your argument as representative of Lena’s passivity and helplessness. This scene also functions to reinforce the notion that Lena’s romantic relationship with Alex is of greater importance than her platonic relationship with Hana. The valuing of heterosexual romance over any other relationship is prevalent within the YA dystopian genre. Unfortunately, this trope has negative implications for girls and women, as it reaffirms the notion that women, especially adolescent girls, are shallow, and reinforces the notion that marriage to a man is the ultimate goal that all young women should strive for.
    In this regard, in answering your first discussion question I would argue that yes, if Lena’s relationship had been romantic with Hana and platonic with Alex, some aspects of Lena’s negative adherence to cultural femininity standards would be dismantled. However, I disagree with the notion that Lena’s PASSIVITY would be eradicated, because as discussed above, I do not view Lena’s character as consistently passive. Rather, a homosexual relationship between Lena and Hana would work to weaken the gendered stereotypes of women as shallow and ‘boy-crazy,’ as Lena’s desire for Hana, and the resultant happiness (I would hope) that they would experience would present an alternative to traditional adolescent coupling, and thus disrupt the perception that heterosexual love is the best, and only, way to find happiness.

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  7. Reading your post, I find that your statement that love in Delirium as the biggest weakness which consequentially makes femininity a target and puts it at disadvantage, rings true. I also find that your highlighting of Meyer’s focus on the struggle primarily in female characters holds true as well. However, I do disagree when you say that Lena’s form of rebellion through her love for Alex paints her as a less dynamic and strong-willed rebel than Hana. I would like to call to attention a few points as to why I disagree:
    1} As mentioned in previous comments, Hana is more rebellious and more willing to break the rules of society because she is in a position where she can. Hana comes from a wealthy and influential family with an immaculate and pristine history. On the other hand, Lena has to shoulder the burden of a shameful history: her suicidal mother, her sympathizer uncle. Lena comes from a spotted and stained family and has already experienced community backlash because of it. Therefore, to avoid being ostracized, Lena is much more cautious and less willing to step out of society’s bounds. Also, Lena’s eventual rebellion and escape, despite her background, actually emphasizes the dynamic nature of her character.
    2) In this society, love is a legitimized disease. It is not a suggested warning or merely a shameful pastime, it is a disease. Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but I liken it to cancer in our society. If a cure to cancer was found or you could be vaccinated against cancer (and it was clinically proven to work), I would no doubt sign myself up and convince all I know to do the same. Why? Because cancer kills. Similarly, in their society, love is a deadly disease and the lobotomy is a vaccination of sorts that prevents contraction of said disease. Of course, through this vaccination, individuals essentially become incapable of intense emotions, making them perfect docile citizens who are content with their lives and incapable of critiquing their society – which is no doubt orchestrated by the rulers of their society.
    So, in order to rebel, to truly rebel – as I do not consider Hana’s short-term dalliance with unapproved music concerts a whole-hearted rejection and rebellion of their society – you have to both realize that the Love-Is-A-Disease truth is in fact not a truth and reject the operation. So, for Lena to realize the discrepancies and the flaws in her society, she essentially must fall in love. I agree that this is a negative construction of femininity and a poor exemplification of the strength of female characters but I think the fault lies more with Meyer’s construction of the world in Delirium rather than of her construction of Lena. Rather, the fact that Lena is willing to even risk the contraction of a proven disease shows bravery to the point of recklessness, an ideal trait for rebels.
    3) Lastly, I would like to emphasize that the main trigger for Lena’s rebellion was not her love for Alex, but rather the discovery that her mother is actually still alive. Her mother did not, in fact, die. She was instead put into the Crypts, left to suffer and rot away in a cold concrete slab for the rest of her life. Through this discovery, Lena’s eyes are fully opened to the fabrications, holes, and faults of her society, leading to her full turn towards rebellion and eventual escape.
    To conclude, while I find your post an interesting read, I must emphasize that Lena’s rebellion – despite her background, despite the risk of death by disease, and driven by the truth of her mother – is in fact more dynamic than Hana, and paints Lena as a brave, strong-willed rebel.

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  8. While it is problematic that Lena’s rebellion is so closely tied to her desire to be with Alex, love is a necessary component of rebellion because it is the greatest indiscretion in her society. If Lena’s love for Alex is problematic in terms of invoking female stereotypes, perhaps the entire premise of the novel is problematic in that it requires Lena to fall in love in order to rebel against the core values of her government. It is impossible to buy into the premise of the novel without accepting love as the motivator for Lena’s rebellion. So, although you make many great points about Lena’s adherence to traditional female stereotypes, your argument could benefit from a look at how the premise of the novel forces the rebellious protagonist to adhere to these stereotypes. It is not the case that there are many ways in which Lena can effectively rebel in this novel, as the most rebellious act she can do is fall in love. That being said, I do agree that it does not need to be heterosexual love and that love between her and Hana would be as, if not more, rebellious.

    As for your statement in the conclusion that Lena’s character may be a bad example for young adults, I have to disagree in one respect. Yes, it is problematic that she is influenced so heavily by Alex and their relationship, but she also experiences growth, regardless of the fact that it is in part a product of her relationship with Alex. Many of the female protagonists we have seen in other novels are exceptional, and more often than not, the seeds of rebellion are already there at the outset of the novel. For example, Katniss goes into the forbidden area of the woods in order to hunt before she demonstrates any inward desire to rebel. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren has unique and exceptional ideas about escaping her community from the beginning before she actually does anything rebellious. In comparison to these other characters, Lena is more realistic and perhaps more relatable for young adults. It is unfortunate that her growth is tied to romance and male influence, but she is nonetheless a more relatable character than Katniss, Lauren, and many others we have read about. As such, she may provide more inspiration for young women who do not necessarily see themselves as exceptional.

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  9. Lena has only ever had two loving relationships with females in her life: her mother and Hana. I argue that, while Alex broadens Lena’s understanding of her society and encourages her to question the value of love within her society, Hana and Lena’s mother are the dominant characters that inspire Lena’s rebellion.

    As you’ve stated, Lena’s passivity ties in directly to the negative impact her mother’s social deviance and suicide has on her. Lena, when Hana begins to talk negatively about the cure, immediately imagines Hana swimming out into the ocean, an image highly reflective of her mother’s suicide (20). Lena’s distaste for Hana’s rebellious behaviour stems from her understanding of the fatal consequences of rebellious action and her fear for her friend’s safety, a fear that seems to be embedded in her love for her friend; Lena’s decision to warn Hana about the raids clearly emphasizes the strong emotional attachment she has for Hana as she risks her own safety to protect her. The violence prevalent at the raid, an event Lena goes to because of Hana, causes Lena to be disillusioned to the practices of her government and leads to her further questioning of the society.

    As commented above, the revelation that her mother did not commit suicide, but instead rebelled and escaped the crypts ultimately causes Lena’s decision to leave Portland and live in the Wilds. Lena frequently focuses on the way Hana looks and acts because she loves her deeply and is initially afraid of losing her emotional attachment to Hana after the cure and later fears forgetting Hana after leaving Portland and “[tries] to memorize her exactly as she is: tan and happy and beautiful and [hers]”. While Alex does play a significant role in Lena’s development of rebellious characteristics, it’s inaccurate to suggest that he is the dominant figure that inspires her to rebel or that his influence overshadows Hana’s or Lena’s mothers.

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  10. Hi Katie and Sally,

    In regards to your first question, I think that the only universe in which a passive, queer Lena would exist is one where queerness and heterosexuality are both seen as the same within ‘Delirium’s’ society. As Meyer’s novel makes no mention to any romantic or sexual attraction outside of heterosexuality it is hard to envision Lena as queer within the current setting and plot. If Meyer’s had included queer identities or an idea of how they are presented within Lena’s world in ‘Delirium’ we would have a better understanding of how Lena’s character would react. If her world believed in heterosexuality and queerness I do not believe that Lena would be any different due to her acceptance in society being the same.
    However, if a queer storyline was added to this novel that went against social standards I do think that Lena would have more autonomous depending on her oppressions. I think that Lena’s autonomy is lost in ‘Delirium’ through the reader’s interpretation of her actions rather than the author’s lack of character development. This is not to say that Lena wouldn’t be different if she was queer. An ‘abnormal’ or othered identity allows a character to create an identity outside of social perceptions (within and outside of the novel), creating more room for character development and their reactions to certain scenarios.
    I think that in this case, if queerness was not accepted Lena would learn to resist her society’s views because they are a rejection of her identity. While sexual and romantic attraction are linked to love, the rejection of someone’s identity creates greater need for rebellion. And when this rejection is also linked to emotion – love – the need for social rebellion grows even more.
    I would have enjoyed reading ‘Delirium’ with a queer storyline, especially for its main character. While I think that Lena’s character would have been more intricate and engaging as a character if she was queer, I realize I’m biased. I crave for a YA dystopian novel that is subversive and turns the genre’s tropes upside down by introducing a queer plot. Constantly reading stereotypical heteronormative dystopian ‘love’ stories becomes tiring when they follow the same script, hit the same plot points, and end with a girl’s worth lying in the hands of a man.

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  11. I found this post particularly intriguing and thought provoking as you both raise some very interesting points in regards to Lena and her femininity. In terms of the ‘negative ideas of femininity’, (I would perhaps reword this phrase), it could be argued the stereotype of passitivity, a negative trait associated with femininity, is one way in which Lena reinforces this ideology. This is echoed through Lena desiring to undergo the cure and conforming to the ways of her own society, purely because she thinks this will help her, and her thinking of herself as plain, and average. Exerting traits such as low self-esteem and passitivity, it could be argued that these are negative traits reinforced by Lena. However, Lena soon rebels against her society and thereby challenges these typically negative traits of femininity, through her heterosexual romance. This is ultimately paradoxical as it both gives Lena agency and power, by constructing a form of femininity that challenges notions of passitivity, whilst also adhering to tropes and stereotypes that girls depend on, or need a male figure in their lives. Therefore, I agree with your point that having Lena as a homosexual could have created a more three dimensional and engaging protagonist, that arguably makes for a more inclusive and realist representation of femininity.

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  12. I think I would like to play devil’s advocate, and disagree with the general tone of most of the comments here, and would like to agree that Lena as a character reinforces negative ideas of femininity. I personally would be ignoring the larger issue if I did not find Lena’s character to be problematic. I couldn’t ignore that Alex was the inspiration behind Lena’s rebellion, and let me down. Whether I am being too critical of Lena, and ignoring the agency and drive she does exert, I feel by making Alex the ‘inspiration’, this becomes a novel that again mirrors heteropatriachal society and again, signifies to young female readers that this is the norm, or rather should be the norm. Having read a few of the responses, I can see that a lot of people agree that Lena’s desire to rebel is sparked by Hana at the parties, but I would not call this a rebellion as such, and think rebellion in itself is an arbitrary word that many may disagree on. I firmly believe Alex ignited Lena’s desire to rebel, as it is he who broadens her understanding of her very own society, he in a sense, guides Lena, while she follows and falls into place. While agreeing Lena reinforces negative ideas of femininity, I have pondered if I believe Lena would have rebelled if it wasn’t for Alex encouraging her and I sadly think no, which is what cements my answer. This acknowledgement of boys being the potential driving force behind the decisions of girls, is severely problematic when analysing this novel as miniature dystopian construct of our own society, I might even contend that is does more harm than good?

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  13. I enjoyed reading your post and agree with many of the ideas that you have raised. I agree that Lena’s passivity provides a commentary on femininity, in that it plays into the stereotypes of girlhood. However, I would argue that the inclusion of a character like Hana creates a juxtaposition of femininity. As you’ve said, Hana does not have the typical attributes associated with femininity, and instead participates in rebellion. Her position next to Lena demonstrates a contrast of girlhood, providing the reader with two different types of powerful girls.
    While I agree that Lena is passive, I do not mean to suggest that she is not strong. Her connection to Alex displays an emotional strength that is powerful, and in this case, dangerous. By having two strong females so closely related, Oliver is demonstrating the dimensions of femininity. Femininity does not have to exist as the stereotypes that are present, but that does not mean that those stereotypes negate a strong female presence.
    I would also argue that the relationship between Lena and Hana would have been a better contrast to stereotypes of femininity if it had been a homosexual relationship, however I recognize that there are other social, political, and economical reasons for Oliver to exclude it.

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