The construction of Pressia’s body in Pure sees signifiers inscribed on the body in a very literal way. Foucalt sees the body as an ‘object and target of power’—it can be ‘manipulated and shaped’ (136), and the population outside the Dome have bodies that have been literally manipulated and shaped by the Detonation. This theme of the re-inscribed body in the text ties in closely with the concept of girlhood, and of Pressia’s struggle with her own body and its limitations, especially as she has a doll’s head fused to her, which can be seen itself as a symbol of girlhood. She thinks she was ‘too old for a doll’ (Baggott 9) when she remembers the Detonation, and this is indeed the moment where she is forced to grow up. As Pressia has her childhood ripped away from her, an object from that childhood becomes a permanent part of her. The doll head is a symbol not only of childhood but of girlhood and femininity, which Pressia can’t escape.
While Pressia is embarrassed by the doll head and tries to hide it using a sock or her sleeve, reminiscent of Cinder hiding her cyborg hand, it doesn’t seem to physically limit her in any way but serves as a reminder of her status. She manufactures mechanical toys and has no problem with physical activities, and is active, intelligent and focused on her goals. The character’s experience of girlhood is her struggle for survival, and she is mostly unconcerned with her appearance and romance. Yet despite all this the doll head persists as a means of control she can’t get rid of, inscribed on her body as a reminder of her powerlessness against the system that she lives in. It is described as not merely attached to her but a part of her, showing the interconnectedness of her experience of girlhood and the atrocities committed by the powers in her society; there is no way for her to separate herself from these things. As Bradwell argues in the text, the objects that have fused to people are a part of them and their history, and he ‘wears [his] marks with pride’ (Baggott 166).
Similarly, the women Partridge and Bradwell later discover have jewellery and garden shears fused into them, the symbols of their hated former lives as suburban housewives. Just as the parts of the housewives’ lives–their gardening equipment, jewellery and even their children–become twisted and horrific as they fuse after the detonation; the doll, an innocent symbol of childhood, also becomes monstrous. In this way, Pressia’s fused ‘doll-head fist’ can also be seen as symbolising the monstrous feminine; through the doll’s head girlhood is seen as ‘shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject’ (Creed 67). The reader sees her body as disturbing and abject, and Pressia herself is at times alienated from her own body. Baggott draws on tropes of body horror in creating the people fused with objects, animals, and other people—using a genre that ‘constructs and confronts us with the fascinating…aspect of abjection’ (Creed 70). By making the site of the abject a symbol of girlhood, Baggott can explore Pressia’s specific experience of being a girl and a victim of the Detonation in relation to the body.
In this way, the ‘wretches’, or fused people outside of the Dome are the Other or abject in society. Creed argues that ‘the place of the abject is ‘the place where meaning collapses’, the place where ‘I’ am not’. To the subjects of the Dome, the outside world is the ‘place where ‘I’ am not’, and contains a collapse of meaning as people, institutions and order do not exist as they recognise it. It is the site of the dangerous and threatening Other, and must be ‘radically excluded’ (Creed 71) through means of the Dome walls. The border between the Dome and outside world is a physical barrier but also acts, according to Creed’s ideas of borders, to produce the ‘monstrous’; the fused people are excluded and become abject. For Pressia, this means she is alienated from herself as a human and as a girl. By being outside the Dome and fused, her body is outside the barrier of normal girlhood and instead is the site of abject girlhood. This is constructed in a literal way by the border of the Dome, as it is being outside these borders which has physically changed her body. Furthermore, Creed (71) states that ‘the monstrous is produced at the border which separates those who take up their proper gender roles from those who do not’. Pressia cannot be seen as a girl from those inside the Dome; as well as not conforming to gender roles she is outside this border, so her body is, again, constructed as monstrous. This alienation from her own body is again shown through how Pressia hides her doll-head fist, and remembers at one point trying to cut it off; an act of self-mutilation since it is so completely fused that it is a part of her.
The people fused in more extreme ways, like the dusts who are fused with the ground, further bring up wider questions of humanity and the line between human and non-human. This can be linked to Creed’s analysis of the monstrous and the horror film, which describes the horror genre as ‘the fascinating, seductive aspect of abjection’ (Creed 70). Creatures such as vampires, described as ‘bodies without souls’, or zombies, ‘living corpses’ (Creed 70), can be related to Pure through the groupies or creatures fused enough to not be considered human anymore, which raises the question of the positioning of the boundary between human and non-human. Pressia and Bradwell are, regardless of their fusions, still considered human, whereas the ‘dusts’ are fused in a way that does not keep their humanity intact. Although these creatures still have ‘human’ features, such as eyes, they are portrayed as non-human, animalistic, and monstrous. Humans, animals, earth, and objects are ‘mixed’ through fusion (Baggott 25), which creates complex and diverse creatures that act individually from each other.
Another interesting way to look at this distinction of humanity is the difference in perspective regarding people inside- and outside the dome. To the people inside the dome, anyone who lives on the outside is ‘deformed, no longer human’ (Baggott 176). However, to the people on the outside, there are more aspects involved in defining humanity. To the Pures, anyone who isn’t Pure is considered non-human, whereas for non-Pures, the ‘scope’ of humanity is more important. Furthermore, Foucaults’s description of a ‘political anatomy’ can also be linked to Pure. This term is described as control over someone’s body, ‘with the techniques, speed, and efficiency that one determines’ (Foucault, 138). One way to look at this definition is through coding of the Pure within the dome. Young men are physically and mentally ‘coded’ in order to be controlled and utilized by the government. Their physical abilities are heightened, they become faster, larger, and stronger through manipulation, and their brains are installed to think in favor of the government and its policies. Coding can therefore be related to Foucault’s docile bodies theory in a quite literal way, a ‘policy of co-ercions that act upon the body’ (Foucalt 138). When looking at the fusion of animals and humans during the Detonations, there is a clear distinction between ‘human’ and ‘non-human’. But what is to determine who is in ‘control’? Why have some people fused more than others, and what decides whether or not someone is considered human? Here, again, the humanity boundary comes to mind. The way Foucault describes docile bodies as subjected (138) can be linked to for example El Capitan, whose brother is fused to his back, yet El Capitan is clearly in control.
Ultimately, the fused bodies in Pure are re-inscribed and controlled by the state, and the Pures themselves are controlled through coding that alters their behaviour. While both groups are controlled, the borders of the Dome separate the groups, othering fused bodies and constructing them as inhuman or monstrous. For Pressia, this means coming to terms with her own body as the abject and her doll-head fist as an enforced sign of femininity inscribed upon it.
- To what extent does Pure signify current society and its docility? Should it be seen as a metaphor for government control, or is it only speculative?
- Are there any other examples of Foucault’s description of docility within the novel?
- How do these ideas of control and domesticity tie into ideas of girlhood?
Julianna Baggott: Pure
Barbara Creed: The Monstrous Feminine
Michel Foucalt: Docile Bodies