Tag Archive: The Bechdel test

The Original: Females

Does the book contain one or more female characters? Yes

Do these characters have names? Yes: Sarah, Ernestina, Aunt Tranter, Mrs. Poultney, Mrs. Talbot, Mrs. Fairley, Milly, Mary

Do these characters talk to one another? Yes

Do they discuss something other than men? Yes. Mrs. Fairley and Mrs. Poulteney talk about Sarah. The one time that conversation is witnessed by the reader, however, they discuss Sarah walking through what serves in the story as the red light district. Therefore, while the conversation is not about men, it does indirectly pertain to men.

Other-The fascinating thing about a Victorian novel being written in the late sixties is the perspective and self-awareness The French Lieutenant’s Woman has. While the 60’s were not as advanced when it comes to feminism as we are, today, the author is surprisingly advanced for his time: “What are we faced with in the nineteenth century? An age where woman was sacred; and where you could buy a thirteen-year-old girl for a few pounds–a few shillings, if you wanted her for only an hour or two. Where more churches were built than in the whole previous history of the county; and where one in sixty houses in London was a brothel…Where the sanctity or marriage (and chastity before marriage) was proclaimed from every pulpit, in every newspaper editorial and public utterance; and where never–or hardly ever–have so many great public figures, from the future king down, led scandalous private lives…Where the female body had never been so hidden from view; and where every sculptor was judged by his ability to carve naked women…Where it was universally maintained that women do not have orgasms; and yet every prostitute was taught to simulate them. Where there was enormous progress and liberation in every other field of human activity; and nothing but tyranny in the most personal and fundamental” (p266-267).


Does the book contain one or more characters of a minority race? No

Other: “My dear Charles, if you play the Muslim in a world of Puritans, you can expect no other treatment,” the doctor tells the main character. While there are no minority characters in Victorian England, this statement does imply that there is awareness of other races, at least in the more educated population of the country.


Does the book contain one or more gay characters? It is unclear, though the book does make mention of the question, during a scene in which the main heroine is seen in bed with another woman: “But some vices were then so unnatural that they did not exist. I doubt if Mrs. Poulteney had ever heard of the word “lesbian”; and if she had, it would have commenced with a capital , and referred to an island in Greece . . . But what of Sarah’s motives? As regards lesbianism, she was as ignorant as her mistress” (p. 157-158). Is Sarah a lesbian? Maybe.


Does the book contain one or more lower-class characters? Yes. There is a significant amount of time spent on the romantic subplot between two lower class characters.

Do these characters have names? Millie, Mary, Sam…

Do these characters talk to one another? Yes, frequently.

Do they discuss something other than the upper class? Sam and Mary discuss their love, marriage, as well as make some small talk. The conversation that the reader is privy to does tend to revolve around the larger plot, Charles and Sarah, so the instances of Mary and Sam talking, unrelated to their employers are few, but existent, none the less.

Other– The narrator, in his more “enlightened” viewpoint, seems to have interesting opinions about the Victorian class structure. Mr. Freeman, one of the only financially successful characters in the novel offers Charles, his future son-in-law at the time, his business. This immediately pits Charles in a quandary. Though he has no money, it’s so plebeian to work for money. Gentlemen simply don’t do that. The most respectable character in the novel, Dr. Grogan, is both learned, middle class, and self-employed in the business of helping others.

Also important to mention is the distinction and time the author spends on Sam’s position: “Of course, to us any Cockney servant called Sam evokes immediately the immortal Weller; and it was certainly from that background that this Sam had emerged…But the difference between Sam Weller and Sam Farrow (that is, between 1836 and 1867) was this: the first was happy with his role, the second suffered it. Weller would have answered the bag of soot, and with a verbal vengeance. Sam had stiffened, ‘rose his hibrows’ and turned his back.” This paves the way for much more characterization and time spent on/with Sam, but it only ends up being foreshadowing.


The Original: Females

Does the book contain one or more female characters? Yes

Do these characters have names? Yes: Daisy, Jordan, Myrtle, Catherine, Lucille

Do these characters talk to one another? Yes

Do they discuss something other than men? Yes. Travel (p.34)

Other-Though Fitzgerald seems to be less sexist than many of his contemporaries, the predominant sexist attitude of the time tends to slip through on occasion. For instance, when Nick first describes the lavish parties at Gatsby’s house: “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths” (p.39). One could make the argument that, like many of the wealthy men of today, the men of Gatsby’s parties are attracted to women very much their juniors, and therefore, Nick is simply describing the party-goers as he sees them. However, when speaking about his lover Jordan, this bias becomes clearer: “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply” (p.58). Clearly, Nick can’t hold Jordan to the same moral standard as he would a man, because she is just a weak woman. The last sexist moment doesn’t come from Nick, but rather from Tom. Tom serves as the window character to show some of the more repulsive commonly held views of upper class society members of the day. Near the end of the novel, Tom makes Daisy drive home with Gatsby shortly after Gatsby reveals to him that he is in love with Daisy and that he intends to run off with her. For some reason, Daisy agrees, showing that both she and Gatsby are powerless in the face of Tom. To add insult to injury, Nick tells Gatsby after the fact, “I don’t think she ever loved him…You must remember, old sport, she was very excited this afternoon. He told her things in a way that frightened her” (p.152). Ah, yes. Women are known to betray every emotion and relationship they’ve ever had once they get excited, just like a dog that urinates on itself.


Does the book contain one or more characters of a minority race? Yes: “A Finnish woman, who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove. ” (p.4)

Do these characters have names? No.

Other: Fitzgerald uses Tom to show the worst traits of upper class society, therefore making him a racist, along with many other things. Tom goes on and on in long rants about his views of minorities: “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be–will be utterly submerged…It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out of these other races will have control of things;” “Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white” (p.130). This racism also extends to Myrtle, Tom’s mistress, but to a lesser extent: “I almost married a little kike who’d been after me for years. I knew he was below me” (p.34). However, the idea that Fitzgerald is using racism as a literary device falls through once the narrator starts saying things a bit off color: “As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed  aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry” (p.69); “A pale well-dressed negro stepped near” (p.139).


Does the book contain one or more gay characters? No.


Does the book contain one or more lower-class characters? Yes and no. The book is aware of lower class characters, and even pitches Nick as one of them, as he is not super rich. However, someone whose parents pay for him to take a year off after college to find himself is pretty far from poor by any standards. The book constantly refers to these characters, but treats them as mythical creatures that they’ve all been told about in fairy tales: “One thing’s sure and nothing’s surer / The rich get richer and the poor get—children” (song p.95). Oh plight of the lower classes, you’re so funny.

The Bechdel Test Project

In this article  Frank Kovarik wrote for Jezebel, he began applying the Bechdel test to the classic literature he teaches in high school. For those of you unfamiliar, the Bechdel Test, created by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip puts movies to three simple questions:

  • Does a movie contain two or more female characters who have names?
  • Do those characters talk to each other?
  • And, if so, do they discuss something other than a man?

A surprising number of films do not pass even the first of these questions, and very few can answer “yes” to all three.

You may think that it’s unfair to apply this test to classic literature. After all, we know that the majority of literature was written by old, white men, (in some cases young white men) but it is also true that these works are and have been extremely influential in American culture. After all, we all must read some amount of classic literature before we graduate any level of education, be it middle school, high school, or upper level education. Applying the Bechdel test to sexism, racism, homosexism, and classism and seeing how literature’s perception compares to the real world could give some insight into the collective consciousness of America.

So that is exactly what I intend to do. I’ve compiled a list of 78 books taken from 3 100 best novel lists: Modern Library, Time Magazine, and the New York Times. If a novel made more than one of these lists, it made my final list. I now intend to read every one of these books and analyze them in terms of sexism, racism, homosexism, and classism. Wish me luck.

  1. *ULYSSES by James Joyce
  2. *THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. *LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. *BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
  6. *THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
  7. *CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. *THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
  9. *UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
  10. *1984 by George Orwell
  11. *I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
  12. *TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
  13. *AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
  14. *THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
  15. *INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
  16. *NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
  18. *A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
  19. *ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
  20. *A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
  21. *AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
  22. *THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
  23. *GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
  24. *THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
  25. *LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
  26. *DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
  27. *A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
  28. *THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
  29. *TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
  30. *PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
  31. *LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
  32. *ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
  33. *THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
  35. *THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
  36. *A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
  37. *OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
  38. *HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
  39. *THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
  40. *A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
  41. *THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark
  42. *BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
  44. *THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen
  45. *RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
  46. *THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
  47. *LOVING by Henry Green
  48. *MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
  49. *THE MAGUS by John Fowles
  50. *WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
  51. *UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
  52. *THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
  53. *ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand (cheat)
  54. *THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
  55. *TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
  56. *DUNE by Frank Herbert
  57. *GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon
  58. *SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
  59. *GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
  60. *A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving
  61. *THE STAND by Stephen King
  63. *BELOVED by Toni Morrison
  65. *BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy
  66. *ON THE BEACH by Nevil Shute
  67. *GREENMANTLE by Charles de Lint
  68. *THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis
  69. *AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O’Brien
  70. *WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
  71. *NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs

73. *The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
74. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
75. The Golden Notebook (1962), by Doris Lessing

76. Herzog (1964), by Saul Bellow-?

77. Possession (1990), by A.S. Byatt-?

78. *Watchmen (1986), by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons