Part fiction and part autobiography, A Boy’s Own Story is the tale of a youth discovering his homosexuality in the 1940’s and 1950’s in America. The work is remarkable for its lyrical celebration of physical beauty and for its sharp criticism of a homophobic society.
In his teens, the boy Edmund enjoys a brief sexual relationship with Kevin, a slightly younger friend. Their intimacy is represented as natural and idyllic, undisturbed by the guilt and self-hatred that society will later impose upon Edmund because he is homosexual. The joyous experience with Kevin is something that Edmund will never be able to recapture, for society’s prejudice and Edmund’s internalized homophobia will make it very difficult for him to achieve a positive homosexual identity.
When he is an older teen, Edmund feels physically attracted to Tom, another male friend, but he dares not act on his desires for fear of being labeled a homosexual. Instead, Edmund tries to convince himself that he is in love with Linda, a popular young woman, and he indulges in escapist fantasies of a heterosexual marriage that will gain him society’s approval. Edmund also turns to Buddhism in the belief that it will help him to escape all desire. Finally, Christianity and psychoanalysis fail to affirm his identity as a young gay man: Father Burke tells him that homosexuality is a sin, and Dr. O’Reilly tries to cure him, as if being gay were a disease.
Unfortunately, Edmund’s father does not serve as a positive role model either. A chronic adulterer, the father eventually abandons Edmund’s mother for another woman, leaving the family bereft of affection and money. The father considers his athletic daughter to be more like the son he had wanted, rejecting the bookish Edmund as a sissy. In the end, Edmund acts on his gay desires: He has sex with an older teacher, Mr. Beattie. Society has made Edmund feel guilty about his homosexuality, however, so he turns Mr. Beattie in to the school authorities. In this way, Edmund attempts to deny his sexual identity. Furthermore, he is unconsciously repeating his father’s pattern of behavior, abandoning the people he loves.
A Boy’s Own Story ends on a pessimistic note, with Edmund still unable to achieve a positive gay identity. His struggle to affirm his homosexuality is not over; a sequel, The Beautiful Room Is Empty(1988), follows Edmund into the 1960’s and the beginnings of the gay liberation movement.
Kiss of the Spider Womanis Manuel Puig's fourth and best-known novel. It was first published in Spanish in 1976 as El beso de la mujer arana, then translated and published in English in 1979. Puig became most popularly known to the English-speaking public for the critically acclaimed 1985 screen adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman, starring William Hurt, Raul Julia, and Sonia Braga.
Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on two characters: Valentin, a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina, a homosexual window-dresser, who share a prison cell for six months. Molina passes the time by telling Valentin the stories of his favorite movies in great detail. Valentin at first reluctantly listens to Molina's narration of these tales of melodramatic romance, criticizing Molina for indulging in escapist fantasies rather than in political activism. But Valentin eventually becomes enthralled with the stories, as he becomes emotionally drawn to Molina. Molina, meanwhile, has secretly agreed to elicit information from Valentin in order to pass it on to the prison authorities. Over the course of their confinement, however, the two men fall in love and ultimately become lovers. Upon his release from prison, Molina agrees to help Valentin in his political cause by passing on important information to his fellow revolutionaries.
Kiss of the Spider Woman focuses on the theme of the conflict between personal emotions, relationships, and desires vs. political idealism and activism. Valentin begins as a revolutionary who disregards pleasure and romance, while Molina begins as a man obsessed with the escapist fantasies provided by movies. As a result of their interactions, however, the two men transform one another, Valentin eventually succumbing to his emotional and physical desire for Molina, and Molina agreeing to sacrifice himself for Valentin's political cause. Puig's novel also employs experimental narrative techniques in its use of dialogue and fragmentary information, such as letters and prison reports, as well as in the extensive use of footnotes, which present a discussion of the psychological literature on homosexuality throughout the novel. Kiss of the Spider Woman is also characteristic of Puig's fiction in its extensive reference to classic cinema and its profound effect on the lives of his characters as a means of escapist fantasy.
The Immoralist is based on Gide’s personal experience of discovering his homosexuality while traveling as a young man in North Africa. The Immoralist is narrated by Michel, a young man who describes his marriage to Marceline, a woman he hardly knew, and lays bare the developments of his inner life during the first few years of their marriage. While on an extended honeymoon in North Africa, Michel finds himself attracted to young Arab boys.
This experience inspires him to embark on a journey of self-discovery through which he eventually finds himself leading a double life: he presents a false facade to his wife, while going out on his own to follow his natural inclinations and experience his true inner being. Back home in France, Marceline announces that she is pregnant.
Meanwhile, Michel finds himself increasingly drawn to healthy and attractive young men. Becoming ill from tuberculosis, Marceline suffers a miscarriage. Michel, motivated by a strong desire to return to North Africa, pushes her to travel with him, despite her deteriorating health. After she dies, Michel is left to grapple with the meaning of his own life, and to come to terms with his homosexual tendencies.
The central theme of The Immoralist is repressed homosexuality. Gide’s narrative further explores themes of life versus death, mind versus body, and the process of self-discovery.