Ass-backwards; a critical paper on "The Beautiful Room is Empty" by Edmund White, analyzing the main character Bunny Larkin and gay culture in america.

Essay by limabeanCollege, Undergraduate May 2004

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What makes someone gay? This question seems nearly impossible for Edmund White to answer in his novel, The Beautiful Room is Empty. What does his autobiographical character, Bunny Larkin, mean when he identifies himself as queer? One might find countless answers to this question in White's story, as homosexuality is thoroughly explored, yet never explained. The most obvious and perhaps the most dangerous definition of homosexuality lies in with which gender one chooses to have sex. From this preference stems an array of attitudes and behaviors that one might adopt to further his self-proclaimed identity as "not-straight" thereby identifying himself as "gay". Sex defines homosexuality, but does it define the homosexual? Given the attributes one might take on to distinguish himself from being straight, it could be said that homosexuality is a choice one makes. This was the belief of Bunny's father and psychologist, which he ambivalently and inconsistently shared, struggling to fight his homosexual tendencies.

On his search for his true self, it seems as if Bunny Larkin's sense of self, which is always lacking, goes completely awry.

Bunny's decisions, ideas, and pursuits are always a vain attempt to please others. Behind every choice he makes is the need to impress, to climb social hierarchies, and to gain acceptance. He is constantly contradicting himself, trying to become the character that will be most pleasing to those with whom he is most enamored. His relationship with Maria, an influential friend of his, is a prime example of his chameleon-like attitude, namely during his years in high school and early college.

"Because I admired Maria, I wanted to be like her- or the image of me she cherished. She said that I liked everyone so much and entered into everything so readily that life became more exciting...