In the short story Lust , the narrator talks in detail about her sexual promiscuity and the various boys she has slept with while away at boarding school. Throughout the story, there are several motivating factors that contributed to the narrator s sexual behavior. At first, her behavior began because she was away from her parents and it was new and rebellious. The second motivating factor was the environment she was in while she was at boarding school. Her friends, both guys and girls, contributed to her behavior as well. Also, the lack of concern by the authority figures played a part in her decisions. Finally, her search for love and security, or an emotional connection with these boys played a big role on her actions. All these motivating factors played a huge role in contributing to the narrator s sexual behavior.
The narrator s behavior began because it was new and rebellious. All teenagers go through a stage in their lives when they begin experimenting with various things such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. These acts so exciting at first because they are new and exciting, but more importantly, because your parents have no idea what you are doing. This is what sparked off the narrator s sexual behavior. The narrator comments, My parents had no idea. Parents never really know what s going on, especially when you re away at school most of the time (257). This comment by the narrator suggests that having sex with these guys is so much more fun and exciting because her parents didn t know what she was doing. She obviously knows that her actions would disappoint her parents, especially her mother because she states, I kept the [birth control] dial in my top drawer like my mother and thought of her each time I tipped out the yellow tablets in the
morning before chapel (259). As you can see, she definitely knows she is doing something that would upset her mother because she thinks of her every time she takes the pill. This causes the reader to believe that perhaps the rebelliousness of her behavior is contributing to her actions.
The environment s convenience and lack of parental control was also a key motivational factor contributing to her promiscuous behavior. In a co-ed boarding school with virtually no supervision, teenagers have a prime opportunity to experiment freely. It was obviously easy to sneak around with boys and not get caught. She states, We hid in the listening rooms during study hall. With a record cover over the door s window, the teacher on duty couldn t look in. I came out flushed and heady and back at the dorm was surprised how red my lops were in the mirror (258). In another instance with a different boy, she states, Simon snuck out and met me at Main Gate after lights-out. We crept to the chapel and spent the night in the balcony (260). You can plainly see that it wasn t very difficult to hide out somewhere if you really wanted to. The parental-free environment as well as the convenience of the co-ed atmosphere was a second contributing motivating factor to the narrator s sexual behavior.
Her friends, both guys and girls, are shaping the narrator s actions throughout the story as well. Her girlfriends always make comments to her when they sit around in the common room that you always have a boyfriend (259). After this comment, she looks at her friends and thinks to herself, As if (p. 259). She obviously believes to herself that none of these guys are actually her boyfriends, but her friends always see her with boys,
which leads them to suspect that she always has a boyfriend. This may subconsciously tell her that she must always have a boyfriend because it would be strange if she didn t. Also, if the doctor gave out the pill like aspirin (259) then maybe see feels like she has to keep up with all her friends and have sex they like they do. In addition, the boys at her school shape her behavior because they already have a preconceived notion of what they are going to get if they go out with her. They more than likely know how she is and what they can get from her so she is going to be the first girl they go after. Although the reputation she has is her own fault, it is pretty difficult to change when sex is almost expected from her. Also, since according to narrator the worst thing anyone could call you was a cock-teaser (259), if she flirted, she was always prepared to go through with it. These expectations of her from both her boyfriends and girlfriends are another motivating factor contributing to her sexual behavior.
Not only did she have no parental guidance in her life, but it also seemed that the authority figures at her school almost promoted that type of behavior. For example, the narrator states that, the joke was that the school doctor gave out the pill like aspirin. He didn t ask you anything (259). This is absurd to me because instead of giving fifteen year-olds the pill, the doctors should try to at least try to promote abstinence and try to convince the girls that they are not old enough to have sex. Another instance is at the point in the story when the girls went to see the housemother of their boarding school, Mrs. Gunther for advice. When the girls suggested that guys always want something from you and you feel like you have to deliver something, she replied, You do, babies (p.
262). That comment alone suggests that sex is basically the only thing that women are good for. What Mrs. Gunther did by that comment was reinforce to the narrator that sex is the only thing that guys want. Finally, when the headmaster received complaints about her amorous displays on the town green (261), he told her that he didn t care what she did so if she s going to smooch with her boyfriend, there are twenty acres for you to do it out of the public eye (262).
Finally, her search for love and security, or an emotional connection with these boys played a big role on her actions. It is possible that she doesn t think that she good at anything else and she has nothing else to offer. She states, I could do some things well. Some things I was good at which felt like a relief at first until it became like sinking into a muck (p. 258). It may also be that she has very little self-esteem and likes the security of being with a man. She says, Certain nights you d feel a certain surrender, maybe if you d had wine. The surrender would be forgetting yourself and you d put your nose to his neck and feel like a squirrel, safe, at rest, in a restful dream (p. 258). The narrator s problem is that at some point in her life she must have felt very insecure about herself, which causes her to seek some security from the various boys that she sleeps with. In addition, she may also believe that in order for these guys to love her she must sleep with them. Apparently she doesn t think that sex comes after love, but love comes after sex. She comments after her escapade with gentle Eddie that I never saw him again after that but I thought, I could have loved that one (261). The narrator s search for an emotional connection totally mesmerizes her when she is with these boys which
causes the reader to believe that this search for love is an other motivational factor contributing to her behavior.
There is plenty of evidence, however, to suggest that despite all of these motivational factors, she felt very empty, worthless, and like a piece of meat before, during, and after her encounters. During her encounter with Tim, when he returned to her after closing the door, she referred herself as a body waiting on the rug (257). This clearly suggests that she doesn t think she is anything more to him other than a body he can do what he pleases to. She states that you start to get tired. You begin to feel diluted, like watered-down stew (260). One would think that if she feels that diluted and less pure after she has sex with these guys then she should probably stop, but it s not that easy. Near the end of the short story she comments, You wonder about things feeling a little off-kilter. You begin to feel like a piece of pounded veal (262). She also states, After sex, you curl up like a shrimp, something deep inside you ruined, slammed in a place that sickens at slamming, and slowly you fill up with an overwhelming sadness, an elusive gaping worry (262). It is clear that by the end of the story, she isn t even enjoying her experiences anymore, however, it just might be too late to turn herself around.
The narrator in lust is clearly a complicated person with many factors influencing her behavior. At first, he new and rebellious lifestyle took control of her behavior. Also, the parental free environment at school contributed to her actions because it was so convenient for guys and girls to get together. Another motivating factor was the pressure
she received from her boyfriends and girlfriends. The authority figures contributed as well because they are very unconcerned about their student s behavior. Finally, her search for love and an emotional connection overwhelmed her many times while she was with various boys. Despite all of these motivating factors, by the end of the story, the narrator is unhappy with herself and doesn t know why she continues with her sexual behavior. However, her behavior continues, which leads the reader to believe that the motivators in her life are taking over her inner self and her life.
Meyer. Boston: Bedford 1999. p. 256-263.