Shades of Grey

I wanted to write this post as a preface to an upcoming post, but I probably should have written it a while ago, because as I see it, it’s a bit of an issue with all of my posts. It’s also a bit of an issue I’ve had with discussions elsewhere as well – the ability to discuss things, and how rigid views can be in favour of one side or the other.  I’ve had to deal with one part of this problem with my Team Sookie post, but this is the other sort of half to that. In the interests of saving myself time, I want to link to this puppy in future, so that maybe if people haven’t read stuff, I can save myself time rather than spend half of my posts with the eternal disclaimers. I even made a funny picture:

True Blood might suck, but thank God for the shooping material

See that? I understand that I’m hurting Eric by daring to call him cruel for biting his wife hard? Poor little lamb. But this is making a joke of the problem that I think is a bigger issue – whether you’re Team Sookie, Team Eric/Bill/Alcide/Quinn/Sam – and that is the issue of polarisation. It’s a bit of a problem with discussions too – and increasingly discussions here.

The Team Sookie post and the picture was prompted by the implication that I must hate Eric if I say he’s done bad things. If I really liked him, I wouldn’t conclude that Eric has done bad things. Nor would I ever mention them without giving a huge explanation as to why they were really okay things to do. And it’s not the first time that people have said it to me either – that if I really liked Eric, I would have only good things to say about him. Like if I really loved my husband, I never would have accused him of being a fish killer. It gets under my skin a bit that men have to be infantilised to such a point that they can’t withstand any criticism of their actions, but only positive stuff, particularly in light of the bashing that the women take (Sookie and all other women who cross Eric’s path or do anything so daring as sleep with him or want to sleep with him while blatantly not being Sookie).

And it’s fucking everywhere. When CH said that Eric is not a traditional romance hero, but rather a pragmatic murderer, there was outrage. This was taken to meaning that CH didn’t like Eric, and that she was trying to uninvest readers in the character. That was often extrapolated out to mean that Sookie and Eric would never have a HEA. Ever.

This is the fundamental problem with discussions – one thing is said, and seemingly, it needs to become a way of understanding the whole thing. Some readers can’t discern that I could agree with CH that he’s a pragmatic murderer, and furthermore that he has done bad things, and still be for a Sookie and Eric HEA. I just don’t need my lines so clearly delineated in that I have to believe Eric is a fluffy lamb frolicking around not killing people and being a nice guy in order to be for Sookie and Eric being together. But that’s probably because I understand all too well that murderers are people too, and that’s not in the skill set for most people. For them murderer equals very bad man who is in jail, and no one will ever love him.

But I have an example of the way that polarisation is constructed from the books – and indeed, a lot of my posts are made in part to try to counter the polarisation that goes on. Here’s my example:

Sookie knows Eric would never physically hurt her and confident that he would never kill her.

I’m leaving out turning as far as “killing” goes – I think it is, since you have to die, but many people think it’s transforming and changing her, and I don’t want to confuse the argument. So this statement is a polarised view of the books.

I suspect the reasoning goes like so: Sookie loves Eric, Sookie is not constantly on guard around Eric, and therefore, that’s because she knows in some sort of secret way that that Eric would never hurt her, and is confident that he would never kill her. If she worried about such things, she’d be a real hypocrite, and she’d be delusional (I know I’ve read such stuff in reviews) and if she really believed that, she’d have nothing to do with him. What’s of importance in understanding how it is a polarised viewpoint is that it looks at one piece of content (Sookie loves Eric) and ignores all the other content, in order to make a universalised statement. That’s how polarisation is made.

So I’m going to refute that statement with the book content as always. I do believe that Sookie still believes that Eric could and would hurt or kill her if the situation was right. And yet, she still loves him, and she’s not constantly on guard around him. Sometimes one statement is picked out as “proof” that Sookie has this knowledge that Eric would never hurt her, like this one:

It wasn’t the first time Eric had surprised me in my own home. I was going to have
to rescind his invitation to enter. What had stopped me from that drastic step before – what stopped me now – was the idea that if I ever needed help, and he couldn’t enter, I might be dead before I could yell, “Come in!”

Club Dead, p. 34

But that’s not quite the same thing as “would never hurt me”. That’s Sookie understanding that if she needed help, Eric would be able to enter her house and help her out. As it happens, he does just that later on in the book, when there are eight men in her living room beating her to death. But I’m not completely sure she’s taking it for granted that he’d charge right in. Obviously, no vampire would charge into a house that’s on fire, and there’s no kind of ironclad guarantee in either Sookie’s statement or Eric-across-the-room-watching-you-get-staked-Northman’s actions. And I’d like to also point out that Sookie knows that house doesn’t mean safe, rescinded invitations mean little, even if some readers haven’t gotten it yet:

If I gave way to this impulse, I’d have to stay in my house every night for
the rest of my life, because they’d return at dusk the next day and the day
after that and so on, until they got me, because I had their boss.

Dead to the World, p. 41

Being in your house means nothing if vampires want you out. It just gives them an excuse to burn your house down. That’s if they just don’t severely limit your life by making you shit yourself every night of your life, and ensure that you can’t leave the house after sunset for the rest of your life. If Eric was inclined to wait for Sookie (or more likely have minions do so) outside her house, they would eventually get her out. Even if they had to manufacture the circumstances because they had enough waiting.

I should also point out that being on guard around Eric would do nothing. He could move a whole heap faster than Sookie could ever consider – Longshadow would have killed Sookie if Eric wasn’t there to stake him, and she didn’t get warning from Belinda that stuff was about to go down. If Eric decided to kill Sookie, there would be officially jackshit she could do about it, even if she got warning. He’s stronger than her, so he’d eventually get his way, even if she was standing ready for the attack. If he’d decided to drain her at the hard bite, then that’s exactly what he would have done – he stopped because he stopped himself, as always. Whether Eric kills Sookie is contingent entirely on Eric. Sookie has zero control over that.

That doesn’t mean that understanding she has no control over a situation translates automatically into trust that it could never happen. That’s another polarisation of the content. Sookie lets all kinds of creatures in her vicinity without ever having an iron clad guarantee that she will always be safe with them. Weres, fairies, vampires – none of them she can control – nor humans. But Sookie is a lonely woman, so she lives with the risk, and gives up the idea that she can control the situation. She obviously can’t control what all these creatures do, so she just goes along with whatever is going on so she can at least have some company prior to death.

Sookie shows that she understands that she has no control over whether or not supernaturals kill her, most notably here, when Eric threatens to torture Sookie:

“I could torture you until you told me the truth, or until I was sure you had been telling me the truth from the beginning.”
Oh, brother. I took a deep breath, blew it out, and tried to think of an appropriate prayer. God, don’t let me scream too loud seemed kind of weak and negative. Besides, there was no one to hear me besides the vampires, no matter how loudly I shrieked. When the time came, I might as well let it rip.

Club Dead, p. 43

Notice that there’s no thought of “Of course Eric wouldn’t torture me” – because Sookie believes that he would. After all, if she didn’t help Eric with the $60,000, she was told he would torture those waitresses and the accountant. Sookie freely and easily believes the words out of his mouth, and is preparing for the eventuality of when she’s going to scream her head off when the vampires torture her. There’s no sudden realisation either – Sookie isn’t saying “For the first time I realised vampires are dangerous” because that would make Sookie a dumbarse.

I also think it’s kinda surprising too – because Sookie gets bashed for believing the words right out of Eric’s mouth. He says he could torture her, and all manner of fangirls laugh that off, from apparently truthful, honest and unashamed Eric. He’s either honest and unashamed, or he’s not. If he’s a downright honest guy, then he would consider the possibility of torture, and did consider torturing Sookie here. If he sometimes lies his arse off, then this is an example of one of the lies he’s told Sookie. In this case, it has to be one or the other. One cannot be both honest and a liar – this is where polarisation is fine. I’m more inclined to fall on the side of Eric still lies to Sookie (up until Dead and Gone anyway) but that in this case, he was telling the truth, and considered torturing her.

But Sookie doesn’t rescind his invitation from her house, or get herself ready to fight them off. She accepts that risk, and acts as normal as possible while still believing that Eric would and could torture her, because there’s absolutely nothing she could do about it. Of course, she even continues to be frightened of Eric – showing she’s not True Blood Sookie, and didn’t magically forget cause it was convenient to the plot:

I wasn’t shaking, but I should have been. “Could you cut to the chase here?”
I asked. “Are you gonna torture me, or not? Are you my friend, or my enemy?
Are you gonna find Bill, or let him rot?”

Club Dead, p. 46

This is Sookie still believing that Eric could possibly torture her. She didn’t just shrug it off as if it wasn’t a worry. She didn’t assume it was all just show for Chow and Pam – she actually believed the words out of his mouth, even when they were alone together and Eric didn’t need to keep up appearances (a dubious excuse at best since he’s over one thousand years old and their boss – so if either of them think he’s a wuss for not torturing a human woman, they have a screw loose). Sookie hears what Eric says and takes him at his word.

Sookie doesn’t scrub it out herself – she lets Eric tell her that he’s not going to torture her. Since he was the one who offered as such to torture her, it’s actually his job to refute it. It’s not really acceptable for Eric to say he could torture her, and then look at her like she’s nuts for actually believing his words. He put the offer to torture her for information out there – Eric shouldn’t really treat her like a weirdo for listening to the words out of his mouth.

Sookie at that time believed that Eric could torture her, but had decided not to do it this particular time. Since that is in essence what Eric said to her – that he could torture her, but didn’t want to ruin her beautiful skin. This is one of the ways, surprisingly enough that Sookie trusts Eric at his word. He’s being honest about what he would and wouldn’t do – and one of the things he would do is consider torture as a viable option. If Sookie chose to believe this statement was a fluffy lie meant to look tough (lol – cause three vampires coming to your house and menacing you telling you your boyfriend is possibly dead apparently wouldn’t be scary enough) then Eric doesn’t become magically trustworthy – he becomes harder to read, hard to rely on, and even harder to predict – making him the opposite of trustworthy.

This is the other quote oft pulled out to argue what Sookie “knows” about Eric and how she “knows” he won’t hurt her – because she trusts him:

“You trust me?” Eric sounded surprised.
“That’s…crazy, Sookie.”
“I don’t think so.”
Living Dead in Dallas, p. 250

One of the meanings of trust – and indeed a part of trust – is having confidence in something’s reliability. In order to be reliable, Eric has to be somewhat predictable. If Eric lied to Sookie based on who else was in the room, or who he had to impress, that would make him less predictable, because it all hinges on who exactly he’s playing a part for – and the answer may not be “Sookie”. Even if Eric is consistent in his message that he might hurt her to get what he wants, this makes him predictable, and way more trustworthy than someone who is mercurial and changes what they decide they want to do based on external factors.

Here’s an example of how trust can work even if the outcome is bad. I can put a certain amount of trust in the fact that Alan Ball will screw up Season Five. That’s something he’s done before. He has four years running. I can almost rely on his ability to screw the books into the ground. I can trust that he will give me weak females. I can trust that Eric and Bill will both screw someone, and thus have a reason to be naked. So will Sookie and Alcide be naked (grrr together….fuckers). In this way, Alan Ball won’t let me down. He is reliable. So trust doesn’t have to mean good – it just means reliable and predictable.

But don’t let one little incident of threats of torture convince you. I have more. Yet again, Eric threatens Sookie’s life, and she doesn’t feign surprise, or profess that this is the first time that she’s ever thought she might be in danger:

His lips were about two millimeters from my ear. “Should I bite you, and end it all?’ he whispered. “I would never have to think about you again. Thinking about you is an annoying habit, and one I want to be rid of. Or should I start arousing you, and discover if sex with you was really the best I’d ever had?” I didn’t think I was going to get a vote on this.
Dead as a Doornail, pp. 219-220

Usually twenty minutes after this threat to kill her, Sookie is exhorted to leap into a relationship with Eric. This is supposed to make her “smarter” somehow – that she wouldn’t kick his arse out of her house that night if she was a little more intelligent. Lol okay. But Sookie doesn’t think that there is some sort of get out of jail free card – she knows it’s not up to her, she’s not going to get a vote either way (leading to outcomes of badness – death or rape – because “sex” is having a choice). It’s why CH had to have Mickey come in and break the deadlock of badness, when Eric’s at his coldest and most cruel so far – and truly on the edge. Sookie doesn’t immediately eschew Eric – but I have no doubt that all of this percolates at the back of her head when she’s considering the viability of a relationship with Eric.

Of course, it is assumed that Sookie must only believe this when she is broken up with Eric, and not when she’s actively involved with him. That she magically changes her mind when she’s in a relationship with him. I say not:

For a second, I knew he was thinking of crawling back in the bed with me; I hoped it was his body language and his murmur of pleasure that cued me to his thoughts. Every now and then, I got a flash from a vampire mind, and it scared me to death. I didn’t think I’d last long if vampires realized I could read their minds, no matter how seldom that occurred.
Dead and Gone, pp. 181-182

Here’s Sookie thinking “vampires” as a universal thing – she’s not singling Eric out as not part of “vampires” – she’s including him right in that whole paradigm. Since Eric is the only vampire there, and the vampire whose thoughts she heard, I’m pretty sure she’s not referencing Felipe. If Sookie truly believed that Eric wouldn’t kill her, she wouldn’t hesitate to just tell him.

Now, usually this is an opportunity to bash the living shit out of Sookie – how dare she believe the same about Eric as she did about Bill – who she trusted from the first way more than Eric and didn’t confide in either? How dare she think anything bad about Eric at all? I would say it’s because this same guy has threatened to torture and kill her previously, despite wanting to fuck her. Eric professed wanting to sleep with her in the same conversation as he threatened to torture her, and he threatened to kill her in the same ultimatum as he said he should sleep with her, whether she voted for it or not. Eric isn’t saying these things casually – he actually means all of them. He would both kill and torture and sleep with Sookie – that’s why he says these things. But it’s too logical to understand that she somehow gets the message that he actually means all of them when he does something so imprecise as saying them out loud of his own free will.

That’s not the last time Sookie thinks that she might be in trouble. Directly after the fight Eric has with Pam, Sookie thinks she might be in for another fight – and I don’t think she’s talking a verbal one:

“You need to go home now, Eric. We’ll talk when you can control yourself.”
That was a huge rebuke to a vampire, and his back stiffened. For a moment I thought I’d have another fight on my hands. But Eric stepped out the front door, finally.

Dead Reckoning, p. 30

This is the man who calls himself her husband, ready to throw down because she dared suggest that ruining her kitchen in a fist fight with her friend is somehow out of control. The nerve of her. I should ask Mr. Minty and my sons (who are both taller than me now and oft condescend with a permagrin and lean on my head or shoulders) to wrestle in my kitchen and show me how that sort of control works as they wreck up the place. Sookie yet again, doesn’t feign that she doesn’t understand that Eric could have a fight with her.

But of course, others might interpret that to mean a verbal fight. Which is fine, because not long after that she’s actually scared of Eric, and scared of speaking her mind to him:

I could have said several things. I could have said, “I’m not your vassal, and
I’ll say what I want to say,” or I could have said, “Fuck you, let me out,” and
called my brother to come and get me.
But I sat in silence.
I am ashamed to say that at that moment I was scared of Eric, this desperate
and determined vampire who was attacking his best friend because
he didn’t want me to know…something.

Dead Reckoning, p. 89

Sookie’s nebulous on what exactly she’s scared of, but the odds are that she’s scared of being attacked or hurt physically, just like Pam just was. If Sookie steps out of line, and says something, Eric might haul off and hurt her too. Yet again, Sookie sees Eric meting out violence to those around him, to those he professes to be fond of, and doesn’t consider herself immune to that same violence. If Sookie really and truly believed that Eric would never hurt her, this fear never would have crossed her mind. Maybe she doesn’t think she’ll be killed – but there is a physical extrapolation there, thanks to the way he treated Pam. That’s actually a natural assumption to make. It’s why people are fearful in bad neighbourhoods even though they have yet to be attacked – they extrapolate their risk out – they know there’s violence going round, and they fear being victimised, even though they haven’t been touched.

Lest you say this is some weird fantasy of Sookie’s, well apparently Pam’s sharing the fear ‘fantasy; too:

After a long moment, Eric let go of Pam, who collapsed in the backseat like a
sack of rice. She hunched over Miriam protectively.

Dead Reckoning, p. 90

Pam is frightened here of Eric, and his propensity to hurt both her and the innocent human she loves. This is no casual act – this is the same sort of posture Bill took to Jason when Jason slapped Sookie. Pam sees Eric as a threat not only to herself (and he has attacked her a few times already) but also to her lover. So even Pam is feeling the fear that Sookie is feeling – this is no deliberate misunderstanding of the whole thing by Sookie. She fears being hurt and attacked by the man she loves.

Luckily, he proves her right – that he would hurt her – in the hard bite. Sookie wasn’t surprised; she didn’t come to some huge revelation that finally, she gets he would hurt her, and is a vampire.

So how did our polarised statement go?

Sookie knows Eric would never physically hurt her and confident that he would never kill her.

Except that she has proof he would physically hurt her, in the hard bite, and she’s not at all confident he would never kill her – because she seems to worry about being attacked by Eric when he’s under stress, or if he finds out she can read his mind, he might kill her. The hard bite proved her absolutely right – that in a tight corner, Eric might attack her. She hasn’t found out about the dying yet, and probably won’t have the courage/stupidity to try that one.

Just because Sookie knows that Eric loves her – and that she loves him – doesn’t mean that that can then be extrapolated out to what exists when it is contradicted by the text. One cannot assume that all premises operate within a vacuum where everything fits together like a nice little puzzle piece, and everything goes along one sole line of reasoning or one statement. In order to get the full picture, it’s not enough to look at “Sookie loves Eric” and think that that is the overarching premise, except for all the bits where she thinks he could hurt or kill her which don’t seem to fit.

The idea that Sookie knows Eric would never hurt her and confident he would never kill her is not the only example of polarisation. It’s just the example I used. I could have used the idea that Bill raping Sookie in the trunk means that Bill is capable and willing to do every single evil thing conceived of in fanfic. Bill being tortured for a week translates somehow into some universal statement about his general evil and propensity for jacking it in the bushes. Eric is seen as a saintly guy because he’s the favoured suitor. Niall is seen as having some weird and evil agenda of fairy breeding, which is fucking stupid. Sam loves Sookie, so he’s got to be HEA guy, despite Sookie and Jannalynn’s feelings.

Polarisation – the lack of shades of grey – is something that should not enter into full discussions. One statement shouldn’t be extrapolated out if it is contradicted by other content. There’s no shortcut to interpreting the text and coming out with easy answers. Not when the books are complex enough to fill over fifty posts and hundreds of comments. In polarising one statement out to being a theme, and ignoring the non-fitty bits, the interpretation becomes way too rigid for discussion. It’s important to hold that Eric has both the propensity to be cruel, do bad things, be a murderer and still be HEA guy. Discounting one of these points doesn’t make a case for any argument stronger, it makes it more easily refuted because not all the facts are taken into consideration.