Barbara’s obsession with Sheba: Sexual or Platonic?

There are a few places in the book where one questions Barbara’s sexuality. One is when Barbara considers how she never would have guessed from Sheba’s reaction that she was engaged in an illicit love affair with a student. She says, “I rather imagined—I dared, that is, to hope—that this high-spiritedness had something to do with me” (133)

There is also a scene in which Sheba comforts Barbara over her suffering cat (185-187). Barbara stares at Sheba’s arms, commenting to the reader about her veins. After noticing Sheba’s arms, Barbara comes up with a strange question, “Did you and your friends stroke each other’s arms when you were at school?” Apparently, Barbara and her friends would stroke each others’ arms. Barbara acts boldly, she says “I had never touched Sheba so intimately before.” The word “intimate” could refer to friendship or sexual relationship but putting “touch” with “intimate” implies sexuality. Sheba is uncomfortable with the “intimate” touch- she tells Barbara- “It creeps me out.”When Connolly calls Sheba, Barbara tells her not to go, and becomes incredibly jealous of Sheba’s lover.

Does this mean that Barbara is a lesbian? Despite strong sexual undertones, I tend to think that Barbara is just lonely and sexually repressed. Interestingly, when Barbara tells her how “lovely” the sensation is, Sheba says, “For a sex-starved thirteen-year old girl, perhaps.” Actions and feelings that are understandable in heterosexual but sex-starved thirteen-year old girl are not acceptable in a middle-aged sinister. (Compare this paradox to the love affair between Sheba and Connolly- again the arbitrary ages make something illicit and “creepy”).

There is much more that characterizes Barbara as lonely in the book. The attraction of Sheba is much more the relationship than it is anything physical. Loneliness and sexual repression blur and produce confusing results.

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Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 7:35 am Comments (0)

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