Study Guide

The Bourne Identity Women and Femininity

By Robert Ludlum

Women and Femininity

She had become an enemy, a threat; he could kill her if he had to, kill her without emotion because it was the practical thing to do.
"Say something!" she whispered. Her body went into a brief spasm, her breasts pressing against the dark silk of her dress, rising and falling with the agitated movement. (6.113)

Marie has just tried to escape from Bourne. He decides that killing her would be no big deal…and immediately afterwards, we find out how scared she is when Bourne talks about her breasts. Bourne's kidnapping of Marie, and the violence that soon happens to her, is sexualized. It's almost as if the brutal kidnapping is the beginning of the courtship for Bourne and Marie.

What he saw inside filled him with revulsion and fury. Marie St. Jacques' clothes were torn away, shredded into strips. Hands were poised like claws on her half-naked body, kneading her breasts, separating her legs. The executioner's organ protruded from the cloth of his trousers; he was inflicting the final indignity before he carried out the sentence of death. (9.14)

The rape here is presented as a horror, but at the same time, it seems like a continuation of her sexualized kidnapping. Bourne repudiates that violence by expressing shock at the rape and by rescuing Marie. Do you think the novel thinks that this kind of violence is sexy, or doesn't it?

"Why didn't you go to the police?"
"I almost did, and I'm not sure I can tell you why I didn't. Maybe it was the rape, I don't know. I'm being honest with you. I've always been told it's the most horrible experience a woman can go through. I believe it now. And I heard the anger—the disgust—in your own voice when you shouted at him. I'll never forget that moment as long as I live, as much as I may want to." (9.70)

Marie's rape is central to her decision to help Bourne and then to fall in love with him. The rape is in some sense a plot solution: the novel needs to turn Marie from someone Bourne has abused into his friend and lover, and the quickest way to do that is through trauma. For Webb (Bourne), a man, the transformative trauma was having his wife and child killed. For Marie, a woman, the transformative trauma is rape. It's these characters' experiences of trauma that bring them together and make them different from other people.

There was nothing he could do; she had done what she felt she had to do because she had been released from terror. From a kind of terrible degradation no man could really understand. From death. And in doing what she did, she had broken all the rules. (9.118)

Bourne thinks that rape is a "terrible degradation no man could really understand." This is at least partially false—men can be raped, too. The novel, though, presents rape as exclusive to women. The Bourne Identity, for all the violence it inflicts on its main character, may be reluctant to have its protagonist identify with certain kinds of victimization or weakness. The point may also be that Bourne experiences Marie's rape as something uniquely horrible, and it is this shock that makes him think differently about what he's doing to her (and possibly to others) through violence.

"And how those cats try to push him in the background. It's disgraceful! Because he adores women; he flatters them and does not make them into little boys, vous comprenez?" (14.86)

Jacqueline Lavier says that her designer, Bergeron (or Carlos), makes dresses that let women look like women. Having the supervillain be the proponent of stereotypical gender roles is a cute touch—and perhaps pushes back a little against the rest of the novel, in which masculine heroes and supportive or absent (or treacherous) females are the norm.

"It's a different world… It's soft and beautiful and frivolous, with lots of tiny spotlights and dark velvet. Nothing's taken seriously except gossip and indulgence. Any one of those giddy people—including that woman—could be a relay for Carlos and never know it, never even suspect it." (18.47)

Bourne describes the world of fashion, which is also a stereotypically feminine world as"soft and beautiful and frivolous." In a way, Bourne sounds almost like he's longing to live in that world and regretting he has to spend his life in the hard, cold, pragmatic world of espionage.

However, Bourne is lying to Marie here. He knows that the relays aren't duped; they know what they're doing. The frivolous, feminine world of fashion has already been thoroughly infiltrated by the hard world of espionage. This particular dream of a separate feminine world in the novel is only a dream within a deception within a deception.

"It's the killer, not the whore, who must be stopped." (26.80)

The "whore" is Angélique Villiers, the General's treacherous wife. She married him so that she could spy on him for Carlos, who already killed the General's son. The General calls her a "whore" because she is using sex for gain. Most of the blame for this is placed squarely on Angélique, but we shouldn't forget that it's Carlos—the dude Lavier insists lives by a code of some kind of honor—who puts her up to it and gains from it. So who is worse: Angélique or Carlos? Or are they equally bad? Which one gets a worse rap in the novel?

"My whore was someone else's whore…the animal's whore. It could not be otherwise, and as I learned, it was not." (33.2)

Since Angélique was deceitful, she must, by this logic, also be sexually promiscuous. She's also referred to as "the animal's whore." The animal here is Carlos, but he's never referred to as an animal in any other context. Is it Angélique who makes him animalistic? Villiers seems to think so.

It was the bedroom wherein the master of the house had killed the mistress of the house, where a memory-ridden old soldier had choked the life out of an assassin's whore. (33.32)

There's lots of killing in The Bourne Identity, but this particular murder is probably the most visceral and the most enthusiastic. Even Bourne's murder of the rapist isn't discussed with nearly the same vindictive glee. Why does this particular murder get the most attention?

Her body was still twisted, in contrast to the upright head, contorted in furious struggle, her long bare legs stretched out, her hips turned, the negligee torn, her breasts bursting out of the silk—even in death, sensual. There had been no attempt to conceal the whore. (33.64)

This is a description of Angélique's dead body, and it's presented as openly sexual. And not only does the book present her dead body as openly sexual, it seems to blame her for the fact that her dead body is openly sexual. The message seems to be that certain dead, strangled women are sexy—but only because they're whores and deserve to be strangled anyway.

Now, Angélique is obviously a villain and a bad person, and lots of villains and bad people are killed in the novel. But murdering those male villains (or even older female villains like Lavier) is always shown as professional or pragmatic necessity. Only the killing of Angélique is presented as a sexual thrill.