Study Guide

The Danish Girl Gender

By David Ebershoff

Gender

Part 1, Chapter 1

Einar was beginning to enter a shadowy world of dreams where Anna's dress could belong to anyone, even to him. (1.62)

When Einar puts on Anna's dress, we're led to believe that he has never thought about being a woman before. This is his first mental venture down that path, which is why it's "shadowy" and dreamlike.

Chapter 3
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe

"Little boys can't do that!" And little Einar replied, "But why not?" (3.7)

His father never answers this precocious question because there really is no answer other than "because" and because is never a good answer to any question.

Chapter 5

Homosexual! How far from the truth! (5.68)

Repeat after us: Gender and sexual orientation are not the same. Einar doesn't consider himself homosexual because the Einar part of his personality isn't sexually attracted to men—only the female Lili part of his personality is.

Part 2, Chapter 13

Einar didn't go to Madame Jasmin-Carton's for the same reason as the other men. […] He only wanted to watch the girls strip and dance, to study the curve and heft of their breasts, to watch the thighs, eerily white and tremulous like the skin on a bowl of steamed milk, flap open and closed. (13.9)

We'll stop there before it gets too steamy, but here we see Einar going to a strip club not to be titillated, but to study, as an artist would study a landscape. In order to be a woman, Einar wants to know how to act like one.

She would let out a little gasp when she discovered that down there, between her white, goose-pimpled thighs, lay a certain shriveled thing. It was so vile to her that she would snap closed her thighs, tucking it away, her knee bones smacking. (13.16)

In Paris, Einar becomes more and more disgusted with his male body parts, and the word choice by the author—"shriveled," "goose-pimpled," "smacking"—is intended to make Einar's penis seem as repulsive as possible.

Chapter 15

The other window shade Einar never touched. That was because he knew what was in there. He somehow knew that once he had pulled that shade he would never return to the window on the right. (15.21)

The windows in Madame Jasmin-Carton's peep show are a physical choice Einar has to make. By opening the window to look at the male stripper, he is closing the window to the male part of his personality within himself.

He thought of himself as the formerly male rat. A rat on its wheel running through his head. (15.47)

Making a decision to be a woman doesn't mean that the process is done. It's a major first step, but, especially in the early 1900s, what is a person to do next? Einar feels like a rat spinning around and around with nowhere to go.

Chapter 16
Greta Wegener

"He's convinced he's a woman inside. […] And to tell the truth," Greta said, "so am I." (16.28)

Greta is very supportive of her husband's decision to become a woman. Even though this has literally never happened before—a man physically transitioning into a woman—Greta doesn't think her husband is weird, and she encourages him. This helps him become comfortable with his new gender.

Chapter 17

Their pages turned with such a brisk crinkling noise that Einar feared the students would look up from their work on the long reading table and, from the twist of fear and relief in Einar's face, learn who he really was. (17.2)

As Einar travels to Dresden, he is mentally ninety-nine percent Lili and only a smidge Einar. But he's still in Einar's body, and he fears that everyone will realize he is a woman in a man's body just by looking at him. The fear causes him to be paranoid.

Chapter 22
Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe

"Am I really a woman now?" (22.72)

One of the most important things to Lili is to look like a woman in order to feel like a woman, so the surgery is a huge deal for her. Its success is probably the greatest moment of her short life.