Katherine Kavanagh and Anastasia Steele are united not only by the fact that they live together during the academic year, but also by their strong friendship. The two young women are quite different and function almost as foils to one another: Ana is reserved, intellectual, and idealistic, while Kate is vivacious, outgoing, and fun-loving. Kate comes from a much wealthier background than Ana, but has always shown generosity to her friend. Kate is also more experienced with men, more assertive, and more pragmatic. As Ana becomes increasingly vulnerable in her relationship with Christian, she becomes more reliant on her friends to keep her grounded and remind her to advocate for her own interests. Although the novel is primarily a love story, Ana's friendships are crucial to her sense of self, and one could argue that at times her friends treat her with more respect than Christian does.
Throughout the novel, Christian Grey is presented as an extremely powerful and successful businessman. He is able to successfully impose his will on others and on situations because he can be ruthless, assertive, and unafraid to use fear as a tactic to get what he wants. It is hardly surprising that his love of power and dominance also turns up in his sexual and romantic life. Christian is used to having total control over his business and employees, and he extends this setup into his romantic relationships. As Katherine Harrison and Marie-Louise Holm explain, "In order for Christian to be intelligible to his family and broader social context, and to maintain the high social status that he has, he is forced to fit within an extremely dominant narrative form about heteronormativity and sexual normality" (pg. 561). By having his submissives sign a contract, and establishing that he can punish them for deviating from it, Christian ensures that he will always have the upper hand and never needs to be vulnerable.
Although they are different in many ways, Christian and Ana are initially drawn together by intense physical chemistry and sexual desire. Ana is sexually inexperienced when they meet, so her desire is intensified by the fact that she is experiencing these feelings for the first time. Christian has had many sexual relationships before, but he has never found anyone as irresistible as Ana. At first he cannot understand why, but as the plot progresses it becomes clear that he desires her because he genuinely enjoys her company. While the desire between Ana and Christian draws them together, it also leads them to turn a blind eye towards the many ways they are incompatible and recklessly pursue a relationship anyways. Ana craves emotional intimacy, which Christian is incapable of, and Christian can only be happy with someone who will capitulate to his sexual desires, which Ana is hesitant to do. Their mutual desire and attraction leads them down a path which ultimately makes both of them unhappy.
Christian Grey is a very wealthy man, and his financial success both reflects and enables his dominant lifestyle. Christian's money makes people likely to respect and defer to him; it also means that he can pay to ensure privacy, discretion, and control over situations. If he did not have the wealth he did, he could not afford the legal services, physical space, and elaborate accessories required for the BDSM practices he engages in. Moreover, the mystique of his money is part of what makes him alluring to Ana. He woos her with expensive gifts, and he can do things like fly to different states to see her on a whim. Christian is shown as hardworking and self-made, and his wealth signals another way through which he has been able to exert his will on the world. However, it also makes Ana self-conscious about the vast difference between them, and she resents the way he uses money to exert control over her.
Throughout their relationship, Christian maintains a lot of mystery and secrecy with Ana. It takes him a long time to reveal his sexual tastes to her, and even longer for him to begin to open up emotionally and share things about himself and his past. Christian is always afraid that if he reveals too much, he will make himself vulnerable, or even scare Ana away. What he ironically does not realize is that his mysteriousness and refusal to open up is what actually scares her and makes her question the relationship. Ana hates that she does not know much about Christian's past, or why he needs to engage in dominant sexuality. She also feels shut out when he is vague about the details of his life, such as when he refuses to disclose what "situation" requires him to leave Georgia and return to Seattle. At first, Christian's mysteriousness is somewhat alluring, but as time goes on, she would rather just have true intimacy and openness with him.
Ana first catches Christian's eye because she is innocent and sheltered. Ana has not traveled, been in romantic relationships, or explored her own sexuality. Christian wants to introduce Ana to new experiences and relive them again through her eyes. He is particularly eager to initiate her into all sorts of sexual pleasure. Perhaps because Christian has been able to have whatever he wants, he is becoming numb and jaded. Ana's delight in trying things for the first time helps him to feel enthusiasm and eagerness again. Her innocence also feeds into his dominant tendencies because Ana usually has to surrender control and let him makes decisions, as he is more worldly and experienced. However, Ana's innocence also creates complications for Christian. She is not satisfied with luxury and sexual gratification: she craves a true emotional connection, which is the one thing he is not prepared to give her.
Throughout the novel, Christian reveals only vague hints about his past, but it is clear that he endured a traumatic childhood. His birth mother was unstable and neglectful; he experienced loneliness, poverty, and hunger. The scars on his body also suggest he was physically abused at some point. Even once he was adopted into a loving and prosperous family, Christian continued to feel isolated. Ana interprets his sexual relationship with Mrs. Robinson as another example of trauma: Christian was below the age of consent, and much younger than her. Christian disagrees with this interpretation, however. The novel suggests that Christian's history of trauma has manifested both as his need for dominance and control, and his rejection of emotional intimacy. Christian cannot even let Ana touch his torso, where his scars are located. Christian's unresolved trauma limits his ability to thrive and truly experience a close and loving relationship.
Fifty Shades of Grey Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fifty Shades of Grey is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.