Student Question

In Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, how are gender, sexuality, and violence portrayed and what implications do they suggest about power?

Quick answer:

Throughout Golden Boy, the themes of sexuality and gender are explored in depth. The main character, Max Walker, is intersex. His parents have tried hard to keep his condition a secret, but as Max grows up, his mother's control begins to wane. When his father stands for election to Parliament, Max suddenly finds himself thrust into the national spotlight along with the rest of his family. As an adolescent, he goes through many typical struggles to understand his sexuality and gender, even if his condition makes the process a bit more complicated.

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Golden Boy is a compelling story by author Abigail Tarttelin that tackles a variety of complex themes, including gender, sexuality, violence and power. Each of these themes is explored in relation to the others as well.

Gender, Sexuality and Violence

Throughout Golden Boy, the themes of sexuality and gender are explored in depth. The main character, Max Walker, is intersex. His parents have tried hard to keep his condition a secret, but as Max grows up, his mother's control begins to wane. When his father stands for election to Parliament, Max suddenly finds himself thrust into the national spotlight along with the rest of his family. As an adolescent, he goes through many typical struggles to understand his sexuality and gender, even if his condition makes the process a bit more complicated. Max also faces the threat of violence that is often leveled at anyone who is different from what society deems acceptable and is forced to come to terms with the fact that some people will not accept him simply because he is different. Tarttelin does a compelling job of showcasing Max's unique problems on one hand while normalizing his family life on the other. Secrets abound in the Walker family, but at their core, they are just like any other family struggling to love each other through chaos.

Power Dynamics Throughout the Story

Power is a major theme throughout Golden Boy, and both Max's father and mother hold power to some degree. Max's mother, Karen, is one of the most powerful criminal lawyers in the nation and his father is a prominent politician. These power dynamics cause conflict in their relationship as Karen often resents her husband's decision to put his family in the spotlight, despite their closely guarded secrets. In this sense, power is explored through the lens of the roles of husband and wife in a modern family.

Power is also explored as a theme through Max's childhood friend Hunter, who makes a sudden and controversial reappearance in his life. Hunter has known from an early age that Max is intersex. At one point in the book, Karen discusses how she confided in Hunter's mother about the family secret. "Leah was the first person I confided in about Max’s condition, and Hunter has known since he was four. He was young when he found out, sharing a bath with Max before bedtime, but he seemed to understand as much as a child could. We just told him Max is different. Max is special."

While the relationship between Max and Hunter begins as one of childhood friendship and innocence, it eventually escalates into a major source of conflict for the Walker family. Hunter uses his knowledge of Max's condition against him, creating an imbalance of power in the friendship.

Social Commentary

While the story is told through the personal perspectives of its main characters, there is significant social commentary as well. Max is seen as perfect, but his physical condition threatens this perception not only in the eyes of his family but the world around him. There is also significant commentary on the nature of privacy in politics. Max's father struggles to keep his family's home life private, but the media proves to be demanding and sometimes ruthless. The story also challenges the concept of gender norms through both Karen and Max's experiences.

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