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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

True to established form, Rita Mae T Brown's fiction incorporates many social concerns which often have to do with being the outsider or the minority in a given situation or community. Predictably, Brown deals mostly with women, gays and people of color, how society reacts to these groups, and how these groups react to society.

Venus Envy, while touching on topics such as AIDS, alcoholism, male friendships, female friendships, dysfunctional families, class tensions and racial barriers, retains as its overarching concern the survival of the gay woman in the male dominated heterosexual world.

Brown's major theme in this novel consists of an expose and criticism of the social norms and expectations which trap people into acting contrary to their true nature, and thus prevent them from achieving fulfillment and happiness. The institution of marriage takes a beating in this novel, as all the people who are married are desperately unhappy and trapped by convention into living with a person they no longer love. The only really positive portrayal of marriage is given as a retrospective by Ruru, who is now a widow and thus able to defy social convention in ways which the other female protagonists cannot. The mute assumption of heterosexual identity is another convention that Brown deplores, and through Frazier, the main protagonist of the novel, Brown explores the concept of the importance of personal integrity juxtaposed against the prospect of great personal loss. In Frazier's case, personal integrity is the act of coming out as a gay person, and the losses she faces are demonstrated through the repercussions this act has on herself, her family, her friends and her community.

The theme of friendship is also an important one in Venus Envy, which seems to demonstrate that the only true friends are those who know the real you, and who accept you and love you for what you are. The fleeting and unstable nature of friendship based on falsehood is encapsulated in the characters of Ann and Billy, who abandon Frazier when she comes out. Mandy and Ruru represent the true nature of friendship, as Frazier's disclosure brings them closer to her and allows them to develop a depth of understanding about her that they had formerly been denied because of Frazier's subterfuge.