|A good example of using rape|
as a bad plot device: the rape
of Anna Bates in Downton.
|Changing a consensual sex scene to a rape scene actually|
created plot problems for Game of Thrones, rather than
solving them, I would argue.
So what do we mean when we say 'rape shouldn't be used as a plot device'? If we mean that rape shouldn't be used solely as a plot device, that it should never be used simply to move a story along, then I'm in total agreement. But I cannot agree that rape must never play any part in the plot - whether as a motivation for a character's actions or as an event that leads to a further chain of events. For example, in Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard (which I've been talking about a lot, because it's a great book) a character is raped. This rape is absolutely pivotal to the plotline. However, it's also central not only to the character arc of the character in question, but to the thematic weight of the novel. In no way is rape simply a plot device to move the story along. But I would argue that it is a plot device - in the same way that any crucial event in a story can be seen as a 'plot device' - because it is a turning-point in the plot. It works because it's not only part of the plot but because the ramifications for the character are important as well.
In this context, the idea that 'rape is not character development' is even more baffling. I think the argument here is that rape shouldn't be used to make characters 'more complex' or to give the impression of a darker, edgier narrative, and again, I'm in total agreement. But, I think, here is where fiction must diverge from the way in which we talk about, and understand, real-life rape. For real-life rape survivors, it's absolutely appropriate to say that rape is not character development, because it's an event that was not their fault, does not fit into a story that proves their guilt or innocence, and they should not be expected to learn from it or, indeed, react in any particular way. Fictional rapes, however, are a part of character development, not in the sense that the character should be portrayed as somehow stronger or more interesting because s/he has been raped, but because they must be, or what is the rape doing in this story? If rapes don't contribute to character development, or move the plot along, then the only logical conclusion is that they have no place in the novel or film. And I don't think the way to address the poor handling of sexual violence in fiction is to erase it altogether. If commentators think that we shouldn't address rape in fiction at all, then, rather than debating about its use as a 'plot device', perhaps we should have this argument instead.