Analysis of Ariel Levy’s “The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook”

“The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook,” a personal essay written by Ariel Levy, lives up to its eccentric title as Levy’s playful narrative ushers the reader through a light-hearted excursion of the lesbian wedding-planning variety. Unlike subjects that our society has secured as harmonious—such as heterosexual nuptials, in contrast—controversial subjects require more delicacy, more subtlety. That is, they require such things if an author intends to engage a versatile audience with minimal hostility. Throughout the essay, Levy knowingly exercises subtlety by using humor in combination with other literary devices, such as anaphora.

Politics can hardly be eliminated from an essay of which the subject—gay marriage— is deeply rooted in civil policies and customs. To that end, Levy does not try to rid her essay of politics; rather, she says in a literary hush what many others have sought to convey in passionate outbursts. In other words, Levy does touch on societal inequities even though her essay is not explicitly argumentative, and it is this indirect nature that increases the essay’s appeal. One key example of this subtlety occurs almost immediately in the essay when the reader becomes privy to Levy’s initial conflict in naming her wedding: “…I felt compelled to tell the whole truth: ‘Because it’s a gay wedding.’ Or, if I couldn’t quite get those words out of my mouth: ‘Because it’s not a real wedding.’” (p. 176). This ongoing hardship, a conflict between what our society recognizes as legitimate and what the author considers authentic, is then reinforced in the essay by the author’s (humorous) title for the ceremony: “party about love.” Another poignant yet subtle remark occurs further along in the essay when Levy simplifies the ceremony, stating, “We would celebrate with our friends—our families, even.” (p. 177). Our families, even. Clearly, this implies that the families of people who are openly gay or lesbian are not always supportive. This point does not require a more robust or scolding tone to be perceived clearly. By making implicit rather than overbearing assertions about such an impassioned issue, “The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook” remains a personal essay rather than an argumentative, combative essay.

In addition to subtlety in debate, which proves acutely effective, Levy gives additional context to the essay by connecting words or phrases throughout. For example, the author implies that she has gained self-acceptance over time. One abstract piece of evidence of this comes from the repetition of the word “square.” At the beginning of the essay, which also marks the early stages of the wedding planning, Levy remarks that “real weddings were like real jobs: square.” (p. 176). Keeping in mind that the phrase “real wedding” is referring to conventional or socially-acceptable weddings, we can understand that the author is saying that socially-acceptable weddings are “square.” As the essay reads on, we begin to see the author’s anxiety toward her union gradually subside and we get a subtle glimpse of this toward the middle where she employs the word “square” once again, this time in reference to her own wedding. “[The author’s own wedding] was not the first large, square, optional ceremony I’d insisted on having despite my mother’s warnings.” (p. 178). By referring to her own ceremony as “square” the reader might infer that Levy is coming to terms with her wedding, seeing it as more socially acceptable.

Anaphora, the literary device characterized by repeated words at the beginning of related sentences, is also used to add an extra poetic element to the essay. We can find concrete examples of anaphora, including: “Like me, Mrs. Norquist was a journalist before she got married. Like me, she is a chatterbox and a gardener. And like me, she is a clotheshorse.” (p. 180). In this particular example, Levy is solidifying the connection between a series of qualities shared between her and her partner’s mother, a well-rounded touch to an already cohesive essay.

Levy, Ariel. “The Lesbian Bride’s Handbook.” The Best American Essays. Ed. Robert Atwan. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 175-181. Print.

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