Themes and message

The main themes of the short story “The Penis” by Hanif Kureishi are sexual objectification and identity crisis. These two themes are enhanced by the motif of vanity, a trait that both Doug and his penis have in common. The message behind the story is that sexual objectification can influence the way people perceive themselves and their life choices. People, like Doug, might be willing to go to extreme (and absurd) lengths to maintain an image that in fact devalues them.

Sexual objectification

By sexual objectification, we mean perceiving a person simply as an instrument of sexual pleasure. In a larger sense, objectification refers to treating people as instruments which are useful for a certain purpose, disregarding their personal value as human beings.

In the story, the personified penis and Doug become symbols of objectification. When the narrator presents Doug’s perspective on his penis and the way he has used it to achieve fame in the pornographic industry, we realise that the penis has become like an object. But in the process, Doug has lost any other personal values that he might have had, leading people to assume his penis is “his only asset”.

As a result, Doug has come to depend on his penis as his main means to e...

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