Cracking the Gender Case- A Review of The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003, took the religious and literary realms by storm. It offers action-packed chapters and lays down some powerful historical knowledge. Although the New York Times bestseller is hailed as a pro-feminist novel and comes close to balancing genders, it ultimately falls short of a fair representation.

davinci-code-1The Da Vinci Code follows Robert Langdon, a prominent professor and symbolist at Harvard University, who’s called to the Louvre Museum by the Paris police. He finds the Louvre curator Jaques Sauniére lying dead on the ground in the position of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man with cryptic numbers and phrases surrounding his body. Sauniére is the master of the Priory of Sion, a mysterious pagan cult that has kept the Holy Grail’s location a secret. Sauniére leads Langdon and Sophie Neveu, an adventurous cryptologist and agent for the French Judicial Police, to the Holy Grail’s location using clues found in paintings, bank vaults, history, cryptexs and statues. Sophie and Langdon seek help from Sir Leigh Teabing, a knight and historian that specializes in Holy Grail history. The team seeks to uncover the Holy Grail’s location before Opus Dei, an organization under the Roman Catholic Church, can get to it first.

How is this a pink novel?

1. Sir Leight Teabing, played by Ian McKellen (AKA Gandalf) in the blockbuster, claims “Jesus was the original feminist.” You’re probably thinking, “Wait a second, how?” Read on, my friends. Read on.

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2. The Priory of Sion, whose memberships includes Leonardo da Vinci, Victor Hugo and Sir Isaac Newton, seeks to find balance between men and women. The Priory contrasts with its enemy organization, Opus Dei, which demeans women and bans their presence. Da Vinci even paints hidden equality themes in Madonna of the Rocks and the famous Mona Lisa.

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3. Dan Brown unveils common misconceptions regarding religion and women. Teabing surprises Sophie when he unveils that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute and states, “That unfortunate misconception is the legacy of a smear campaign launched by the early Church. The Church needed to defame Mary Magdalene in order to cover up her dangerous secret…”

4. You rarely find a novel based on Christian religion whose plot relies on women. Mary Magdalene and Sophie are some badass women that grace the chapters of this mystery novel.

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4. Sophie consistently proves misogynist characters wrong. After a captain of the French Judicial Police claims “Women not only lacked the physicality necessary for police work, but their mere presence posed dangerous risks to men in the field,” Sophie successfully sneaks Langdon out of the Louvre. Sophie leads car chases, cracks codes and puts her life in danger.

Why you should have your feminist flashlight on when reading…

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Readers should be wary when reading the bestseller. Although it attempts to find equality between genders, it fails at reaching full and fabulous feminism status.

Sophie is depicted as strong, intelligent and fearless yet she’s always one step behind Teabing and Langdon. She’s the only character who must learn the history behind the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene and the Priory.

Although The Da Vinci Code is supposed to represent the equality of men and women, Langdon is portrayed as the protagonist and hero while Sophie is the sidekick. In Brown’s interviews with CNN and BookBrowse, he only mentions Langdon and his quest for the Grail. He even admits to writing another “Robert Langdon thriller” and Sophie’s name doesn’t appear in the interview transcripts. Although the book is written from an outside narrator perspective, all the Audible novels are voiced by men.

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The symbols that represent the Priory’s “acceptance” of women all point to one thing: the womb. The misogynistic Teabing only recognizes Mary as a womb and even Langdon states that the Grail, in the form of a chalice, “resembles the shape of a woman’s womb. The symbol communicates femininity, womanhood and fertility.” Yes, I like my uterus very much but it doesn’t define who I am. There’s no mention of Magdalene’s traits or whether she’s intelligent, witty, clever or kind. How do we know if we want to be her BFF?

There are also only seven female characters compared to 19 male characters. Male characters hold high-ranking roles such as a police chief, bishop, editor, police captain or security guards while the female roles consist of a receptionist, nun and  librarian. Hmmm… that’s not really balanced if you ask me.

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Five “Fluff-Free” Truths about this Novel

1. After reading, you can impress your friends with your expert knowledge of history. I’m not kidding. You’ll never look at a rose, painting or Disney movie the same way…
2. The novel is chock-full of knowledge but lacks in character development and details. You don’t want to have tea with Langdon or go hiking with Sophie after reading the novel. Readers just don’t know enough about them.
3. The ending is lackluster and doesn’t live up to the hype of events.

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4. Almost every character Brown introduces has a history. Flashbacks help piece together the story and readers can uncover where characters came from.
5. The Da Vinci Code is actually the sequel to Angels and Demons but you don’t have to read them in order.

Although Brown’s novel doesn’t fully present feminism themes, it does attempt to embrace equality through history, facts and plot. Readers should read The Da Vinci Code to inhale the history infused pages but be wary of underlying inequalities in plot, character development and language.

BookSmart Nutrition Facts

Published: 2003
Cost: $5.99 (the cost of a decade-old DVD at Target)
Titles by Author: Inferno, Angels and Demons, Digital Fortress
First Sentence: “Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.”
Awards: British Book Award for Book of the Year (2005), Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Adult Fiction (2004)

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3 responses to “Cracking the Gender Case- A Review of The Da Vinci Code

  1. I personally wouldn’t take everything in this novel at face value. Dan Brown has done his research but he has got a fair amount of it wrong/speculated about a lot of it. There is a book (The Da Vinci Code, Fact or Fiction?) by two noted historians and theologists which poke several holes in Brown’s self-acclaimed facts,

    • Yupp, I wrote a paper about his claims. Although he notifies the reader in the beginning of the novel that “everything found in this novel is true,” there are many flaws with his research. I just used the Mary Magdalene example because I know that his research is correct in that case. Whether true or untrue, it’s still an interesting read!

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