The Dynamic Identity: Analysis of Gender Identity in BREAKFAST ON PLUTO by Patrick McCabe


In Western fictions, one of the earliest works of literature that touched the issue of transgender
is Orlando (1928) written by Virginia Woolf. In Orlando, Woolf wrote about an English gentleman
living in Elizabethan era who changes his gender identity. There are many other novels that deal with
the similar issue, such as Myra Breckinridge (1968) by Gore Vidal and The Well of Loneliness (1928)
by Radclyffe Hall.

One contemporary novel that discusses transgender issues is Breakfast on Pluto (1998) by
Patrick McCabe. McCabe is currently known as one of the best Irish authors. He was born on April
27th, 1955 in Clones, Ireland, and has published several novels, namely The Butcher Boy (1992) and
Winterwood (2006). One of the significant traits in McCabe’s novels is that the characters come from
the marginalized group in society, and in Breakfast on Pluto, the marginalized protagonist is Patrick
Braden, a transgender. The writer uses the word “ transgender” and not “transsexual” because Patrick
does not do the operation that concerns to gender transformation.

Patrick Braden is a young man growing up in an Irish small town named Tyreelin. He was
born from the forbidden relationship between Father Bernard, a Catholic priest, and his house maid.
Considered as a disgrace, Patrick is then sent to a house owned by Braden family. Since he’s still a
teenager, he already tries to transform his gender identity by applying several ways. After moving to
London to find his mother, Patrick then changes his name to ‘Pussy’ and becomes high class ‘female’

Compared with other narratives that talk about transgender lives, Breakfast on Pluto has its
own uniqueness either in structural or in intrinsic aspects. From structural aspect, this Booker Prizenominated
book combines a form of novel and the writing of Patrick Braden himself. Patrick’s writing
is an autobiography that he writes after a suggestion from a psychiatrist named Dr. Terrence. Intrinsicwise,
the most significant element of this novel is the characterization of Patrick Braden. Instead of
being gloomy, Patrick tends to handle his identity conflict with such a relaxed and happy-go-lucky

However, does Patrick’s gender identity transformation run smoothly? Is there any barrier that
he has to face in his transformation? Then, how does Patrick manage the barrier? By studying the
characters, characterization and the relations between characters, I am going to answer those research
questions above in this paper.

The purpose of this research is to analyze the gender identity transformation done by Patrick
in the midst of society that still rigidly holds the traditional concept of masculinity and femininity.
After that, this paper is also going to see the identity discourse offered by Breakfast on Pluto. Stuart
Hall’s concept about identity will be used to help me answer the problems. According to Hall, identity
is a fluid construction, not only a process of being but also becoming. Therefore, identity is a neverending
process in human’s life, depending on social condition, space, place, time and other cultural
aspects (Rutherford, 1990: 225). Identity also means how people position themselves and how they are
positioned by other people. In other words, identity is a matter of position, not essence, and this
position is influenced by internal factors (subjectivity) and external factors, such as socio-cultural
interaction with other people.

The research used library research to analyze gender identity and gender dynamic that
concerned to the main character of the novel, Patrick McCabe.

Identity concept by Stuart Hall has been used as a starting point to see the fluidity of identity.
As long as people live, their identity will always be in movement. Because gender is a social
construction, it always has the potential to be deconstructed and reconstructed by people. Through a
young man named Patrick Braden, Breakfast on Pluto has shown the readers how gender identity is
not a strong wall that cannot be torn down. In his effort to change his gender identity, Patrick must
face obstacles like people’s judgment and even his own male body. However, eventually it is his
subjectivity that has the biggest role in determining his identity. In order to gain the identity as a
woman, he employs several strategies, which are gender and sexual deconstruction, body decoration
and narrative strategy. Patrick has shown that he can freely and consciously become anybody that he
wants to. Gender and sexual differences in society do not obstruct his way. In fact, he enjoys the
fluidity of his identity because he can gain benefits from it. In conclusion, my analysis on Breakfast
on Pluto supports the concept that identity is a dynamic process, and as long as we live, we will
always experience this process.

Fry, P.S., & Fry, F.S. (1988). A History of Ireland. London: Routledge.

Hall, S.(ed). 2003. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage

Hall, S.,& du Gay Paul (eds). (1996). Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage Publications.

McCabe, P.( 1998). Breakfast on Pluto. London and Basingstoke: Picador.

Prabasmoro, A. P. (2006). Kajian Budaya Feminis: Tubuh, Sastra dan Budaya Pop. Yogyakarta: Jala

Rutherford, J. (ed). (1990). Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Schrock, D., (2005), Juni. ‘Transsexuals’ Embodiment of Womanhood’, Gender and Society Vol
19 No 3. London: Sage Publications.

Tong, R.P.(2006). Feminist Thought: Pengantar Paling Komprehensif kepada Arus Utama Pemikiran
Feminis, trans. Aquarini Priyatna Prabasmoro. Yogyakarta: Jalasutra.

By: Ms Paramita Ayuningtyas, S.Hum., M.Hum.

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