Analysis on Internet Memes using Semiotics

Background of Study 

Memes provide a powerful new way to combine few things such as, creativity, art, message, and humor in the internet culture. Public relations, advertising, and marketing professionals have effectively used Internet memes as a form of viral marketing to create marketing “hype” for their product or service. Internet memes are considered as cost effective and sometimes become a trend. The practice of using memes to market products or services is known as memetic marketing.[1]

Example of an internet meme
Memes are also used in education. Scott Stillar, who teaches English at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, thinks that one type of Internet memes, the Rage comics, are a great way to teach the English language. Rage comics themselves are cartoons using an ever-growing set of internet memes. He feels that Rage comics are special because they consist of well known faces and expressions–anger, shock, defeat, surprise, pleasure, success, or horror, which therefore meant to show universal feelings or emotions of varying degrees under a variety of conditions.[2] Rage comics are used as vehicles for sharing experiences with humor.[3]

A meme itself is a behavioral or cultural trait that is passed on by other than genetic means, e.g by imitation. The term is first coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, as an example of replicator, information copied in evolutionary process. Examples are habits, skills, stories, or games passed on by imitation. Range from valuable inventions, scientific theories, art creations, to ‘viruses of the mind’, such as chain letters or false beliefs.[4]

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[5]

According to, the term Internet meme itself can be existed in the form of an image, video, story or joke that is voluntarily passed from one Internet user to another via e-mail, blogs and social networking sites. Considered a form of art, Internet memes are created to promote individuals, groups, movies, art, music and products, as well as to perpetrate a hoax or just be funny. They can disappear in days or last for years.[6]

The writers intend to analyze these memes related to semiotics and mythologies, as well as their role as a dominant part of popular cyber-culture. This paper will also serve as an understanding of teaching students of how images, texts, and art relate with each other to become another way of communication and at the same time, create meanings or messages.

The writers found the urgency of this research as a way to keep up with the internet culture, show an alternative of communication, a cost-effective way of mass advertising, to improve students’ media literacy the study of signs/symbols, philosophy, how images and text relate with each other and therefore create a new meaning. These memes contain humor, universal emotions, social message, cultural message, political message, and many more. From the background study above, it also shows how effective it is in teaching language. Every meme has its own theme, therefore allowing the user to always come up with newer and more creative ideas in delivering its message.
Literary Study

According to Chris Sinha, semiotics is rooted from a classic and scholastic study of the arts of logic, rhetoric, and poetic. It is derived from the word ‘semion’, which seemed to be originated from hipocratic medicine or asklepiadik that focuses on symptomatology and inferential diagnostic. Umberto Eco also said that, Aristotle was also familiar with this concept of signification. Modern semiotics analysis are said to be popularized by two figures, Ferdinand de Saussure, a linguistic expert from Switzerland (1858-1913) and Charles Sanders Pierce, an American philosopher (1839-1914). Saussure divided a sign into two elements: signifier (sound-image) and signified (concept). While Pierce focused on three elements of signs, which are iconic dimension, indexes and symbols.[7]

Stuart Hall said that, semiotics provides a method to analyze how visual representations deliver its meanings. In the works of Roland Barthes in 1960, linguistic models of Saussure was improved/extended through its application on areas of signs and a variety of broad representations (advertising, photography, popular culture, travel, fashion, etc.)[8]

In a discussion on signs, Barthes started with Saussure’s statement; Signified and signifier … are the components of signs. According to Saussure, signs always consisted of three faces: the sign itself, material aspect (letter, image, shape, motion, etc.) from signs that serve function to signify or the one produced by the material aspect (signifier), and the conceptual aspect that is pointed by the material aspect (signified). While signification, is ‘something that points’ signifier to signified. But Barthes did not choose to use the word signification in this. He prefer to use a more neutral, ‘binds’ (not signifies) or ‘act’. He did not emphasize on the active aspect of signifier in pointing signified, but the active connection from both of them. In semiotic analysis, this concept of signification is important to be remembered because in searching the functioning of systems of signification, sometimes we have to find signified, because signifier is known while the signified is not yet clear, and vice versa.[9]

Signs, according to Peirce, are “something[s] that represent something[s]” or “refer to a particular meaning”.  If the meaning is based on a particular agreement or social convention, that sign is called symbols. So, every phenomenon that exists in the society, whether it is an object, behavior, even a thought, is seen as symbols that ‘represent’ or ‘refer to’ a particular meaning outside/beyond the sign itself.[10]

The color, red, for instance; independently does not mean anything, except the color itself. But, if the color takes part as in culture, for example, is used in traffic lights (representative), then it will also represent “prohibition” (object) in human cognition. For its use in traffic lights, as a representative, the color red is related with ‘prohibition’ (object) is a result of social convention and even international convention.[11]

            Those who don’t understand the social conventions will not see the color ‘red’ that represents the meaning of ‘prohibition’. In Medan, Indonesia, a red flag means that ‘someone died’ (object). While in other places, a sign that represents a similar meaning is a yellow flag in Jakarta, and a white flag in Center Java. Those examples show how signs are cultural phenomenons that are bound to particular social conventions.[12]

            In relation to all, all natural and biological phenomenons can be seen as symbols. To those who believe, in a particular social convention, natural disasters (representative) are seen as symbols that refer to a meaning that says ‘God’s Wrath’ (object). A twitch on someone’s palm (representative) would mean symbols meaning he or she ‘is about to receive fortune’ (object). Some symbols and their meanings in Javanese Primbon that are usually taken from daily activities, or taken because a respected figure does or believe a certain value, are based on social conventions. Our society even calls it as a sign (either good or a bad sign). Meaning, all examples above are social and cultural phenomenon. [13]

            Those who do not participate in the social conventions and are not included in the related cultural environment, would not be able to understand of what was represented by a particular cultural or natural phenomenon. In other words, they will not be able to understand the meaning that exist on the phenomenon, or understand it along with the convention that it follows.[14]

            According to Peirce, signs exist because of a process that he called semiosis. This process starts with the insertion of an element of sign that exists on ‘outside’ into human’s senses, which is representative or ground, that might be compared Saussure’s signifier. If the process using our senses has already happened, then the next process inside human cognition process is a referencing of what is called object, which is a matter (meaning) that is represented by representative. For example, when we see a red light, because we already know the valid convention, the red light is considered to refer to a meaning ‘prohibition’ (object), which we may compare it to Saussure’s signified.[15]

            The next process is called interpretant, which when we create an interpretation related with the situation that we are in right now. If the red light is located on the streets as  a road sign while we’re driving a car, we will interpret it as a law obligation to stop and then we will interpret it as a permission to proceed by law if the light changes into green. Interpretan affects our behavior during a particular situation.[16]

            The process of interpreting a sign’s meaning from representative, objects and interpretan that is called ‘semiosis’ happens really fast inside our mind. Because of what actually sensed is representative, often times representative is called a sign. It is interesting that Peirce saw the semiosis as a never-ending continous process (unlimited process). He thought that interpretans can be received by our mind and seen as a new sign, or a new representamen. Meaning, a red light that has been interpreted by human’s cognition is extended into a new representamen, for instance it becomes a ‘prohibition’ sign that refer as ‘sanctions for violators’ which then creates an interpretan as a law/prohibition that must not be violated.[17]

            Then, the new interpretan transforms into even newer representamen, for example becoming ‘a heavy financial sanction’ that creates another interpretan a sanction that would make us not afford to pay. This is how semiosis continous without an end.[18]

            Eco quoted Peirce “A sign is something by knowing which we know something more”, said that a sign (he called it texts) is an opera aperta (an open work). This means that every sign, which is a part of a culture to a particular society, is always open to experience an unlimited semiotical process. A sign can be understood and interpreted differently by everyone within different places and different time, or even within the same person in different times and places.[19]

            It has been discussed that we think of culture as a system of signs. One of the theories about sign was coined by Ferdinand de Saussure (1916) which said that a sign consists of two inseparable elements, that is as signifiant that has a meaning and absorbed within human’s cognition (penanda), and signifie (‘meaning’ or the content of the sign).[20]

            Barthes developed Saussure’s theory by telling that a characteristic of a sign is based on a relation of two aspects; a form (signifier that he called as expression) and content (a signified that he called as contenu).[21]

            This theory is depicted with an E-R-C formula (expression-relation-contenu), which is a relation between expression (form) and content (meaning). He called it as a primary system, for example, a name for a housing complex Pondok Indah (Elegant Hut). In the primary system, the name only means as a housing complex. But according to Barthes, the relation between the name and the meaning, which is a housing complex, can be extended. It can be considered as a, for instance, a housing complex that is located in the South of Jakarta, very spacious, has big houses and big lawns, has luxurious shopping district, and so on. This is called a secondary system which characteristic is meta-language.[22]

            The secondary system can also be extended toward its content. So, it’s not about giving an explanation on what Pondok Indah is, but instead of what image that is obtained from the housing complex. This image is called connotation. A connotation of the housing complex is based on how society views/thinks about Pondok Indah. The society’s perspective is depended upon the culture that lives within the society.[23]

            It is often that the society does not only have one perspective, instead they have different views depend on every social group’s experience regarding the matter. Pondok Indah could possibly have connotation meanings such as ‘rich people residents’, ‘elite district’, ‘high class district’, ‘new rich people yet corrupted district’, ‘pleasant housing complex’, or ‘luxurious sector’. Connotation often times does not have a relation with its primary system, or its original meaning. Connotation creates new relation between the form, and content (meaning) that is given by a social group towards a sign. Connotation is formed because of its experience of a social group in relation to a particular sign. Based on that experience, a social group or the society creates the connotation.[24]

            We can conclude that signs as a cultural element; is open to a variety of interpretation. Whatever theories that we use everyday, the meaning is no longer inherent to the sign, instead it is given by the society who believes it.[25]

            According to Peirce, in its meanings, signs experience an unlimited semiotic process. Eco saw that signs are open to interpretation, which is as an open creation, while Barthes saw it further, which is a sign as a continuous cultural element that earns connotation. Therefore, the relation of shape, meanings, content, signifier and signified, or between representamen and object, is determined from the outside, by those who perceive them and called as sign users. This process happens in the cognition of the sign users that perceive them. What is interesting is, the relation can be made up or modified, in any way they can.[26]

Internet memes serves as a humorous way to have fun with context, words, images, meaning, symbols, culture, popular culture, etc. The fact that it only needs an image of something or someone accompanied with a caption/text can generate different meanings. It can be interpreted and customized anyway the user wants it. Take Good Guy Greg meme for example, it is only picture a young Caucasian man smiling around a homemade cigarette which is then called as Good Guy Greg, while in reality we do not really know if the guy’s name is Greg, and if he is a good person. Even if it was, it would take a research to find the truth that he really is a ‘good guy Greg’.

Internet memes allow users to produce meanings according to the theme of a picture; it also contains language formula as shown in The Most Interesting Man in the World meme. Sometimes users also write/generate meanings while not following the formulas/themes, just to have fun with it. Internet memes require users to be creative in producing meanings in respect to symbols, words, and contexts. It is similar on how advertisements in the form of images works; an image + word[s] = meanings. Internet memes are examples of how images, texts, art, language, creativity, myths, and popular culture relate with each other, which then is open for multi-interpretation regarding its user. These memes contain humor, as well as reflecting universal emotions, social message, cultural message and many more.


Barthes, R. (2009). Mitologi. Yogyakarta: Kreasi Wacana.

Floor, N. (2000, December 11). Web Business Engineering. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from INFORMIT:

Gordon, G. (2002). Genes: a Phylosophical Inquiry. New York: Routledge.

Hoed, B. H. (2011). Semiotik dan Dinamika Sosial Budaya. Depok: Komunitas Bambu.

Hoevel, A. (2011, October 11). The know your memes team gets all scientific on teh intarwebs. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from Geekout

PC Magazine . (n.d.). Encyclopedia term. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from,2542,t=Internet+meme&i=59911,00.asp

Totona, S. (2010). Miskin itu Menjual: Representasi Kemiskinan sebagai Komodifikasi Tontonan. Yogyakarta: RESIST Book.

Wolford, J. (2011, November 2). Webpronews. Retrieved January 29, 2012, from Webpronews:

[4] Penguin English Dictionary. Penguin Group, London. Page 866.
[5] Graham, Gordon (2002), Genes: a philosophical inquiry, New York: Routledge, p. 196, ISBN 0-415-25257-1
[7] Saiful Totona, 2010,  Miskin Itu Menjual: Representasi Kemiskinan sebagai Komodifikasi Tontonan, Yogyakarta: RESIST Book. Page 22
[8] Ibid, page 22-23
[9] Ibid, page 25-27
[10] Benny, H. Hoed. 2009. Semiotik dan Dinamika Sosial Budaya. Depok: Komunitas Bambu. Page 241-242
[11] Ibid. page 242
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid, page 243
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid, page 243-244
[18] Ibid, page 244
[19] Ibid
[20] Ibid
[21] Ibid, page 245
[22] Ibid
[23] Ibid
[24] Ibid
[25] Ibid, page 245-246
[26] Ibid, page 246
[27] Roland Barthes. Mitologi. 2009. Yogyakarta: Kreasi Wacana. Page 164
[28] Totona, Op. Cit, page 22
[29] Ibid, page 24-25
Research conducted by Mr Abdul Aziz Turhan Kariko, S.S., M.Hum.

The 10th Annual T.E.S.O.L. Conference

Mrs Agnes Herawati, S.Pd., M.Hum., one of our lecturers, went to join the 10th Annual T.E.S.O.L. Conference in Cambodia to present her paper entitled Reflection on Teaching and Learning and Its Impacts on The Lecturers’ Teaching Ability. Here is what she has to share with us:

The 10th Annual Cam.T.E.S.O.L. Conference on E.L.T. (English Language Teaching) took place in Institut De Technology Du Cambodge, Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 22nd to 23rd of February 2014. The main theme of the 10th Cam.T.E.S.O.L. is English for Regional and International Integration. This conference is increasingly recognized as one of Asia’s leading E.L.T. Conference Series. 
This year, around 1.754 people attended the conference with 647 international delegates from 30 countries with over 401 presentations successfully given. Regarding the topic, two keynote speakers shared their fruitful insight. 
The first one is Yilin Sun, Ph.D, an English Language Specialist of the U.S. Department of State and Incoming President of T.E.S.O.L. International Association South Seattle C College. She presented the topic of A Quest for Excellence in Teaching for Regional and International Integration: An N.N.E.S.T.’s Perspective. This topic specifically focuses on the nine major trends in the global E.L.T. field and roles and responsibilities of English teachers in shaping the E.L.T. field.

The second keynote speaker is Prof. Barbara Seidlhofer, a Professor of English and Applied Linguistics from University of Vienna, Austria that shared a topic about Globalisation and “E”: English as A Lingua Franca (E.L.F.) and Its Implication for Teaching. Her presentation was started with a challenging question “The English we were taught, or the English we learned?” Moreover the focus of her presentation is that the English speakers do not orient to their local speech communities but are involved in de-territorialised speech events.

Overall, this is a good conference for all English teachers in which we can share ideas with other teachers from other countries and see what they are doing.

A Local Counter-Discourse against National Education Problems: Postcolonial Reading of Andrea Hirata’s LASKAR PELANGI


Education in Indonesia has been problematic for such a long time. There are two big poles playing roles in the ups and downs of Indonesian education: public or government and private schools. Mostly, government schools do not experience problems faced by private schools such as the number of students registering at the schools as depicted in the novel. Further, the problems do not lie on the dichotomy of public-private schools, but on the discrepancy among the private schools themselves. In terms of domination and discrimination, incongruity among private schools is so apparent and immense.

Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors) -henceforth LP- is Andrea Hirata’s debut and memoir picturing the discrepancy among private schools and the sad irony of local education, in a naturally rich island: Belitung. Published in 2005, the novel has got much attention from many people through printed and electronic media, becoming a reference to education matters, inspiring some to revisit and discuss Indonesian present education problems. Set in a small and remote island Belitong, specifically a smaller area Gantong, in South Sumatera (now Bangka Belitung Province), the story recounts the struggle of ten high-spirited village students along with their devoted teacher and headmaster. The novel centers around Ikal (the narrator, also the author), Lintang (the genius) and Mahar (the artist). Typical local issues such as social yawning gaps between aborigine (the original Belitong inhabitants) and the new comers (PN Timah people or Government Tin Mining Company people) and education gap between marginal local Muhammadiyah school and dominating PN Timah school are strongly and satirically criticized, and to some extent deconstructed in the progress of the story. The author makes use of some local cultures and even mysticism to tease the domination of certain groups upon their own marginal fellows and the everlasting problems in local and national education.

This writing will simply explore two aspects: first, why this novel may be categorized as postcolonial writing and second, how this piece of writing may be considered as a counter discourse in the mainstream of Indonesian writings and education problems. As for me, this study is my personal revisit to my hometown Belitung as an original inhabitant and to Sanata Dharma with its Rafil as an alumnus.

Theoretical Framework

According to Barry (2009), postcolonial reading of certain literary works will need to involve at least four characteristics: first, a conscious understanding of representations of the non-European in literature as alien or decadent ‘Other’; second, an avoidance of writing in the colonizers’ language for it is everlastingly contaminated and to write using it means to accept with consent the colonial structure; third, an emphasis on doubled, hybrid or unstable identity; and last, the stress on cross-cultural interactions.

In connection with the above characteristics and the degree of dependence/independence, postcolonial writings fall into three categories: the adopt phase (an unquestioning acceptance of colonial model), the adapt phase (an adaptation or partial intervention) and the adept phase (a declaration of cultural independence from the colonial model) (pp. 189-190).

Aveling (1993) reviews that there are three important features of all postcolonial writing: the silencing and marginalizing of the postcolonial voice by the imperial centre, the abrogation of the imperial centre within the text, and the active appropriation of the language and culture of the centre. In this study, it is important to redefine who the colonizer is. Due to the object of this study, that is non-English fiction, and then I will refer to Aveling’s writing Non-English Postcolonial Fiction? The Malaysian Case (1993) to extend post colonialism to literary works written not in English, in this case in Indonesian, and to redefine that the colonizer in this context can be any group outside the white European, in this case fellow colonizer even coming from the same country. This, in my view, is possible because position in colonization can be ambiguous. Tiffin gives an example of this in Australian case: “Moreover, such a model can account for the ambiguous position of say, white Australians, who, though still colonized by Europe and European ideas, are themselves the continuing colonizers of the original inhabitants” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2004, p. 96). The same case happens to white American domination over the native Indian while being dominated by the British.

The next part of this study will be focused on the exploration of LP as a counter discourse. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin (2007) have defined Counter Discourse as “theory and practice of symbolic resistance”. They stated that it is a term coined by Richard Terdiman referring to his examination on French literature focusing on “. . . the means of producing genuine change against the ‘capacity of established discourses to ignore or absorb would-be subversion . . . the confrontation between constituted reality and its subversion’ as ‘the very locus at which cultural and historical change occur. . . . This term has been adopted by post-colonial critics to describe the complex ways in which challenges to a dominant or established discourse (specifically those of the imperial centre) might be mounted from the periphery, always recognizing the powerful ‘absorptive capacity’ of imperial and neo-imperial discourses (50).” Counter discourse is then an exertion practiced by the marginal group to destabilize or subvert the overarching domination of the mainstream, dominating group. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, (2004) called this attempt a “subversive maneuver”: “These subversive maneuver . . . are what is characteristic of post-colonial texts, as the subversive is characteristic of post-colonial discourse in general. Post-colonial literatures/cultures are thus constituted in counter-discursive rather than homologous practices, and they offer ‘fields’ of counter-discursive strategies to the dominant discourse. The operation of post-colonial counter-discourse is dynamic, not static: it does not seek to subvert the dominant with a view to taking its place, but . . . to evolve textual strategies which continually ‘consume’ their ‘own biases’ . . . at the same time as they expose and erode those of the dominant discourse. . . (pp. 95-96).” It is clear that these counter-discursive strategies are in a way active and forceful, but they do not aim at overtaking the dominant power or inverting the position. As the name indicates, it is a strategy, developed through textual discourse as to depict clearly in a teasing way the weaknesses or biases of the colonizing, dominating power, in the hope of eroding, or at least showing the extension of dominant supremacy. Being deconstructive and subversive can be an effective strategy to question the domination over the marginal group for future transformations. Ashcroft (2001) has stressed the quality of being resistant and transformative as the characteristics of counter-discourse: “Yet theirs is a resistance which is explicitly transformative. For they do not simply respond to the canonical texts but attempt to re-write them in such a way that their overweening cultural assumptions become exposed and subverted. In this way they ‘establish an oppositional, disidentificatory voice within the sovereign domain of the discourse of colonialism’. . . Because of its function within the dominant discourse, canonical counter-discourse is a very clear demonstration of the link between resistance and transformation. For although the intertextuality of the canonical texts is crucial, it is no longer their centrality or ‘greatness’ which dominates, no longer their revelation of the ‘universal human condition’, but the newly revealed cultural horizons of their hybrid and transformative ‘counters’ (pp. 33-34).” Ashcroft emphasized the importance of resistance nature of the discourse to be transformative in effect. This resistance is expressed through the freshly, not necessarily universal views of the crossed-mixed quality of the existing cultural expressions. Therefore, this new and hybrid counter discourse can only voice the subversion if it is resistant in nature towards the hegemonic domination of the mainstream discursive power. Furthermore, Paryz (2006) quoted Tiffin that “decolonialization is process, not arrival; it invokes an ongoing dialectic between hegemonic centrist systems and peripheral subversion of them; between European or British discourses and their post-colonial dis/mantling” (p. 567). So, the counter discursive strategy is an on going process, not the end result. It is some kind of dialog consisting of resistance and subversion from the dominated, marginal group (normally bigger in number) towards the dominating, central power to tease its hegemonic domination.


Laskar Pelangi, through postcolonial perspective, is clearly not merely a story of how struggle or spirit is important to survive the life as a marginal group, but more than that it is about how the minority actually have the potential to fight back ideologically the domination of the mainstream. This is done of course through a different deconstructive view of the postcolonial problems.

Through the above discussion, it is obvious that postcolonial characteristics are found in this work. Elements of hibridity and inter-cultural interaction are found for instance in Ikal-Aling, Akiong-Mahar-Flo, Sawang-Malay-Chinese relationships. The relationships are viewed as positive, celebrating, and strengthening. While counter-discursive strategies developed by the author can be traced in the inverted positioning of marginal against the dominating group. The marginal has shockingly been represented as overpowering the dominating group. This is also done through the representation of deconstructive teacher images. Furthermore, the myth and science are teasingly used to criticize the education problems by having, again, shocking responses from mystical and mythical figures such as Tuk Bayan Tula, Bodenga, and Mahar. The other counters are seen in the different perspective on certain ethnic groups such as the Chinese, with their positive images. And finally, the use of language also takes a significant role by the use of minor local words to maintain the ideologically believed hope that the marginal the tiny island with all the marginalized positions may have an opportunity to fight against the superior mainstream and win.

As a whole, I believe that this piece of work is a tool for Hirata to make use of the locality and marginality to subvert the domination of the mainstream power as to invert the position in the hope for better understanding of each other.


Ashcroft, B. (2001). Post-colonial transformation. London: Routledge.

Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., & Tiffin, H. (2007). Post-colonial studies: The key concepts. New York: Routledge.

Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., & Tiffin, H. (2004). The post-colonial reader. New York: Routledge.

Aveling, H. (1993). Non-English postcolonial fiction? The Malaysian case. SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 34. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from http://kali.murdoch.

Barry, P. (2009). Beginning theory: An introduction to literary and cultural theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Hirata, A. (2008). Laskar pelangi. Yogyakarta: Penerbitan Bentang.

Paryz, M. (2006). Beyond the traveler’s testimony: Emerson’s English Traits and the construction of postcolonial counter discourse. American Transcendental Quarterly, 20, 565-591.

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.

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