‘Less‘ is a contemporary novel with current issues that emanate from a not-so-distant past. The issue of sexual identity, which is a leading subject of social discourses around the world today, is a theme in ‘Less‘ that the author depicted with references to the past. This article will put the novel into historical context for a better appreciation of the story.
Sexuality and Society
The issue of sexuality beyond heterosexuality was more controversial in the 20th Century than it is in the 21st Century. With the United States under focus, the 20th Century had laws prohibiting homosexual activities and placing restrictions on people who identified as gay. For instance, gay people were banned from being served alcohol in public and enlisting in the military. But in the 21st century, American society became more progressive in its outlook toward homosexuality and made laws specifically meant to protect gay rights in the country.
In 1993, Federal Congress passed a Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton. DOMA allowed states to choose whether or not to refuse same-sex marriage certificates from other states and prevented the government from granting marriage benefits to same-sex couples. Anti-sodomy laws in many states criminalized homosexuality in the twentieth century.
It was not until the year 2003 that homosexual activities were decriminalized in the United States. A Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas annulled the anti-sodomy law of the state.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a hate crime act into law, the law gave harsher court sentences to offenders if it is proven that their crime was motivated by prejudice against sexual orientation.
Although homosexuality continues to face challenges and controversies in the modern day captured in ‘Less,’ it rightly depicts a more liberal society where homosexuals marry freely and publicly acknowledge their sexuality in the western world.
However, the victories of gay rights are not universal across the world. Even in the 21st Century, homosexuality is categorized as abnormal behavior and criminalized in over sixty countries today.
Sexuality and Diseases
He has never seen another gay man age past fifty, none except Robert. He met them all at forty or so but never saw them make it much beyond; they died of AIDS, that generation.Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The quote above is extracted from the first chapter of the novel ‘Less.’ It alludes to the reports by the United States Center for Disease Control that HIV infection and AIDS were the leading causes of death among men aged 25-44 in the United States of America during the late 1980s and 1900s. Research suggests that homosexuals are more prone to disease transmission than heterosexuals, which is what the author alludes to in the novel.
According to CDC, HIV infection was the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States in the 1980s.
Although HIV/AIDS remained without an effective cure at the time of the novel’s publication in 2017 and even till this current year, 2022, there has been intensive research in the area leading to improved management of the virus for infected people and in the containment of the spread, compared to the 1980s and 1990s. There are scientific innovations, such as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), meant to prevent HIV infection if administered early to people who may be exposed to the virus. Also, many other innovations meant to reduce the death rate and spread of the virus exist today.
The Berlin Wall
Almost sixty years ago, just after midnight, a few feet from the river where they danced, a wonder of modern engineering occurred: overnight, the Berlin Wall arose. It was the night of August 15, 1961. Berliners awoke on the sixteenth to this marvel, more of a fence at first, concrete posts driven into the streets and festooned with barbed wire. They knew trouble would come but expected it in degrees. Life so often arrives all of a sudden. And who knows which side you will find yourself on?Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The Berlin Wall was a barrier that was erected in August 1961 to demarcate Eastern Berlin and Western Berlin and cause restriction of movement between the two parts of Germany. It was a symbol of political and ideological division between the post-World War II parts of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union and the rest of Germany controlled by the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. It was later demolished in 1989, and Germany unified again after a series of protests and uprisings.
The character Arthur Less had philosophical musings about the wall in his time in Berlin, Germany.
Is Less a queer book?
Yes, ‘Less‘ by Andrew Sean Greer is a queer book whose protagonist is gay, as also many other characters in the novel ‘Less.’
How many countries did Arthur Less visit in Less?
The protagonist Arthur Less visits seven different countries in the novel. From the United States, Less visited Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Morocco, India, and lastly, Japan.
Who did Arthur Less date in Berlin?
In Berlin, Arthur Less dated a young man named Bastian. Bastian is a sports enthusiast from Bavaria who took a liking to Arthur.