Many feminist critics have defined D. H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent(1926) as a representative "leadership" novel, filled with sexual and racial hierarchies. But femininity and masculinity presented in this novel are not so simple as those feminists have thought. The main reason for the complicated presentation of femininity and masculinity in the novel is that Lawrence constantly tries to value both sides of the conflict between spirit/body, man/woman, and Western civilized world/primitive world. According to Lawrence's double perspectives, neither Mexican primitivism nor Ramon's idealized leadership is a perfect and absolute alternative to modern Western civilization. Lawrence's greatest concern in The Plumed Serpent is not with the search for a primitive and masculine world either replacing the Western world or overthrowing the Magna Mater, but with the search for the coexistence of opposite worlds and of opposite values.
Lawrence tries to modify the conventional meanings that the phallus evokes by incorporating its signifying structure into primitive Mexican Indian culture. Lawrence's notion of “phallic mystery" thus includes feminine attributes as well as masculine ones. Nonetheless, Lawrence's treatment of woman's sexual desire represented by Kate Leslie is problematic in that he is quite preoccupied with 'primitive masculinity' presented by Don Cipriano. In a sense, it is not wrong to say that Kate's desire as a woman functions only as a counterpart of Cipriano's male desire. Kate's sexual relation with Cipriano is described by (Lawrence's) male gaze and defined even by man's wishful thinking about sexuality. This is why many early critics problematized the sexual relationship between Kate and Cipriano. These views have built upon the critical tendency to identify the narrative voice and the authorial voice. In this paper I will examine the possible distance between the narrator and the author in describing Cipriano's 'phallic mystery.' This attempt will reveal the complexity of the text in which the author's masculine desire and his effort to deconstruct it coexist.
It is true that Kate's sexual desire is not treated as seriously as Cipriano's 'primitive masculinity' in the novel. And yet, it is also true that the dominance of Cipriano's manhood does not last from start to finish. In the last four chapters of the novel, Kate's voice, which sounds very submissive and passive in the sexual scene of Kate and Cipriano, regains its independent and critical power. This novel is full of self contradictions and conflicts in presenting sexuality; it surely has the narrative voice preoccupied with man's desire, as many feminists point out, and simultaneously it has Kate's critical voice to undermine the narrative voice. Lawrence's presentation of sexuality in this novel needs to be understood in the context of his apocalyptic vision after World War I, which had driven him to desperately search for an alternative society. Thus, the complexity in presenting sexuality indicates that The Plumed Serpent succeeds in revealing the difficulty that the alternative vision might contain, rather than succeeding in producing an alternative vision to replace Western civilization.