What Is 'Fifty Shades of Grey' About?

The Basics of the Popular Steamy Trilogy

"50 Shades of Grey" Author E. L. James
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The steamy novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" and its sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed," became major pieces of pop culture around the time of their publication. The three books held the top three spots on ​best-seller lists for much of their debut year and have inspired parodies and knock-offs.

You may have heard the "Fifty Shades" trilogy be described as "Twilight" for adults or "pornography for moms" and questioned what the books are really about. Here is a brief overview of the first book, "Fifty Shades of Grey," to help you understand what's on everybody's minds.

'Fifty Shades' Conceived as 'Twilight' Fan Fiction

E.L. James originally wrote "Fifty Shades" as a series of episodes on a "Twilight" fan website; she titled it "Master of the Universe." Appropriately, the main characters were originally named Edward and Bella, and the story took place in Seattle, which is close to the location of the "Twilight" books. After readers raised concerns about the sexual nature of the content, James removed the story from the fan site and posted it on her own website.

'Fifty Shades of Grey' Plot

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is the story of a 21-year-old college student, Anastasia, who begins a relationship with a 27-year-old successful, powerful businessman named Christian Grey. They meet when she interviews him for her college newspaper. When they later meet up in Portland, Oregon, he rescues her after she over-imbibes, which results in her chastely spending the night in his Heathman Hotel room.

Christian is intrigued by her and offers her a non-disclosure agreement and contract that establishes their exclusively sexual relationship and defines it as one of "dominance and submission." She doesn't sign the agreement but does lose her virginity to him.

Further scenes in the book introduce his lavish lifestyle with astonishing Seattle apartment, personal helicopter, and chauffeur. But there is also tension with an older woman who first introduced Christian to BDSM, as well as allusions to a former girlfriend who figures in the later books. Ana eventually meets Christian's parents and the reader is also introduced to Ana's mother and stepfather.

The novel plays on tension over the nature of their relationship and the possibility of romance and love, as well as Ana's explorations in Christian's darker tastes in sexuality. Christian wants to have control, likely related to the physical and mental scars he bears from child abuse. However, he is likely as seduced by emotion for her as she is enticed by both sexual explorations and romance for him.

Sex and 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

"Fifty Shades of Grey" fits into the genre of erotica, and the plot and characterizations rely heavily on sexual content. Still, it has gained mainstream popularity rather than remaining genre fiction. Many credit the advent of e-readers for allowing women to read books without others knowing what they are reading.