I believe that we should add sexuality to our list of what makes a character. By sexuality, I mean more than just sexual orientation, although that is an important part of it. Rather, we should look at how characters’ sexual interactions and their responses to those interactions add to our understanding of their character.
Thinking about Oedipa, I realized that we know almost nothing about her physical appearance. We don’t know about her skin tone, the color of her eyes, whether her hair is straight or curly, or if she’s tall, petite, skinny or curvy. All we know is that many of the men she comes into contact with are sexually attracted to her or think she wants to have sex with them. It happens again and again, with her lawyer who plays footsie with her under the table, with Metzger who we learn wants to sleep with her just because he was told she “wouldn’t be easy,” with Miles when he brings her bags to her room, and with Nefastis who assumes that’s why she came to his apartment. One thing that we learn from this situation is how sexual attraction and attention, most of it in this case unwanted, is separate from a specific physical appearance. In Oedipa’s case, sexual attractiveness appears to be a trait all on its own.
We also learn about Oedpia’s character from her reactions to these constant sexual advances. She appears almost to be numb to them. She allows her lawyer to continue to play footsie with her because her boots are thick enough that she doesn’t really feel it. The idea that he’s doing it does not bother her as long as she can ignore it. She also didn’t seem bothered by Miles’s advances, and acted more like it was a simple misunderstanding than something she was offended by. Overall, we get the impression that these unwanted sexual advances are something that happens all of the time, and that her ambivalence is an acquired form of self-protection.