Introduction: Re-thinking Buffy's Feminism
Presentation: Dawn's Alternative Feminist Narrative
Kleptomania pt 1: Dawn and Buffy - the Rebellious Teen
[Kleptomania: Dawn's relationship to Objects]+ Kleptomania (pt 2)
Dawn’s attraction to objects, to the storing and stealing of inanimate objects, may also be connected to her status as the Key. Dawn’s subjectivity, her ability to define herself, is hindered at the start of her narrative by the fact that she is, for all intents and purposes, an object. As much as my argument depends upon reading Dawn as a girl first and a Key second – placing her evolvement into a formed identity as a teenage girl at the forefront – part of that evolvement deals directly with her status as object. Dawn is a multi-layered object and subject, operating within several different systems of meaning.
In the first, Dawn is the Key. Her definition as the Key – contrasted with the narrative that the monks created for her – is the main source of conversation surrounding her existence in season five. Buffy’s conversations for the first half of the season, fluidly refer to both the Key and Dawn interchangeably. They are the same. But the issue of the Key is at the forefront and is significantly different than Dawn. Who has the Key, who protects the Key, who wants the Key, who wants to destroy the Key. There are various groups of people within the series all fighting to know and possess the Key. To do what with depends upon the group. Glory repeatedly refers to the Key as something Buffy “took” from her, even having a conversation with Dawn to bond over all the things Buffy must steal from her younger sister (“Checkpoint”). The Key is an object to be used and possessed, that can change hands and be hidden, that starts wars and ends reality. Is it any wonder that Dawn has a fascination with objects, to the point that she steals and possesses things that do not belong to her?
Imagine you are a human being, walking around in the world, and one day are told that you are an object. That your humanity is a created narrative, that your original being is that of a mystical Key, a ball of energy. “She’s real. She’s just kind of … new,” Willow says of Dawn in “Blood Ties.” Dawn’s objectivity creates a barrier between her and her life, her relationships. She becomes someone that people must tread delicately around, who is whispered about, who is spoken of without the use of her name. Although “the Key” and “Dawn” are used interchangeably, there is a distinct difference that is made between the two. One is an object and one is a girl. And yet they are both the same: something that can be taken and possessed and used. It doesn’t matter which, both are objects, both can be used, both are her.
It is important to note that the first thing Dawn decides to steal is not an object – but information. In “Blood Ties” she takes Spike with her to “steal stuff” at the Magic Box, her goal is to look through Giles’ books. Dawn’s first brush with kleptomania is related to herself – to discover herself. It is through the act of sneaking, stealing, and taking, that she finds the truth of herself. Journaling, words, “books and papers,” is where Dawn has been recording the truth of her experience, her own writing holds the key to her history, and it is in Giles’ records that she finds her alternate history. When she later burns the journals that she has kept since she was seven, Dawn is attempting to assert power over the written word in a way that we have not yet seen her do - through destruction. Words and writing are essential to Dawn's existence, but as they now contain conflicting information that has been manipulated in order to make her lesser than the self she believed herself to be, her journals now only represent her lack of power. It is in taking, not producing, words and pages that Dawn learns the truth. Which creates an interesting relationship between Dawn, knowledge, and writing. Most importantly, it establishes early in her narrative that truth is found through stealing, not through self-reflection. As much as Dawn writes in her journals and establishes herself, her feelings, and her thoughts - those words are not as true as those found in Giles' books. Her relationship to the objects that she possesses and creates is one that only further proves her lack of power.
Furthermore, we could look at the instance in which Dawn gives Buffy a handmade gift for a birthday present as further proof that, Dawn's creations are false while that which is taken is true. In season five, Dawn gives Buffy a frame with seashells glued to it. This simple gift is one that any fourteen year old girl might make, in lieu of cashflow. Dawn gives Buffy the gift of memory - of a moment and objects that they gathered and created together. It is supposed to be the representation of their private truth, of a memory created and shared, it is the production of their life. It should represent Dawn's life and her relationship with her sister, but that meaning is undermined by a truth that she is not aware of. A truth that undermines her own. When Dawn gives this gift to Buffy, it reminds everyone else in the room, but especially Buffy (and Joyce), that they're memories are false, that Dawn is not real. What should be Dawn's production of a representation of her self, is actually proof of her creation by someone else. The next year, Dawn gifts Buffy with an expensive leather jacket. That she of course stole from a store for her sister's birthday. This gesture is in complete contrast to the previous year's gift - rather than being a gift that represents something she does not yet know, the jacket bespeaks a private life that Dawn is creating for herself outside the prying eyes of Buffy and the Scoobies. She is reinventing herself, taking that which she believes should belong to her. Rather than being the sister who isn't real, who gives gifts that remind people that she is false and her memories were created by someone else, Dawn's attempt with the leather jacket is to create a new relationship between gift-giving and her selfhood. In the end, Buffy learns that the jacket is stolen and Dawn is exposed. In a direct mirror of the previous season's birthday episode, Dawn's true nature is exposed by the end of the episode. In the first instance, her otherness is revealed, in the second her self-created identity is revealed. No, it isn't a positive portrayal of Dawn - but it is one in which she has power. In season five, her sense of self was taken from her when she gave Buffy the seashell frame. In season six, her sense of self is asserted when it is revealed that she has been stealing; Buffy notices and begins talking to her again; her power is asserted, her ability to form her own identity is established. These two episodes are great examples of Dawn's evolution from the created object to the self-producer that she becomes.
It isn’t about the objects, it’s about possession, it’s about taking control over things that do not belong to her. Dawn seeks out objects as though possessing them will give her meaning – her first brush with stealing changes her entire world – surely by taking and possessing objects, storing them, she can take some control back. In Dawn’s experience, objects have great power, stealing them creates change, can move people to action. She should know, she is an object; an object that has the power to change the world, to alter reality. It is not just that the first time she stole something; she took knowledge that changed the world. The first time she was stolen, the world almost ended – her world did end, her sister died as the result of someone taking and using her.
The process of stealing and hoarding objects, is directly related to Dawn’s close personal history with what the possession of objects can mean. People who possess Dawn have power, responsibility, they are changed through the act of possessing her, they can change the world by using her. By surrounding herself with objects, stealing that which does not belong to her, Dawn is attempting to prove that she has power. Or, is attempting to take back the power over her own reality and being that others have taken from her when they treated her like an object that can be taken and used at whim. She surrounds herself with objects to prove that she is not, in fact, an object. She is a person who takes and possesses and stores objects. Especially those that do not belong to her. She is not a typical hoarder in that she does not seem to keep garbage or useless objects, nor does she spend money on the objects that she has. No, Dawn steals the objects that she hoards. She does to objects what others have done to her. In effect, Dawn changes her status from that of an object, to that of someone who has objects. Surrounding herself with objects proves that she is no longer one.