This is an in-depth commentary on the deeply problematic way in which Tahereh Mafi romanticizes abuse with her series, Shatter Me. This post breaks down chapter nine of book one. If you’re interested in reading more, read through the other chapters for this book linked below.
Chapters Five & Six
Chapters Seven & Eight
Controlling an object:
Chapter nine is actually an incredibly short chapter which makes it all the more damning that I found so many examples of how deeply problematic Warner is as a love interest. If you ever meet someone so hellbent on seeing you as an object for them to control as Warner is with Juliette, run the hell away.
We’ve only just met Warner and already he is presenting his view of Juliette as this thing he gets because he wants. And this is a man very used to getting his way, so it makes sense that he thinks he can continue to do so by calling her a project of his. I’m sure, in Warner’s twisted mind, he may have genuinely thought this to be a compliment. Even Mafi, from Juliette’s point of view, suggests that Warner thinks Juliette should be grateful to him for all he has done.
This, in and of itself, is actually kind of hilarious considering it comes right alongside his comments of, “I’m glad all those years of isolation didn’t make you mentally unstable and therefore worthless to me. Bravo to you for not being crazy! But you see why I had to test you first, right?”
Juliette’s mental state:
The fact that Warner is unashamedly throwing out words like psychotic is incredibly demeaning. It’s also a manipulation tactic. Abusers love to put down their victims, especially if doing so allows them the opportunity to take an active role in propping them back up. They gain a certain level of control when they do this, you see. And control is incredibly important to abusers. So, in presenting himself as Juliette’s savior and the only reason she could possibly be accepted, he is isolating her in his own way and making himself someone she must rely on.
In addition to that, he also tries another manipulation tactic, that of giving her something nice, something he thinks will make her life easier or more positive. He presents it as a moment of his own benevolence that she should also be grateful for. When she is not, he threatens physical harm. Warner is very clearly trying to create a reliance on himself for Juliette, trying to make himself someone she feels she owes.
When all else fails, he resorts to methods of control–threats of violence–that he already knows work well.
Warner is immature and bad at manipulation:
And notice that he doesn’t give a damn about how she actually feels. He’s kind of terrible at manipulation because he doesn’t even spend any time trying to figure out what she cares about, needs, or wants. He doesn’t ask her how she feels. He doesn’t open the conversation for her to explain what it was like to be locked away for so long, what he can do to make her transition from prison to life with him easier. He just says, “yay, you’re not completely unstable, I want you to do stuff for me, I’ll make this guy your guard since you seem to feel comfortable with him.”
He takes his assertions about her and the situation, presents them as unquestionable fact, and makes all decisions for her. He even plays at giving her a choice in the beginning, pretends that it is an offer he is presenting rather than something he is requiring of her regardless of her receptivity to it. Warner also refers to her as a pet and a project, suggesting that she now belongs to him. And not once through this entire exchange does he even notice that she is not receptive to any of his attempts at manipulating her. For someone who is used to waving a gun around in order to get his way, this really isn’t massively surprising.
Still, it makes him extremely obvious as an abuser. He reacts so often in deeply immature ways, trying and failing to get what he wants through clever manipulation tactics and therefore goes back to the same old tantrum of, “well if you don’t do what I want and say, I’ll have my soldier shoot pieces of you off.”
Warner tries to push his violence off on Adam:
This fascinates me. First, he tries to build a reliance for Juliette on himself. Then, he gives her a “gift” that his minimal perceptive abilities are able to determine she will appreciate. Namely, Warner gives her Adam because he can tell she feels close to him. Ironically, he also can’t stomach the idea of her being close to Adam so this move is also an attempt to have her see Adam under the guise of fear. He doesn’t say, “I will shoot you if you are bad,” but rather he says “Adam will shoot you if you are bad.”
Jealous people are notorious for this. They always try to present the objects of their jealousy as evil somehow. They try to build a wedge between their victim and the person they are jealous of. More often it’s in a commentary that attempts to devalue their “opponent’s” character, but it’s very clear here as well.
Here, Warner is basically implicating Adam as an instrument of pain to come whenever Juliette does not conform to what he wants. It doesn’t work because, in the end, Adam never becomes that instrument of pain but Warner will later do this again as he grows more perceptive about how close Juliette truly feels to Adam.
In a way, though, he is also giving them common ground to stand on. I think Warner isn’t really aware that he’s doing this, however. But, as his main goal in acquiring Juliette is to get her to hurt others for and with him, using her as the object he treats her as Warner also creates a parallel between her and Adam. After all, what is Adam to him if not an object he can use to hurt and torture others? He’s already used Adam to hurt and torture Juliette by sending him into her prison cell to test if she’s psychotic.
Is this an abusive relationship?
Well, yes. But it’s not consensual yet.
See, the thing that makes this different from your typical abusive romantic relationships is the fact that Juliette does not really know Warner. She doesn’t have any happy memories with him to fall back on and use to excuse his despicable behavior and comments. Her mind is free to hate him without the added baggage of something that made her love him. She doesn’t have any happy moments to mourn and think about. In this, Warner’s manipulation tactics don’t really work.
But the thing is, she does later “grow” to love him. And this disturbing behavior is something he inflicted on her without any consent. There’s very much a Stockholm Syndrome feel to how their relationship progresses. It’s very clear that Warner doesn’t actually love Juliette, but rather sees her as an object which he can project all his fantasies onto. And, honestly? He doesn’t fully grow out of that by the time they “get together.” She just sees how “broken” he is and decides to forgive him.
I’d really like to know why Mafi thought it was okay to make this monster Juliette’s love interest. I have pretty much no respect for her because she did.