What Does 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Actually Mean?

We're less than two weeks away from the premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey, and that got me wondering, what does Fifty Shades of Grey mean anyway? I've just taken the title as a fact and then never really thought any more about it. (I was too busy musing over the content of the novel and film to worry about the title.) But a title says a lot about a work of fiction. It's an extension of the writing itself. Or it is when you go to liberal arts school for creative writing. They really get on your case about good titles there and demand they add meaning to the piece.

So what is the title of Fifty Shades of Grey referring to? There are a few options. On the surface, Fifty Shades of Grey means roughly what you think it means: Christian Grey has a lot of facets of his personality. He can go from gentleman one minute to S&M manic the next. The book is showcasing all those shades of Grey's character.

But the title is also a play on words. The phrase "shades of gray" usually refers to a situation that is not clear, particularly with regard to whether or not something is categorically evil. When doubt comes into play, things are neither black, nor white, but are in a gray area. Of course, Christian's last name allowed the author to title the book the very clever Fifty Shades of Grey with it's unique spelling of his last name.

Basically, it's saying that Ana and Christian's relationship exists in a gray area. It's not defined by societal rules or the standards of typical relationships. It falls somewhere in the middle of wrong and right, but not dead center. It's on a sliding scale that can lean toward either end of the spectrum depending on the situation.

As for the number 50, there are a lot of speculations as to why the author chose that number. Some have said that 50 is a lucky number. Googling the meaning of the number will return a lot of results. Some sources say it represents masculinity or passion. Other say that, according to the Bible, it represents salvation.

But most interestingly, data has found that the human eye can only see 32 shades of gray. So perhaps by choosing a number higher than that, the author is telling readers that you can't see all of the facets of Grey's character, and therefore you cannot judge him if you don't have the full picture. It reinforces that theme of "shades of gray" confusion.

I might be reading too much into it. After all, there is a line in the novel where Christian tells Ana that he is "50 shades of f***ed up," and she later refers to him as Mr. Fifty Shades, so it could just be that the author liked the number. But whatever the title's true meaning, the content of the book definitely brings up some interesting conversation on those lines that define sex and relationships and the confusion that can come from falling in a gray area. For a title to spark a dialogue is pretty impressive. Perhaps E.L. James would pass my college writing courses after all.

Images: Universal Pictures; fifty5hadesofgrey, 50shades/Tumblr