The Wedding Complex

Forms of Belonging in Modern American Culture

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 8 b&w photos Published: October 2002

American Studies, Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies

In The Wedding Complex Elizabeth Freeman explores the significance of the wedding ceremony by asking what the wedding becomes when you separate it from the idea of marriage. Freeman finds that weddings—as performances, fantasies, and rituals of transformation—are sites for imagining and enacting forms of social intimacy other than monogamous heterosexuality. Looking at the history of Anglo-American weddings and their depictions in American literature and popular culture from the antebellum era to the present, she reveals the cluster of queer desires at the heart of the "wedding complex"—longings not for marriage necessarily but for public forms of attachment, ceremony, pageantry, and celebration.

Freeman draws on queer theory and social history to focus on a range of texts where weddings do not necessarily lead to legal marriage but instead reflect yearnings for intimate arrangements other than long-term, state-sanctioned, domestic couplehood. Beginning with a look at the debates over gay marriage, she proceeds to consider literary works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edgar Allan Poe, along with such Hollywood films as Father of the Bride, The Graduate, and The Godfather. She also discusses less well-known texts such as Su Friedrich’s experimental film First Comes Love and the off-Broadway, interactive dinner play Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding.

Offering bold new ways to imagine attachment and belonging, and the public performance and recognition of social intimacy, The Wedding Complex is a major contribution to American studies, queer theory, and cultural studies.


“This subtly argued book provides welcome relief from the predictable debates that often surround the issue of same-sex marriage. Uncoupling the ritual of the wedding from the legal reality of the marriage, Elizabeth Freeman demonstrates that weddings are, in and of themselves, quite queer indeed. . . . She provides a cogent argument for avoiding the marriage trap while encouraging us to throw all the parties we want.” — Out

"[Freeman] concludes with a good discussion of gay marriage, and a suggestion that the gay community might be better off avoiding wedding rituals and looking for alternative forms of recognition and parity." — Elaine Showalter, TLS

"[I]nteresting and insightful. Freeman’s work creatively illustrates how deeply entrenched notions of marriage are in American society, defining our conceptions of national and personal attachment solely through a monogamous, dyadic couple." — Priscilla Yamin , New Formulation

"[I]ntriguing and original. . . .The Wedding Complex shows that weddings don't equal marriage, and Freeman's divorcing this couple shows us just how rocky their relationship has always been." — Chris Freeman , CLGH Newsletter

"[T]he timeliness, sophistication, and originality of the argument make this a worthwhile book, even (actually, especially) for those beyond the field of 'wedding studies.' It's also well written and occasionally hilarious." — Karen Dubinsky , Journal of the History of Sexuality

"Freeman presents highly original but historically-grounded readings of early modern wedding law and ritual. . . . [She] achieve[s] extraordinarily detailed, original, and incisive readings. . . . The Wedding Complex stands as our most original and theoretically sophisticated work to date on the American wedding. It establishes Freeman as an exciting and important scholar not only in popular culture, but also in American literature, queer studies, antebellum history, and race theory." — Stephanie Harzewski, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies

"Freeman's work has the joy and playfulness of new scholarship. . . . The work as a whole is both fresh and timely. . . ." — Lori Askeland, American Quarterly

"With catchy quotes and anecdotes throughout, this [bbok] would be suitable for any reader interested in the concept of weddings." — Gemma England, M/C Reviews

The Wedding Complex by Elizabeth Freeman is an extremely original and important work. Freeman takes a distinctly new and different approach to American canonical texts, asking what forms of belonging and desire they produce outside of normative marital unions. For Freeman, the wedding produces and imagines social and cultural relations and kinship forms even as the heterosexual marriage erases these other modes of desire.” — Jack Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity

“Elizabeth Freeman’s The Wedding Complex performs a crucial scholarly and public service—disentangling the messy, expansive, uncontainable work of the wedding from the normative regulation of the law of marriage. This book is sharp, funny, and deeply significant to current understandings of what is at stake in what are reductively called ‘the marriage debates.’ A must-read for activists and policymakers as well as across the disciplines.” — Lisa Duggan, author of Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth Freeman is Assistant Professor of English at the University of California, Davis.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. Love among the Ruins

2. The We of Me: The Member of the Wedding’s Novel Alliances

3. “That Troth Which Failed to Plight”: Race, the Wedding, and Kin Aesthetics in Absalom, Absalom!

4. “A Diabolical Circle for the Divell to Daunce In”: Foundational Weddings and the Problem of Civil Marriage

5. Honeymoon with a Stranger: Private Couplehood and the Making of the National Subject

6. The Immediate Country, or, Heterosexuality in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction



Selected Bibliography

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2989-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2953-4
Publicity material