Article on why "relating" to characters in novels is unimportant?
October 10, 2014 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find an article I read a few months ago on how readers shouldn't focus on whether or not they relate to a character. Does anybody have any leads?
posted by mmmbacon to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Could it be this one from the Huffington post? Do We Need to Identify With a Protagonist to Enjoy a Novel?
posted by guy72277 at 7:39 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's it! Thank you!
posted by mmmbacon at 7:51 AM on October 10, 2014

Also possibly of interest would be Vladimir Nabokov's lecture on Madame Bovary, in which he calls Emma Bovary a "bad reader" for seeking to identify with characters in a novel she's reading.
"Emma is a great reader of romances, of more or less erotic novels, of romantic verse. Some of the authors she knows are first-rate, such as Walter Scott or Victor Hugo; others not quite first-rate, such as Bernardin de Saint-Pierrre or Lamartine. But good or bad, this is not the point. The point is that she is a bad reader. She reads books emotionally, in a shallow juvenile manner, putting herself in this or that female character's place."

and later:

"Only children can be excused for identifying themselves with the characters in a book, or enjoying badly written adventure stories; but this is what Emma and Léon do."
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:24 AM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here's an article by Shannon Hale about identifying with the main character and liking the "love interest."
posted by lharmon at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You mght also be interested in some of the reactions to this summer's scandal when Ira Glass called Shakespeare "not relatable." I think I saw a few responses of the "relatability isn't the point" flavor.
posted by teditrix at 9:50 AM on October 10, 2014

There's also this New Yorker piece by Rebecca Mead on "The Scourge of Relatability" that may be of interest (it also followed in the wake of Glass's Shakespeare comments).
posted by rabbitroom at 12:43 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think you have to identify or relate in the same way that other people are defining it. But I do think you have to at least get/comprehend/understand why they do the things they do and the world that they are in. Like I don't read sci-fi novels where I read the back cover description and literally don't understand anything at all that they are talking about. I probably will never read Ancillary Justice* because I literally don't understand what anyone is talking about going on in that book or how the ancillary thing works. So you need to be able to relate to the world of the book enough that you comprehend what is going on with it. And while you don't have to feel like the lead character IS you or is like you, you need to get why they are the way they are and not find their actions inexplicable, stupid, and/or annoying.

* please don't kill me, I know it won all the awards and is the best ever and I should read it

From that article on Ira Glass: "We can only appreciate these stories if we imagine our way into them, rather than demanding that they come obediently to us." Good point. We need to be able to see from this person's POV, whether or not we're similar to them or not. I think that's what "relating" means. I'm guessing Ira Glass doesn't get why Lear is acting like that, or something along those lines.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:09 PM on October 10, 2014

I thought it was going to be this interview with Claire Messud!
posted by BibiRose at 4:30 PM on October 10, 2014

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