So it’s the weekends, and I’m here with another 30DBC. And today I’m here to talk about a character who I can relate to the most. What is so tricky about today’s challenge is that I thought it would be easy; I thought that when it came to sitting down and writing this one, I would have a character in mind, one at the very top of my head.
And I did have some immediate go to characters that I considered. Firstly, I considered Hermione Granger – ’cause she was my go to favourite female character for good reason, I saw a lot of her very obvious traits as my own. I considered Antoinette Cosway of Wide Sargasso Sea, as she had many traits regarding relationship and her affinity to her homeland that I found similar to myself. I even, for a point in time, considered Bella Swan of Twilight, because, face it, Meyers wrote her character as blandly as possible so that every teenage girl who read it could see herself in Bella Swan – Meyer’s description of Bella can be likened to fortune telling or palm reading – it can be interpreted in any way according to the reader.
I didn’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate well to people, period. Even my mother, who I was closer to than anyone else on the planet, was never in harmony with me, never on exactly the same page. Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain.”- Twilight
The easiest characters to consider as relatable are those of young adult series – mostly because their main function to their readers is to appear as relatable as possible. So they write about a teenage girl with brown hair and a shy demeanour until you get to know her – as that it is a vague enough and relevant enough representation of the mass of their readership. They write about a girl who loves books and music – ’cause it is evident that any teenage girl who is reading loves novels and maybe hopes to write them in the future and it is positively unheard of for a girl to not love some sort of music, the more obscure the better. Come on, you know what I’m talking about. The girl who thinks she’s average but hopes that everything thinks she’s beautiful and smart. Just add in some sassy lines and everyday routines – “Oh look! I eat cereal in the morning half-asleep and dreading school too!” It is the character deliberately created to be a mirror of the reader.Yet, at the same time it is terrible to suggest that the more vague the description of the character, the more prone they are to daily habits of normalcy, the more we feel they are like us. Shouldn’t we all be unique and therefore identify ourselves with those characters that are “uniquely” like us?
The difficulty with this challenge is that, at any point in time of reading a protagonist in a story, I have the habit of getting absolutely lost in their world, the friends they share, the hobbies they love and the goal they work towards.
Sometimes I find myself more than one type of person. One day I’m the outspoken and brash young heroine, the next the shy and hesitant loner that sits in the back of the class. I ask myself, how can I be more than one type of person? And maybe that’s the beauty of books. That you can be more than one type of person. And, I believe, any good book should reflect a protagonist that is relatable – no matter how flawed or deplorable they are, there needs to be some sort of resignation that you share some of their characteristics. It is the ability to prove to readers that even the most evil of individuals have a motive that we ourselves could have at any point in our future.
After careful consideration, and because I have the habit to slip into the character I read, I guess the characters I identify the most with are those that I am currently reading – as prosaic as that may sound. It’s usually the characters that I am currently sharing their experiences with that I empathise the most with, because they are currently in my immediate literary proximity. So, for today’s post, I shall be highlighting the character of …
Quentin “Q” Jacobsen from Paper Towns by John Green
I rushed to finish this book by this week so I could write this. Quentin is the current character I attempted to put myself in his shoes, and it is kind of apt that I am writing about how relatable a character can be because the entire novel of Paper Towns centers on how much you can know a person and how much you can try to put yourself in the shoes of that person and understand how they feel.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Paper Towns, let me summarise it for you. Quentin has a childhood friend called Margo. They used to be great friends as kids but as they grew up they drifted apart into their own cliques, Margo in the popular clique, Quentin cast off into geekdom – you know the tried-and-true cliched fable. Then one night, Margo calls on Quentin to go on a night time revenge prank adventure with her. The next day she disappears for good. Quentin is then left to try to piece the clues Margo apparently left behind for him alone.
Let me first state that John Green characters are made to be relatable to any angst-ridden teen – if there were any go-to relatable characters out there, I suggest his books. Albeit many of the characters however are portrayed with far too much teenage tropes and stereotypes …
Personally I did not like Looking for Alaska because Alaska sounded like a total – well, yeah, you know what I’m getting at – Alaska was a facile representation of a college girl – drop-dead gorgeous body and a dirty suggestion that she was, under all the denim shorts and singlets, intelligent. Margo, in Paper Towns, is pretty much a clone of Alaska – the only difference is I believe Margo is more refreshingly pensive about the universe around her, more mature, and nuanced.
Likewise, you can attempt to juxtapose Quentin with Miles from Looking for Alaska – but where as Miles appears to be a lot more passive and flat as a character, I feel that Quentin has a lot more going for him.
I will now list down the reasons why I relate to Quentin before I digress even further into my rant as to why I just fail to appreciate Looking for Alaska the way other John Green fans may.
Firstly, Quentin appears and often acts quietly complaisant. Whereas his friends, including Margo, are all fuel and fire, Quentin is that easily overlooked dripping trail of gasoline. The way he reacts to a lot of the situations in the novel are how I would probably react to things in real life. On the surface one may assume that he is accepting of everything, but within him he is constantly mulling over situations past, present and future. And yes, I accept the flaws in this parallel of our personalities too. While he obligingly goes along with a lot of Margo’s plans and the plans of his friends, he is also inclined to passively submitting himself to their consequences. And I feel like I do that a lot too.
He also prefers routine to something unfamiliar. I could have easily chosen Margo to identify with since we both have this love for mystery, storytelling and planning
and we’re both girls. Heck, her black notebook is terrifyingly familiar to me. I, too, used to write stories based on my real life friends when I was ten-years-old – long story short, we all had ponies. But no, unlike Margo, I love planning a lot but I’m terrified to take the initiative to do the things I plan. I would not be able to just runaway like her, or spontaneously befriend security guards, or sneak into Seaworld. So, there are a lot more things I have in common with Quentin than her.
Next, when Quentin sets his eyes on an end goal, he is unrelentingly resolute, maybe even stubbornly so. One part of the novel even alludes Quentin as Captain Ahab chasing the white whale – Margo being Moby-Dick. And I admit I have the tendency to be this way too far too often in my life. When he believes that he is one step closer in completing the quest to finding Margo, Quentin’s mindset narrows, nothing else matter except finding the rest of the clues. I relate to that as well as I am often times easily disappointed when my friends don’t get on-board with my crazy schemes.
Similarly, I feel that I have the tendency to direct myself into tasks almost obsessively too. Playing Sherlock Holmes, trying to scavenge for answers, or even just creating elaborate fantasy worlds in my head is an obsession that I can see myself getting into far too voluntarily. Similarly, I have the tendency to snap at people or get frustrated at them if they ever stand in the way of my goal the same way Quentin snaps at Ben over the phone for not being just as absorbed as he was in finding Margo.
I sometimes have impossibly high standards for the people who exist around me. So I accept the fact that I have many of Quentin’s flaws:
“You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me about how it’s going with my girlfriend – but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you.”
― John Green, Paper Towns
Lastly, Quentin’s obsession in finding meaning is a trait that I am far too common with. Quentin’s stream of consciousness involves him finding connections with his everyday life with his quest to find Margo. Agreeably, it is natural for any character to attempt to connect the things they see in their day to day life with their current thoughts and obsessions, but Quentin does this with almost everything. He considers it in a constant, infinite loop. He rereads Songs of Myself by Walt Whitman again and again and again.
And frankly, once I find a poem I love, I have the terrible habit of scrutinising it laboriously too. I also have the habit of trying to connect the things I learn with the things I currently experience – and this is part of how I remember them for exams, and part of how I just drive myself absolutely insane. That one semester I took a Literature and Madness course I almost drove myself insane. Like Quentin, I feel like a sponge absorbing knowledge and then trying to process it as logically as possible 24/7.
Therefore, for all these reasons, I identify and relate to Quentin. I relate to how he chooses to observe the way people interact around him, how things appear around him, his desperation to be accepted and liked even though he would rather appear to not crave it so much, his apathy towards the idea of prom, his determination to find the answer to a long line of breadcrumbs, and an affinity of connecting images with meaning.
I am sure that once I finish this book and move onto the next book I will feel like that future character is the one I relate to the most. But for now, I am content to say that I can relate to Quentin “Q” Jacobsen.
So, to find out more relatable characters, again, check out Rhey of Sunshine‘s wonderful blog. And I shall catch you tomorrow for a book that changed my opinion of something.
Till next time,