Character Identification

So, there’s this concept that tends to get batted around a lot by readers and casual critics, but which tends to get looked down on by more serious/academic critics: “identifying with a character.” The main issue with it is that it’s tremendously vague; you obviously don’t think you are the character (unless you’re otherkin, I suppose), so what does “identifying with” someone mean? Is it that you empathize with the character’s situation or motivations? Is it that you recognize the character as being convincingly a person–that they are well-rounded? Is it that you like the character? It’s a difficult concept to pin down, and therefore not particularly helpful in most analysis.

But I’ve been watching Babylon 5 with a friend who’s never seen it before (we just finished the second season), and she became utterly engrossed in the character of Talia. She was utterly crushed by Talia’s tragic final episode, even moreso than the previous episode (the space AIDS one). We talked a little about why it affected her so much, and she explained that Talia’s arc–slowly realizing that the organization to which she’s dedicated her life is deeply corrupt, and as a result beginning to question the fundamental beliefs that define her world, which in turn results in her losing what she thought of as her family–mirrors my friend’s experiences growing up in what amounts to a cult, recognizing how controlling and evil it was, becoming an atheist, and ultimately having to break all ties with her family for her own health and safety.

It made me consider something I’ve written about here before, namely that Fluttershy appears to me to be the most pitch-perfect depiction of someone struggling with Avoidant Personality Disorder I’ve ever seen, and that this is the main reason she’s my favorite pony. For lack of a better term, I identify with her, and very strongly.

So, tentatively, I think I can define “identifying with” a character as something more fundamental than empathizing with them or recognizing them as people. Rather, it’s identifying something in the character that signifies a corresponding element in yourself, which in turn makes it possible to recognize them as human or empathize with them. Thus defined… well, it’s still a bit too personal for most analysis, but it’s still something that can go in the toolbox for occasional use.

0 thoughts on “Character Identification

  1. It need not always be so in-depth, either.

    I identified with Shining Armor right away because I too am an older brother with a younger sister.

    It's like getting an in-joke or a reference that only a handful of people really understand. It's like being part of an exclusive club. By sharing an identifying trait, you react to so many more little things that no one else does.

  2. In my darker moods, I've identified with Hamlet, in that he's a guy with big plans and has no idea why he just sits around never actually acting on those plans when it wouldn't even be that difficult for someone in his social position and psychological frame of mind (my plans don't involve killing anyone, thankfully).

  3. I identify with Rarity, Applejack, and Shining Armor in the sense of being an older sibling, but I find that I particularly identify with Rarity; I like to see myself as an artist, albeit with words rather than with dresses. I don't like to get dirty. And I'd like to think that I'm just as generous with my time, care and attention as she is. Yeah, it's probably natural that she's my favorite, and it ticks me off probably more than it should when people fail to understand her personality or write her off just because she's “girly”.

    Of course, that in of itself also ticks me off, because the people doing that are pretty obviously missing the point of what Faust was trying to do, which was separate “girly” from “bad”.

    This disjointed ramble was brought to you by ColdGoldLazarus…

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