Tag Archives: John McClane

The Insider Who Is an Outsider

3 Oct

I was thinking the other day about characters in fiction because I was thinking about how when I write fiction I tend to write the same types of characters over and over, and I was thinking about why I might do this–why I’m  not very adventurous and what attracts me to them in the first place.

And I decided that the character who often appears is the insider who is an outsider.

That is to say, a character who knows about the fictional world it inhabits and is privy to vital information in this world but who is emotionally (or physically, sometimes) distanced from it.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this happens all the time in fiction–not just my own.

For example, Nick from The Great Gatsby is a part of East Egg culture by birth and manners and means and education, but he emotionally connects with Gatsby and is physically distanced from the East Eggers, as well.  He is an insider to the culture he’s narrating about, but he is also, because of his sympathy for Gatsby and his current location, an outsider.

“I volunteer to be your narrator!”

For another example, Katniss from The Hunger Games knows about this Hunger Game world and participates in it, but she is an outsider for a couple reasons.  One, she’s from the least glamorous district, which distances her from the dominant culture of The Capitol and the other districts that hold The Capitol as their zenith of class.  And two, she is isolated even from the others in her district because she hunts illegally, she’s reclusive and introverted, and she volunteers for the games–something no one in her district has ever done.

But what makes the insider/outsider so attractive?  This character instantly gains the audience’s trust because we’re taken into his or her confidence.  We, the readers, are outsiders to the constructed world and need a guide.  We want an effective, reliable narrator to show us the ropes.  We get just this from Nick and Katniss–someone who can tell us the ins and outs, whom we can trust because they, too, are disenfranchised in some way.  They know the goods and the bads, and they have their own biases, but we trust them.

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