Identifying with Multiple Characters

One thing that’s really important to me as I’m reading a book is whether or not I can identify with the protagonist. It’s not necessarily that they need to be exactly like me or anything, but I have to be able to relate to them, to understand why they do the things they do. The better I understand them and feel connected with them, the more I will enjoy a book.

And I feel like that’s a pretty common thing among readers, or really in any story. Movies, songs, whatever.

But when I can closely identify with several of the characters … magic.

Perfect example, Harry Potter. Most bookish people identify most strongly with Hermione out of the main trio, and I especially identify with first-book-Hermione. She was made fun of, loved school, followed rules to a T. All me. However, I think for many young girls Ginny of the early books was so relatable! Her crush on Harry was one-sided and juvenile. She couldn’t even look at Harry without blushing, and everything she did around him just made her look uncool. What middle school girl can’t relate to that?! Then, in book 5, Luna Lovegood made an appearance. She’s probably one of the most popular characters in the series, universally loved. I think it’s because people see themselves in her. They feel just as odd as she is on the inside, and they admire that she isn’t ashamed of herself.

I think that as readers we love to be able to connect with all of the characters. It’s why those silly buzzfeed quizzes (Which Friends character are you?) were so popular for a while. We relate to all of them, so we can’t decide which one we are the most like! (For the record, I’m a Monica/Ross mix.)

For me it’s really special when a book grows with me. When as a young person I related to the young characters, and now as an adult I relate to the adult characters.

I’ll go back to Harry Potter. As a mom, Mrs. Weasley is everything. She loves her kids but she gets exasperated with them. She wants to give them the best of everything, but often has to make difficult sacrifices. Her greatest fear is that something will happen to her family. You guys, my boggart has 100% changed from spiders to my kids’ death. These days, Mrs. Weasley is my favorite character.

I was watching The Great American Read on PBS last week (Wait, what? I’ve NEVER talked about this before!), and a man talked about this very idea. They were interviewing him about To Kill a Mockingbird, and he talked about how as a child he identified with Scout. Curious, adventurous, and with a strong sense of justice. But as he grew, as he saw the young men around him getting into trouble (often for things they hadn’t done), he started to identify more and more with Tom Robinson, the accused.

For me it’s Little Women. I think most young women identify with Jo. She’s spunky, speaks her mind, has big dreams, and isn’t afraid to chase them. She makes mistakes and learns from them. She loves passionately. Jo is an amazing protagonist. But as I’ve gotten older and settled down in my life (sort of…), I now relate more strongly with her older sister, Meg. I love the scenes where Marmie has to help Meg settle conflicts in her marriage, or teaches her about the more difficult points of being a mom. Through Meg I learned to understand and accept that adulting is hard, and that it’s okay (and normal!) to still ask my parents for help.

How about you? Are there any books that have grown with you in that way? Which are your favorite books where you can relate to lots of the characters?

23 thoughts on “Identifying with Multiple Characters

  1. As a child I enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and especially Laura who was adventurous and not perfect like her sister Mary (I probably was a mixture of them both–adventurous and perfectionist). When I read the series to my daughter I related to the author herself as she wistfully looked back and wrote about her childhood knowing that by the time she wrote the books many of her family members had passed on. It gave the books an adult poignancy which I really loved.

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      1. That book was the icing on the cake. How much did you love Almanzo? I re-read it at the tail end of my own unhappy marriage and I was dying! LOL. I plan to visit Almanzo’s family farm up here in NY this summer with my daughters.

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        1. Oh that sounds amazing! I would love to visit any of the places mentioned in the books. One of my biggest regrets about having two boys is that it’s unlikely they’ll take to the Little House books like I did and I won’t get to share that with them.

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  2. My favourite book as a kid was Anne of Green Gables. I remember once telling my mom that I was “just like Anne”. (I’m actually not really! I give my mom credit for just nodding and agreeing with me; not bursting my bubble.)

    However, reading the books now… I identify with Marilla! (Although I still love Anne.)

    As for Little Women, I love Jo, but I also identify with each of the March sisters. (Okay, maybe not Amy so much. But I love her anyway.)

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  3. This is such a wonderful post! I think growing up I found myself drown to Jo also, but more so to Anne of Green Gables. Partially for her spirit and in part for her trials. Establishing that connection definitely creates something magical for the reader. I would be tempted to reread a few of my childhood favorites and see which characters I feel that with now!

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  4. As a fat, shy girl, I never saw myself in any book I read, ever. The closest was Elizabeth Wakefield from the Sweet Valley Twins because she actually read and wrote. Though Elizabeth has an even dorkier friend, Enid with the frizzy hair, readers are almost nudged to dislike Enid because she is bookish AND unpopular AND not pretty (though, let’s be realistic about frizzy hair). Thus, as an adult, I’m on a quest to find positive representations of fat women in fiction, memoir, and poetry. So far, there have been VERY few winners. Here’s my list: https://grabthelapels.com/fatreadinggoals/

    I wonder if people identify with the characters in Harry Potter so much because they’re more types instead of completely unique? That way, more people relate to them.

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    1. Have you read Eleanor & Park? I didn’t see it on your list. I’m not sure to what extent Eleanor is overweight, but I always feel like Rainbow Rowell based her a bit off herself.

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      1. I’ve heard of Rainbow Rowell’s work, but I’ve never added her because at first, I was trying to avoid a load of YA. It’s not my preferred genre. Then, Julie Murphy came out with the list of positive fat rep books, and almost all were YA. So, I’ve just never added Rowell to my list. I also hear people go back and forth on whether or not to read her. Something about how she writes minority characters who are unlike her? Does that sound familiar?

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        1. Rainbow Rowell’s books seem very hit or miss. Some people love them, some people hate them. It seems to mostly have to do with personal preference on writing style. Personally, I adore them, and I think Eleanor is a great example of a positive fat character. Rainbow Rowell herself is a strong advocate for the positive body image movement.

          I’ve not noticed any particular problem with her writing minority characters that aren’t like her, though Park is half-asian, which she is not. That being said, I’ve only read three of her books.

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  5. When I was young Ender’s Game was my favorite book. Ended was the greatest character. He got on by everyone at school. His older brother threatened to kill him. In my mind it was just like me. As far as identifying as an adult, I identify in some way with most characters. I will have to give this more thought.

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    1. I LOVE Ender’s Game so much! Though, I admit, I never much related to any of the characters. Nowadays I guess I identify the closest with Petra, just because I’ve been a woman in a mostly men’s profession before, and I know how tough it can be to be taken seriously.

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  6. Oh yes I so get what you mean about relating to Ginny!! But Luna is the most relatable to me 😉 I love how you discussed the change in who you identify with as a child as opposed to an adult- I’ve never really thought of that before and would have to give it some thought!

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  7. Jo has ALWAYS been one of my favorite characters in the entirety of literature-dom. Because I could connect so easily to her actions, her feelings, and her desires in life (except for her choice of marriage. We obviously different in opinion on that topic!)

    I watched the Great American Read too… LOVED IT. I already feel it opening up new books for me that I never really considered reading before, but… I want to try them out now. Maybe not all 100 though, but at least a few new ones for me. 🙂

    I would like to invite you to my L. M. Alcott reading challenge this June. We’re talking about all things Alcott and everyone choose a book(s) to read for the challenge — whatever you want it to be, concerning Miss Alcott (+ there’s a giveaway!) Details are on my blog…

    Tarissa
    http://inthebookcase.blogspot.com

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      1. *coughs awkwardly* Eh…. so sorry to leave such awful words on your blog.

        And… I did end up liking Professor Bhaer better in the later novels, when I saw what kind of fun life that Jo would go on to have with him. 🙂

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