Monday, August 17, 2009
Errors of Attribution
I’m a social psychologist by education and so one of my favorite things in literature is relationships that ring true. I happen to know, as the actor, much of what we do is situational, but as the perceiver, most of the attributions we make are personality. We see a person shoplift: they think they are doing it for whatever reason they feel they must, we think they are doing it because they lack morality or are delinquent. The juxtaposition makes for wonderful reading. Juxtaposed Reader and Hero Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov features the repulsive Humbert Humbert. He’s a pedophile who marries a woman for the sole purpose of molesting her daughter. He works himself into the position as her only parent and then repeatedly rapes her. But it is written from such a deluded first person perspective that the reader feels where he is coming from. He is the only main character I truly, deeply, loath, where I still LOVE the book, and it’s because Nabokov walked this line so brilliantly. Juxtaposed Pairs I think another case that makes for interesting reading is when the reader really understands where a character is coming from, but another character is badly misattributing. Case in point, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy--I mean sure he’s rich, handsome, and takes some things for granted, but his self-awareness of his own hotness hardly merits Miss Bennett‘s wrath. Her jade colored glasses cast him in the worst possible light. I have a list of characters who deserve to be thunked in the head with a thimble, and Miss Bennett tops it, in my opinion. So I have a few questions for all of you: 1) Which authors do particularly well, in your opinion, at letting the reader see the juxtaposition of the heroes point of view and the objective truth? 2) Who are your favorite pairs--by favorite, I don’t mean who do you LOVE, so much as who do you love to READ (so dysfunctional pairs are definitely eligible)? 3) Do you use this in your writing at all? I’d love to hear from you!