Today we’re going to talk about INFJ heroes in fiction, especially male heroes. But before we get to that, let’s talk about Russian literature for a moment. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky opens with an apologetic explanation from the narrator about his hero, Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov. Here are a few highlights:
“While I do call Alexei Fyodorovich my hero, still, I myself know that he is by no means a great man …
One thing, perhaps, is rather doubtless: he is a strange man, even an odd one. But strangeness and oddity will sooner harm than justify any claim to attention …
If I, that is, the biographer himself, think that even one novel may, perhaps, be unwarranted for such a humble and indefinite hero, then how will it look if I appear with two; and what can explain such presumption on my part?” (p.3-4, Pevear/Volokhonsky translation)
As you may have guessed from the title of this post, Alyosha is an INFJ (most characters and the narrator use this nickname throughout the novel. In the Cyrillic alphabet, Alyosha is two letters shorter than Alexei, which makes this something like calling a man named Robert “Bob”). And I suspect that it’s his personality type that makes the narrator so worried about how people will respond to his hero.
It’s not that there aren’t other INFJ heroes in fiction. Just take a look at my post about 10 Stories You’ll Relate To If You’re An INFJ if you want some examples. Jane Eyre, Amélie, Yoda, and Atticus Finch are all INFJs in fiction who play a hero role. But even though there are male characters on this list, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if Alyosha was woman with all the same personality characteristics the narrator wouldn’t have felt the need to apologize for her.
I’m fascinated by female characters who find ways to live life on their own terms within their culture’s ideas of femininity. Many of my favorite “strong female characters” from Classic literature (like those in Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Francess Burney, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s books ) already have a sense of their own worth and, while they may push against certain confining ideas on appropriate female behavior, they don’t hate their own femininity or attack other women for being feminine. When they fight for their rights, they do it as women who are inherently equal to men — not as women trying to be men.
My two latest books for The Classics Club list are both written by Elizabeth Gaskell. North and South is a re-read for me and Cranford was a new one. I decided to blog about these two books together so I wouldn’t be devoting quite so many articles here to book reviews. I’d expected them to have enough similar themes that this would be easy to do (similar to blogging about Cooper’s sea tales together). But I was pleasantly (if somewhat inconveniently) surprised to find out that the two books are very different. Gaskell is a much more versatile writer than I’d been giving her credit for in my mind.
Characters Who Need Each Other
The contrast is immediately apparent. North and South (1855) opens with a wedding while Cranford (1853) opens with the line, “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.” Men are extremely rare and viewed with much suspicion in Cranford, but in the world of North and South most of the action is driven by or centers around men. One might say Cranford is defined by the absence of men and North and South by the actions of men.
That wouldn’t quite be fair to the women of these books, though. Both stories are filled with what I would call strong female characters. They don’t punch things, shoot stuff, or walk around talking about how empowered they are while wearing sexy clothes. But I would submit to you they’re actually better-written and even “stronger” than the female characters who run around modern films insisting they don’t need anyone’s help. Gaskell’s characters model a connected community of both men and women who are stronger together. Read more →
I should never have stayed here. Nay, I should never have left Italy.
If my cousin Philip had not been so like Ambros perhaps I could have left. To see his face — that beloved, tormenting face — staring into my eyes once more was more than I could leave. More than I could resist when he asked me to stay. Or I should say ordered me. They were orders, though I turned a blind eye to it then because I wanted him. Or perhaps not him, but Ambros back in my life. I know not.
I’m in such fear. It was a foolish thing on both our parts, the midnight of his birthday. He knows too little of the world to realize what I gave him was nothing more than a thank you. A birthday gift that would mean more than that stupid little pearl cravat pin. And yes, I wanted it too. A younger, more devoted Ambros to worship me once again if only for a moment.
And how could I have known that he meant marriage by his comment about lacking warmth and comfort? Or that he thought I’d agreed to be his when he took me into those primroses? Or that he would get so drunk he’d announce our engagement to his godfather and poor Louise at dinner?
I still feel the pressure of his hands at my throat. Those big, powerful hands of a man who works on his farm every day and stands a head taller than me. Stronger than the ones Ambros once put around my neck. My cousin Philip could have snapped my neck, though he wouldn’t have had to. The slightest squeeze more and I’d not have been able to draw the thinnest breath.
Should I feel guilty for bringing Mary Pascoe into this house? Surely his fury won’t touch her, too. The worst he’d do is throw her out of the house. While me … I know not what he’d do were we alone now. Would he wrap his hands around my throat again and expect me to make myself his? Would he force me and afterward tell me I liked it and must marry him?
His fantasy is as complete as the paranoia that claimed Ambrose. I half-believe in his mind we’re already married. That he thinks I’m so sure to agree it’s as if I’ve done so already. That his ridiculous present of his entire fortune will surely convince me to stay.
I must get away. I have the means to do so now, though God knows it’s not why I came here. I simply wanted to see the home Ambros talked about. The symbol of what could have been before he turned on me. The idea of our marriage rather than the reality of it. The allowance my cousin Philip gave me was more than enough. More than I expected or even hoped. To have him honor the will Ambros never signed …
Did he think he’d bought me?
Will he let me leave?
This is quite a bit different than my usual review for books I’m reading on my Classics Club Book list. But I think Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1951) is the sort of novel that invites you to look at it from different perspectives. The fact that you’re trapped inside Philip Ashley’s mind for the entire novel leaves you guessing at what the other characters are really thinking. He’s an unreliable narrator and he’s hopelessly naive, especially when it come to women, so the motives he assigns to Rachel are likely untrue. But if he’s wrong about her, then what is right? Everything we know of her is filtered through Philip. We don’t know her true motive or any of her thoughts. We can only guess, as I’m doing in my little retelling from Rachel’s point of view (which overlaps Chapter 23 of the original novel).
I watched the 2017 film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel before reading the book. I suspected I would still enjoy the book after seeing the movie, but knew if I read the book first there was a good chance I’d spend the film grumpy about how they’d adapted it. It turned out to be a very faithful adaptation, though.
*Spoiler Warning* The only major changes were made at the end. The film provides less evidence of Rachel’s alleged guilt, pointing viewers towards the idea that she was not poisoning Philip. And it also has Philip sending her to ride along a dangerous path rather than choosing not to warn her about a dangerous bridge in the garden. The film pushes you toward believing he intended her to die where the book leaves it a little more ambiguous. But then again, Philip’s the one telling the story. Of course he’d make himself look as good as possible.
Philip wants us second-guessing his cousin Rachel. But I suspect Du Maurier wants us to look at Philip just as closely. Because even though we’re getting his perspective on things and he’s certainly not putting any blame on himself, there are things about being in his mind that make me as scared of him as I think Rachel is.
Repeatedly, Philip says he wants to isolate Rachel from everyone but him. And that’s before he starts becoming overtly controlling. And when he puts his hands around her throat, it’s not in the heat of anger. He presents it as a calculated decision to add fear to the list of reasons she should marry him. Later, he barely contains his fury and indignation when (after he’s given her all his property and she still hasn’t married him) she states that she can and will invite whoever she likes to stay with them because the house belongs to her and she doesn’t feel safe alone with him.
So instead of just asking, “Did Rachel poison Ambros and/or Philip?” I think we need to ask whether such an act could be considered self-defense. Abuse does not justify murder, but even if Rachel killed someone she may not be the evil and/or misguided character that Philip (who describes himself as feeling a strange compassion for her once he makes up his mind about her guilt) makes her out to be. It might have been more of an act of desperation and fear than calculating malice.
But that’s assuming she’s guilty at all. And there’s no clear evidence that she is. Laburnum (the plant Philip settles on as the murder weapon) isn’t even all that poisonous. The most common symptoms are nausea and vomiting, and that’s after eating several seeds. “Higher doses can produce intense sleepiness, convulsive possibly tetanic movements, coma, slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils. … [However] the MAFF publication ‘Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man’, says that all stories about laburnum causing serious poisoning and death are untraceable” (The Poison Garden).
Perhaps Du Maurier believed her chosen poison really was deadly based on the rumors that have made it one of the most feared garden plants. But perhaps she did her research and knew that Philip was jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Maybe she would have known, as Rachel surly did with her expertise in herb lore and gardening, that most gardens are home to far more reliably deadly plants (like foxglove and oleander). Perhaps Du Maurier meant for her readers to realize that a brain tumor (for Ambros) and a relapse of meningitis (for Philip) are the most logical explanations for symptoms both men attribute to “Rachel, my torment.”
There’s an argument to be made that Philip isn’t really concerned about whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros at all. He decides her guilt based on whether or not she “conforms to his desires and whims” (from “My Cousin Rachel (2017) and Male Entitlement“). After all, he already possesses everything else that belonged to Ambros. Why not Rachel as well?
The question of whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros consumes Philip only until their first meeting. After that he’s quite certain she’s innocent until she makes it clear she won’t marry him. All his worry about whether or not she’s guilty of murder covers the fact that his inability to deal with rejection brings out a desire to posses and control her. He and Ambros call Rachel “my torment” because she brings out the ugliest side of their natures and they blame her for their darkness rather than looking to the true culprits. Themselves.
There’s been a big push culturally to erode traditional gender roles; to prove that men and women are equal and equally capable of filling roles that were once assigned to just one sex. For example: that women can pursue successful business careers and men can care for children. Or that women can display strong logic and men can be emotional and nurturing.
But somehow this has backfired on us and cultural expectations of gender are just getting more rigid. That statement probably raised a few eyebrows. We’ve come a long way, many will argue. Women are now accepted in traditionally masculine professions. They don’t have to just stay at home and raise children any more. We have freedom, equality! Besides, gender is just a cultural construct and we can redefine it however we want so those roles aren’t so confining.
That’s not what we’ve done though. Take, for example, the problem of people pushing young children to identify as transgendered (which the American College of Pediatricians defines as “child abuse”). If a child displays traits outside the gender associated with their biological sex, they’re encouraged to get their sex changed. Instead of making it acceptable for a little girl to embrace femininity and enjoy “boy things” like superheroes and tractors, she’s told she’s not really a girl. She’s a boy. In a fit of mass cultural insanity, we’re making social constructions of gender more rigid while trying to make a person’s biological sex something that’s flexible.
Stranger Things’ New “Mom”
I started thinking about this topic (at least in the context of this blog post) when I came across this image while scrolling through Pinterest:Like many Stranger Things fans, Season 2 turned Steve Harrington into one of my favorite characters. For those of you not watching the show, Steve was a stereotypical character in the first season but in Season 2 he got some spectacular character development. He grew from a standard jock into a hero who has a great relationship with the younger main characters. And for some reason that gets him labeled as their “mom” by the Internet.Read more →
Contrary to popular belief, INTJs have emotions. They also express them, though not always to the person they’re having feelings about (for example, an INTJ might tell his best friend he likes a girl, but not tell the girl. Or an INTJ might tell her husband she hates a coworker, but never give the coworker a hint). INTJs tend to compartmentalize their feelings and process them internally, and they hate expressing deep emotions casually or to people they don’t know well.
If you’re very observant, though, and get to know the INTJs in your life, you’ll start to realize there’s a remarkable depth to their feelings. They’ll even do things, like cry at movies, that are typically associated with Feeling personality types. They might scorn the things that are “supposed” to make you cry (e.g. I’m sniffling at a Pixar film and my INTJ sister laughs out loud in the theater). But then I’ll look over and notice moisture leaking from the corners of her eyes at the end of Hidden Figures (I’ve been informed it was not crying).
Hidden Figures (2016) is a fantastic film about “a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. ” They were among the first African-Americans and the first women to work in such prestigious technical roles. My sister, about to graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering, gave me one explanation for her emotional response to the film: “these women and others like them made it possible for me to be an engineer.”
As the character Mary Jackson tells a judge, someone always has to be first. These women proved it’s possible for women to be taken seriously and make important contributions as mathematicians and engineers. But I suspect my sister’s words go deeper than referring to breaking down gender stereotypes about the kind of work women can do. It also has to do with people’s expectations for what women should be like.
Only 24-35% of women have a personality type that relies on Thinking as their primary or secondary mental process (according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type). INTJ and INTP women are tied for rarest at 1-3% of the female population. ENTJs come in a close third at 1-4%. ENTPs tie with ESTPs with 2-4%, just slightly more common than ISTPs at 2-3%. The STJ types aren’t nearly as rare, with ESTJs making up 6-8% and ISTJs 7-10% of the female population.
I’m not going to type the women in Hidden Figures, but having seen the film I think it’s safe to say Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are Thinking types. Their minds are naturally wired to excel at processing facts, figures, and data — a hall-mark of the fact-checking, analytical Thinking functions that use “impersonal criteria to make decisions.” I’d say Katherine at least is probably an Intuitive type as well, pairing pattern-recognition and possibility-seeking with her Thinking side.
That means she wasn’t just a rarity at NASA (an African-American woman working in a highly technical position). She’s also a rarity in society (a woman using both Intuition and Thinking as her most comfortable mental processes). Thinking traits are so strongly stereotyped as masculine that NT women often don’t fit cultural expectations for femininity. One of the many things I loved about Hidden Figures is that these three women seemed to have figured out a way to balance being wives and mothers with working as groundbreakingly successful mathematicians. They’re also portrayed as real people who are admired and respected for who they are instead of as the bitchy, controlling, or cold stereotype we often get when presented with Thinking female characters (take Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal as an example). And the men they’re in relationships with aren’t scared of them or trying to fit them back in boxes.
It was really wonderful to see characters that embraced femininity on their own terms. While I do believe God created the two genders to be different and complementary in the roles we fill, I also think there are stereotypes in our culture that do both genders a disservice. One of those is that women are or “should” be more emotion-driven than analytically-minded. There’s room for both. And, as Hidden Figures reminds us, we would do ourselves a terrible disservice if we tried to keep these women hidden.
Feminism constantly tells women we have no reason to be ashamed of our bodies, our desires, our gender, our career goals – of anything really. We can do and be whatever we want and nothing should hold us back. It sounds good in theory, but like many things humans do it can be taken to extremes.
Take the Women’s March from a few weeks ago as an example. If you want to march around with what one blogger I follow delicately called a pink taco on your head I won’t stop you. But those of us who don’t do things like that aren’t any less “women” than you are, nor are we less interested in being treated with dignity, respect, and equality. In fact, that’s a big reason we express our notions of feminism (and femininity) in different ways.
Today, I’m going to take society’s claim that there’s no need to feel shame about the kind of woman you are to heart and say I’m not ashamed of modesty. Depending on your background this word may have provoked a strong reaction. Perhaps you think modesty is a repressive, old-fashioned list of rules telling women how not to dress and act. Or maybe you think modesty sounds safe – a way to hide from attention you don’t want any more. But modestly is about so much more than a set of rules for covering yourself up. It’s more powerful and – dare I say it? – sexy than we often think.
Let’s start with a working definition of modesty: Modesty is concealing what you do not want everyone to know or see so that you can reveal yourself only to someone you trust. It’s typically associated with the idea of sex and how much skin you show, but it has to do with other things as well. For example, you might also exercise modesty by not calling undue attention to yourself or by reserving certain parts of your personality for people you know well. Read more →