Extrovert and Introverts – Stereotypes in Literature

Extrovert and Introverts – Stereotypes in Literature

I doubt it surprises anyone, but I can be rather opinionated. Since I enjoy fiction, deciding personality types for my favorite characters is a fun pastime. But I was annoyed beyond measure when a fellow book reader placed Anne of Green Gables into the introvert crowd. My Anne, an introvert? Impossible! I immediately began enlisting allies, asking my friends, “Is Anne an extrovert?”

While the question may have been inherently flawed, it was fun to discuss my friends ideas of introversion and extroversion. What makes a person an extrovert? Or an introvert? Is it just talking more or less?

Granted, Anne is a fictional character. And whether she’s introverted or not probably doesn’t matter in the long run. But I do think extroverts are greatly misunderstand. The extrovert has been over simplified and stereotyped. But today, we’re going to fix that error. (That’s a big claim, so just humor me)

For starters, what’s an extrovert?

Extrovert – Energized by People 

Do you feel more energetic after spending time with a group of people?

My dad and I answer this question very differently. He can’t imagine gaining energy from a party, while I know if I’m tired, hanging out with anyone will perk me up right away.
And while it’s easy to think of extroverts as simply more people-oriented, extroversion boils down to energy. Do you feel more tired when alone or with people?

Since the claim has been made that Anne is an introvert, she’ll  be our case study today.

Where does Anne find her energy?
Anne comes home from social events wound up – eager to share about everyone she saw, what she did, and all the conversations. Instead of being wearied by a crowd, Anne has trouble staying calm. That’s classic extroversion.

My mom used to call me a telegraph. When I came home from being with anyone, I couldn’t wait to share everything we’d done. Mom knew when I bounced through the door, that it would be at least a half-hour before I’d be calm again.

And in interacting with my introverted friends, I’ve realized what’s easy to label as shy, isn’t necessarily shy. Instead, people weary them. My friend Heather joked she likes to wear sunglasses in public – Why? because making eye-contact is a conscious giving of herself, an energy-depleting activity. For me, making eye contact with random strangers is an energy booster, while for an introvert it’s the complete opposite.

Don’t extroverts just like to talk? 

Anne must be an introvert because she enjoyed spending time by herself.

Do introverts have a monopoly on alone time? I just don’t get why spending time by yourself is supposed to be a sign of introversion. Extroverts also spend time with ourselves. I enjoy moments of solitude and reflection.

But, solitude is stifling. It’s difficult for me to process my emotions and thoughts when alone. When I was reading about extroverts for this post, I read the statement ‘In fact, extroverts tend to think as they speak’. This made me laugh, because it’s so true!

As much as people may assume we do, extroverts don’t talk just to hear their own voice. Instead, we talk to process our thoughts. However, once we know what we’re thinking, alone time is good. Extroverts can withdraw and enjoy quiet moments in nature, writing, or reading just as much as an introvert.

But an extrovert wants to process that quiet time with someone. We want to bounce ideas we discovered in that alone time off of someone. Anne enjoys solitary time, rambles in woods, writing in her room, reading in the evenings with Matthew. While I see this lumped as an introvert syndrome, it can also be an extrovert trait. Anne brings the energy she gains from time spent with people into her writing, while she processes her relationship while talking with Matthew or Marilla. (Processing her thoughts with people, an extrovert trait)

Being Shy Isn’t the Litmus Test

Introverts are shy, extroverts are outgoing.

I don’t think being shy has anything to do with introversion vs extroversion. It’s about energy, not how you converse with strangers.

Shy extroverts enjoy spending time with people. They don’t need to be the life of the party, but they aren’t tired out by listening and hanging out with friends. They’re great listeners, and comfortable with silence.

While I have not yet read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, I have heard great things about her case for introverts in our very extrovert-oriented world. While thinking about shy vs introvert, I ran across an article she wrote on the subject. She talks about shyness and introversion overlapping, but how the two don’t necessarily mean the same thing. In fact, the two have two entirely different meaning.

Being shy is being afraid of judgement.

Introversion is needing a minimally stimulating environment.

Extroverts can be shy. Introverts can be outgoing.

Overcoming Stereotypes 

While proving Anne is an extrovert may be fun, knowing her personality doesn’t truly affect me today. What does matter is how I think of extroverts and introverts and include them into my writing.
I’ve read that 75% of Americans are extroverts. Western culture prizes people-oriented, brash, outspoken personalities.

katniss introvertAnd you can see this reflected in fiction. Introverts are scolded, their personality is even a stumbling block to their success. I’m specifically thinking of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

Katniss is wearied by people. She needs limited stimulation, and is crippled when over-stimulated.

Her introversion hurts her chances for winning the games. She relies on extroverts, such as Peeta or Effie to help her survive.

And while I appreciate the teamwork, I don’t think introverts are handicapped by their personality. And I do think authors should show the strength of introverts, rather than highlighting their weaknesses.

Thinking about introverts in literature, I realized how very few are cast as heroes and heroines. Extroverts dominate the fictional world.
Elizabeth Bennet, Jo March, Anne Shirley, Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins. All extroverts.

And when introverts do play a role, their personality is judged. Lizzy disapproves of Darcy’s manners around crowds. Harry and Ron make fun of Hermione’s introverted tendencies. And my friends and I poke fun at Edward Ferrar’s awkward relationship with Eleanor Dashwood.

As a writer, I want to create multi-faceted layered characters. Creating strong introverted characters, and even shy extroverts is a challenge I’m looking forward to tackling.

I started this post hoping to clear up some misunderstanding about extroverts. But while writing, I realized how introverts are marginalized. This concept had never occurred to me before. But, since mentioning it to several introverted friends, they’ve agreed.
And now I have a new goal. Build a well-rounded introverted character into my story. 

I imagine you may disagree with something I’ve said – typing fictional characters as introverted or extroverted is certainly open to debate 🙂 For other opinions here a list of 202 fictional characters and their personalities. I disagree with several opinions on that list. And another blogger compiled a thoughtful list of introverted literary characters.