“The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead takes aim at individuals’ laziness in reading. This short article proposes that our complaints about works of art not being “relatable” are nonsensical. Mead says it is a failure of our imagination when we do not easily relate to a text or a play, and that authors do not necessarily create their works so that we can mirror ourselves against them. In summation, Rebecca Mead argues that it is silly to complain that a work is not relatable because the author of the work did not create a story intended to emulate the reader’s life.
I agree and disagree with Mead’s attack on the concept of “relatability.” I will first explain how I disagree and then proceed to explain why I agree. I disagree that it is unfair for a reader “to demand that a work be ‘relatable’.” It is perfectly justified for a reader to want to read a novel or watch a play in which the reader can relate to a character or an experience of one of the actors. Along the lines of what Sigmund Freud said, we seek to identify ourselves through imitation of another figure in works of art. Thus, the reader is justified in demanding that a work be relatable.
On the other hand, I agree with Mead that the rejection of a work due to a lack of reflection with a character is “our own failure.” We cannot give up on books, plays, or movies! There is a character in each of these forms of art with whom we can identify, and it is our job to find that character. Like Mead says, if we reject a work because we cannot identify with a character, then we are not stretching our imagination to its full potential. When we give up on a work of art, we are not willing to try hard enough. We assume a story will be cut out just for us. But if this were the case, there would need to be an infinite number of stories worldwide. I agree with Mead that we need to take a step back, realize that stories are not custom made, and then delve back in and let our creative juices flow in an effort to identify with a character.
I will now back up my agreement and disagreement to Mead’s claims with references to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman’s text depicts a mentally insane woman who is stuck in a room decorated by yellow wallpaper. The woman is babied by her husband John, and she thinks there are women crawling in the walls, aching to be released from behind the yellow wallpaper. By the end of the story, the woman has stripped all the walls of the yellow wallpaper and has fully lost her sanity.
First, I will utilize Gilman’s story to explain the reasons I disagree with Mead’s notion that readers should not complain when they cannot identify with a character in a work of art. It is fair for a reader to want to identify with a character in a work of art because that is what we do. We find someone who lives similarly to the way we live because that excites us. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator and main character is a woman who has a mental illness and is confined in a room. Not many people can identify with this. The narrator is cared for by her husband and a woman named Jane. She is in a room of yellow wallpaper and she thinks women are crawling in this paper. Only a handful of individuals can identify with this situation. In order to be able to identify with it one must have a mental infirmity. The woman in this story goes insane over yellow wallpaper and I don’t know how many people go crazy over something this trivial. Thus, it is justified for a reader to complain that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is lacking a character which the reader can relate to. The story will not be intriguing to someone who has never felt what the narrator is feeling.
Now I will discuss why I agree with Mead that a reader is a quitter if he or she rejects a work because he or she cannot find a character to identify with. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the reader can identify with the narrator on a broad level. Though the narrator is mentally deranged and stuck in a room of yellow wallpaper (something which does not occur in many people’s lives), the wider scope of the story is that the narrator is trapped and driven insane by something trivial. We can all identify with this, and therefore the reader needs to work harder to identify with broad themes in a work of art. While very few of us have mental illness and are trapped in a yellow room, we all have something tiny that ruffles our feathers and this is what the reader can relate to. I agree with Mead that the reader ought to work hard, stretch his or her imagination, and find at least a theme to identify with in a story before giving in. Again, a character who we perfectly identify with will not be handed to us on a silver platter. We must search for this character or what this character is going through in order to relate to a work of art.