Like many introverts, I grew up with my nose in a book, ignoring the world around me and finding solace in the mystical literary worlds. As an English Literature Grad, I am of course, shamelessly sneaking in an article about books here. In my 25 years, I have discovered many lives, visited different countries and worlds and fell in love with people who don’t exist.
Classically misunderstood introverts
At school there was always a push to read the classics where the guy got the girl and they all lived happily ever after. This never really sat quite right with me. I noticed that many of women were meek and timid who only became strong to get the guy and have their Happily Ever After. Many of these women were seen as shy or dull by other characters, rendering them either the perfect submissive wife or unmarriable. For example, Jane in Jane Eyre who we first see reading “shrined in double retirement”, becomes strong to win the man that she loves despite him locking away his first wife and treating her like an animal.
The introverted male, however, is stereotypically misunderstood. We see this in Pride and Prejudice. I was bought up believing that Mr Darcy was rude and obnoxious, however this view was tole to me by many extroverts. Mr Darcy is a classic introvert. The passages with him at public engagements show awkwardness, he even tells Elizabeth Bennet that “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before”. This is basically me meeting new people. Like Mr Darcy, I shy away from large social gatherings and am much more comfortable in my own home and surrounded by close friends.
Stepping away from the classics, we have some amazingly strong introverted characters who have done some pretty awesome stuff, including saving the world. I grew up in a world of magic and am still a little miffed that I never got a Hogwarts letter at 11. All of the main characters in J.K. Rowling’s magical world are introverted, Harry only having a few close friends; Hermione with her head for knowledge; and Ron, the outsider of the wizarding world. But it was Ginny Weasley who I grew up admiring.
Ginny is a shy young lady who lets others be the centre of attention and stills helps to save the day. She is quiet, strong and determined. When we meet her at the start of the second book, we can all feel her horror and embarrassment at finding Harry in the kitchen, whilst she is in her PJs. This might be more evident in the film with her wide eyed stare. As a teenager, I related to this wide eyed look ‘ooo awkward. Make me disappear now please’. We see little of her in the novels unless she is around Harry, but I would like to think of her curled up by the common room fire, reading some great adventure.
Talking of adventures, I love Bilbo Baggins. I have to admit to not being a fan of the book (it’s a style thing) but Tolkien created an amazing world full of unique and quirky characters. Bilbo is brave and adventures once he gets going despite wanting to be back home, tucked up in his Hobbit Hole. He’s experiencing anxiety when Gandalf springs a horde of boisterous dwarves on him, desperately trying to keep his home a quiet space.
Throughout the books, Bilbo evolves from a stay-at-home hobbit to a self-empowered adventurer. He no longer hides from the world and his fear of the unknown subsides as he steps very far out of his comfort zone. Now, I would not recommend that any introvert goes as far as trying to fight a dragon to face their fears but small steps can lead to big possibilities. Through Bilbo, Tolkien has demonstrated the introvert’s ability to grow, to surprise and to ultimately be whoever you want to be. Thank you, Tolkien!
You are powerful too
If this has seemed like me rambling on about two great characters, you’re missing the deeper message. Books create a wonderful world for all of us to sink into. They bring us joy, laughter, friendship and pain. Literature can help those, like myself, who cannot always connect fully with the outside world by showing us that, despite the often negative press towards introverts, we can be strong powerful individuals who can conquer our fears and save the world. In real life, it might take more time, planning and lots of cups of tea and a supportive community, but it is doable. So push your comfort zone little by little, face your fears and become whoever you want to be.
Your first step could be joining me at our Quiet speaking club…