When I was a junior in high school, we read The Great Gatsby in English class. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I knew the rest of my family hated it. (They’re Hemingway fans.) “Ugh, that Daisy,” my mom said. “Who cares?” Obviously a lot of readers care about Daisy and Gatsby, but many readers also place a priority on likeability.
On popular review sites, reviewers refer to everyone from Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley to Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to the cast of A Visit from the Goon Squad as unlikeable. Part of this is a personal taste issue, but it also deals with what kind of people we want to surround ourselves with. A novel that’s over three-hundred pages long is a fair time commitment—it can be grating to spend that much time with a character you wouldn’t want to interact with on a daily basis. Likeability is about ease and comfort and a kind of emotional bond. Connected to that is the issue of relatability, which NPR host and producer Ira Glass brought up when he tweeted that Shakespeare’s plays and characters aren’t relatable. Although Glass later admitted that his remarks were “off-the-cuff,” he brings up an interesting point about literature. We read about other experiences to expand our world view and to see life outside of our own. But how is that possible if we don’t have a way to access that alternate world, if we don’t have some way to relate to the characters and their particular situations? Indeed, these are the kinds of works of literature that leave us cold. At the end of the novel or play or movie, we set aside the book and think “Who cares?” Why would you waste your time with characters you don’t like and situations you can’t relate to?
Video here: Likeability Blueprint Download