Tags: history


Unfortunate Implications (or, Thaddeus Joins the Tea Party)

A problem I'm running into with writing about a 17th-century man is that they were all raised to be sexist and racist, particularly if they're noblemen.

There is nothing "other" about my main character, at least in the beginning.  Obviously, his temporal displacement, his sudden dependence on others, and his burgeoning madness do eventually separate him from your average white, well-to-do male, but would this be enough to instill a sense of empathy and... uhhh, fairness in a man who's normally self-centered and, while well-meaning, pretty insensitive to others?  Would he even perceive his situation as making him less than what he once thought himself to be?  Of course, this character never thought much of himself in the first place, and his peers and betters thought very, very little of him.  He's somewhat enlightened compared to his contemporaries, and he likes to think that he's courteous to everyone (to their face, anyway), but in our world he would obviously have a lot of growing up to do, regardless of what he says!

"Some of my best friends are Protestants!"  he would say.  Okay, he wouldn't literally say that, but still... given how his own peers have humbled him from day one, he isn't the sort of person to actively state his superiority to this or that person.

Thing is, I don't really want this to become a central theme in my novel.  I want it to be there, and I want this to be a visible problem, because I'm going for realism (in a fantasy novel, ha ha ha).  I don't want him to have or to develop some artificial sense of equality or modern social mores that simply wouldn't develop in someone of his beliefs and upbringing, but neither do I want him to be a younger version of Archie Bunker in my readers' minds.  Racism is the one of the most heated topics nowadays, and it's on many people's minds, whether they want it to be or not.  A lot of people have very strong feelings on the matter, so if someone who was raised to be racist and sexist is presented to them, that will color their view not only of him (which isn't so important), but of the entire work (very important, as we shall see). 

When they see this character who doesn't trust Jews, and is surprised and maybe a little dismayed to see nonwhites and females on (somewhat) equal footing with white males, readers will expect him to receive comeuppance, or a big huge life-lesson on treating everyone equally, or whatever.  When this doesn't explicitly happen (which it usually doesn't, by the way, in real life), readers might be inclined to think that I'm not taking this seriously, or that I'm playing off his racism and sexism for cheap laughs, or, worst-case scenario, they think that I endorse this kind of backward thinking.

Not true, obviously.  But what am I going to do?!  This isn't Pocahontas--this isn't about painting with all the colors of the wind, it's a novel about sorcery and the corruption of the human soul!  Am I just over-thinking this, or is too much research about the 17th-century mindset going to come back and bite me in the ass?

I don't know, maybe I'm still getting it all wrong...

(also posted to DA, for all that tartlet goodness...)