OSC Answers Questions
I am not a student, just a housewife, but I have a question that might be
of interest to students doing research on OSC's writings.
I am intrigued by OSC's use of "the outsider" in some of his stories. I have
noticed that "the outsider" is often the key to bringing a cohesiveness and healing
to characters in the stories. There are many examples: Ender in the Speaker for
the Dead series when he marries; Neeraj in Lovelock; some of the stories from
Folk of the Fringe, etc.
Is this a conscious decision on your part to have someone from outside the
group (family, religion, society, culture) bring a new dimension to the character's
lives so that they can change and evolve the way they want and need to? As
opposed to the characters sorting things out amongst themselves?
-- Submitted by Bobbie Barry
OSC REPLIES: - May 12, 2000
There are several reasons for "outsiders" to show up in a lot of my fiction.
One reason is because the "outsider" is a reliable and easy expository device in
fiction. If the point of view character is not part of the community in which the
story takes place, then he will notice things about the community that insiders
would never notice (though they would "know" them). Thus the writer can bring
things to the reader's attention by having the "outsider" notice those things, which
keeps the exposition from stopping the story. Instead, the exposition is a
necessary part of the story.
Having said that, I must also say that the use of "outsiders" is not just a
fictional technique. It is also one of the deepest archetypal elements of almost all
stories, and I think the reason for that is that all human beings almost always feel
like outsiders. I don't know a person with whom I have discussed this matter who
does not readily admit that no matter how close he or she might feel to a group of
friends or a family group or some other community, he or she still feels like "the
one who doesn't really belong." That is, the others all seem to be very close to
each other, but the person himself or herself feels like an "outsider." In my
experience, the very person who is convinced of outsider status is often viewed by
others as a definite insider -- or even as the leader of the group! My own life
follows this pattern. I remember that in the theatre department at BYU, I felt like
an outsider the whole time I was there. I had friends, but they were always much
closer to other friends than they were to me. I remember very clearly the kinds of
events that made this clear to me -- that despite my active involvement in the
theatrical community, not one of the people whose friendship I most valued
seemed to place all that much value on me or my friendship. Yet in later years, I
have many times heard other people refer to "the Scott Card group" as if there
really were some clique of which I was the center. When they name other people
who were supposedly in "my" group, I can immediately identify which group
those people were really in. And it was never a group that included me.
Was I wrong? Not at all. Were the observers wrong? Nope. The truth is
that no one ever feels truly "known" by others. Every child feels like he or she
was the adopted one <grin>, or the one the parents never really liked as much as
the others. Everybody feels like an outsider most of the time. Most of us spend
our lives trying to get in, or to earn the right to be admitted to the inner circle.
Only rarely are there times when we feel that we truly belong and are utterly
accepted -- and then those times usually end with disillusionment, when we
realize that we were never really as "inside" as we thought we were <wince>.
That is one of the tragic dilemmas of human life, and that is why "outsider"
characters play such a dominant role in my stories. It is worth pointing out that
these "outsiders" are often really the ultimate insider from other people's
perspectives. But from their own, they never seem to belong. That's how we all
feel; that's one of the reasons why readers identify so readily with Ender or Alvin.
These readers aren't all military geniuses like Ender or gifted with magical
abilities like Alvin (though who knows? Perhaps some are! <grin>). But these
readers do feel that sense of being asked to make great sacrifices for a community
that often doesn't allow them to feel as if they truly belonged.
Thus the great heroic deeds are always done by outsiders -- at least in their
own perception. I'm hardly the only fiction writer saying this. Take a look at
Beowulf. Poor misunderstood Hamlet. Macbeth. Lear. Faust. Even Austen's
Emma, who conceives of herself as completely, safely "inside," discovers to her
horror that she is in truth completely outside and uncomprehending, and her
maturity doesn't come until she finally realizes that she was not inside anything at
all. And so on and so on. The very fact that you noticed this about my fiction in
particular may be a sign that I'm dealing with this issue particularly well -- or,
much more likely, it's a sign that I'm dealing with it so baldly that it calls
attention to itself <wince>.