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QUESTION:

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>.

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