Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where Do We Draw The Line?

I found myself vaguely surprised at the level of enthusiasm given to the question about MCs who cry, and cry, and cry. I think someone actually used the word 'drop-kick' in there. I could sense a clear line that people didn't like to see crossed.

This got me thinking. After all, I know when I'm reading, listening to, or watching a story, I have certain lines that I don't like seeing crossed either. Today, I'd like to discuss another line: interpersonal violence.

A while back, I watched the movie Chinatown for the first time. At one point near the end, Jack Nicholson's character slaps Faye Dunaway's character three times in rapid succession, because he believes she's lying to him. Now, let me make this clear, he's supposed to be the hero here, not to mention the romantic interest. For me, the slap was leaping head first over the line. I lost a lot of love for him in that moment.

Let me make this clear: as far as I'm concerned, the second a man slaps a woman, I'm gone. In my head, I'm thinking, "Honey, dump his ass," and maybe some other things in even less polite language. Barring unbelievably mitigating circumstances (to the point of he'd have to have done it to save her from certain death), I'd lose all love for that guy and encourage any girl he's interested in to head for the hills.

In a balanced perspective, I did once read a book in which the male lead slapped his wife without losing all of my respect. However, in that case, he was a spy in deep, deep cover, and if he didn't slap her, it would break his cover, and then they would both be brutally executed. And he did demonstrate soon afterward his regret for having done so and that the circumstances had necessitated it. In that case, I granted him an exception.

I guess it deserves to be said, if I came across a book in which a woman were beating up on a guy with whom she had contact, I like to think I've equal enough perspectives on society to have a similarly negative reaction to her. However, I don't know if I've ever come across a book in which the female was the physical abuser. (I say physical, because sometimes I think Bella from Twilight is emotionally abusive, but that might just be my view.) Has anyone come across a book with a female abuser?

How do you feel about interpersonal violence in books? Where do you draw the line? At what point would a character become unforgivable in your mind? Can you forgive things that might have crossed your preconceived line?


  1. I'm with you (again) on this one. I have a low tolerance for men who strike women and the circumstances where it might be acceptable are quite narrow (maybe if she was becoming hysterical and needed a quick reality check). I think I read a Pat Conroy book once that had a female abuser. The character would prey on a mans reluctance to retialiate against a woman. That steamed me up too.

  2. Not only do I abhor violence of any kind, when a man hits a woman (in reality or in books or movies) and then says, "She deserved it." That's when I'm ready to do some serious physical abuse myself.

  3. I totally agree with you on this. Well said.

  4. DL -- Thanks for weighing in. I must say, I don't think I'd be able to read a book with an abuser in a prominent position. I'd probably end up chucking the book at a wall.

    Piedmont -- I definitely concur.

    Susan -- Thanks for commenting. :)

  5. I agree. One slap and he's gone. Undercover spy saving them both from torture and death was the same exception to the rule I would have mentioned! Heheh.

    There is one other exception. If the author shows an abusive relationship without endorsing it. In the examples you gave, Chinatown and Twilight, there is no indication that the hero/heroine is not acting perfectly right. It is possible to show an abusive relationship with the subtle message, "Pity these poor people," rather than "Admire them." I don't mean the author has to intrude obnoxiously to get this across. It comes across.