Do We Want Flawed Men?

Let me ask you (ladies), who was your first book crush? Does he still rate as one of your literary leading men? According to most lists of this type, Gilbert Blythe (of the Anne of Green Gables series) and Almanzo Wilder (of the Little House on the Prairie series) are close to the top for most of us.

Now let me ask you, what are their faults? My girl and I discussed this the other day. I made the claim that Gil & Manly are perfect. They are honest, hardworking, and loyal. They have high principles and live up to them. They sacrifice of themselves for others (especially their ladies), but without denigrating themselves. Where’s the flaw? (Note, I’m talking about the literary characters only. Almanzo was also a real person, but we’re not discussing him.)

My girl pointed out that Gil (our discussion centered mostly on him, as he’s the one my girl is most familiar with) was a flirt, a tease, before he fell for Anne. That’s true. And that would certainly have been a flaw, if the teasing had been at all malicious (see my previous post on Heathcliff). But Gilbert’s teasing was not mean, and given context I’m not sure it is a flaw. It seems to be more a matter of the old maxim, “He wouldn’t tease you if he didn’t like you.” Rightly or wrongly, for years that was the accepted mode of communicating fondness. I personally agree with Anne –teasing deserves a slate over the head – but when all of society is telling young people it’s acceptable, it’s hard to convict a boy based on teasing that’s not meant to hurt. (Key words, those: “not meant to hurt.” I’m not talking about bullying, which is entirely different. See previous post on Heathcliff.) Also, give Gilbert credit: as soon as it was brought to his attention, via Anne’s slate, that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, he stopped.

My girl also pointed out that Gilbert did snub Anne at the ball, so maybe he had a little too much pride. I don’t entirely agree with that, either. Yes, he did snub her. But she had been snubbing him for months, so turn-about seemed fair play. A guy can only take so much, after all; it was time for him to stand up and make a point with Anne, lest he be viewed as too weak – which would have been a real character flaw.

It was about this time that my girl made a remark about my just excusing anything I don’t like in Gil or Manly’s behavior just because I like them. She may have a point there.

I bring this up because, of all words of advice to writers, among the most frequently repeated is to be sure your protagonist – or their love interest – is not too perfect. “No one will be able to relate to them if they don’t have some flaw,” they say, and “Perfection is boring. Nobody wants to read about Goody Two-Shoes.”

What do you think? Do you like Gil and/or Manly? Why or why not? Are they too perfect? Or, what are their “redeeming flaws,” if such a thing be real? Is a dream-perfect leading man too boring? What flaws would you want your real-life partner to have? Why would wish this flaw on him? Or, if you wouldn’t want your real-life partner to have a flaw, why would you want a literary leading man to have one?


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by lauri5567 on October 24, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Manly certainly develops flaws during the First Four Years, though I think his upbringing explains a lot of it. Also, I think Gilbert uses Christine to make Anne jealous (I think engaged Christine knew it so it wasn’t malicious). I think that’s what makes them good characters is that they aren’t perfect but those flaws can be explained. I read so many Sweet Valley High books and the like growing up. Those guys were either good or bad with little to no gray. Have you seen Todd Wilkens on many lists? Probably not because he was mainly arm candy for Elizabeth. She cheated on him whenever she left town but it was okay because she “really” loved Todd but he shouldn’t go to a movie with a female friend. Can you imagine Gilbert being okay with it? Lastly, I think Jonathan Crombie portrayed Gilbert in a way that’s hard not to impose on book Gilbert. I think Dean Butler’s Almanzo suffered as Michael Landon wasn’t ready to not be the hero and the story was so different that it’s easy to separate the two.


    • I agree Manly has flaws in FFY, but my personal belief is that since that book hadn’t been run through Rose’s typewriter, it more reflects the personality of the actual man rather than the literary character every girl loves. I don’t agree that Gilbert uses Christine in that way. Gil & she were just friends, and I always read it as he was trying to make a new set of friends – i.e., a new life – without Anne, since she wouldn’t have him. Never read Sweet Valley High (I think I’m too old for that series) but you’re right that the name Todd Wilkens never shows up. He sounds like a weak character. Not necessarily weakly written (couldn’t say, never having read it), but a weak man as a character. No, I can’t imagine Gil or Manly being okay with that, or any man worth his salt. Or any woman worth her salt behaving that way, either, for that matter. You make a good point about Crombie’s portrayal of Gilbert. I may indeed be reading some of that into the book, he did such a great job. And yeah, the TV show’s Almanzo just wasn’t even the same character as the book, imho. Your point that what makes them good characters is that their flaws can be explained is well stated. But this brings me back to the original questions: Is a dream-perfect leading man too boring? What flaws would you want your real-life partner to have? Why would wish this flaw on him? Or, if you wouldn’t want your real-life partner to have a flaw, why would you want a literary leading man to have one?


  2. Posted by Frieda on January 20, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    That’s hard. I wouldn’t wish a flaw on anyone but a perfect person would be too good for me. We don’t like barbie being so perfect because it gives girls impossible to live up to. A perfect man would be the same.


    • Interesting. I’ve never seen the impossibility of living up to perfection given as the reason to write flawed characters, but it’s something to think about. In bygone days, characters (especially for children’s books) were written to be extra good on purpose, to give them something to strive for. Your point about them being “too good for me” is probably on target: we couldn’t relate well to someone without faults.


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