Character Trait Entry: Prejudiced


Definition: having a bias for or against

Causes: growing up in a family or culture that perceives a prejudice as right or acceptable, previous experiences that justify (in the character's mind) a prejudicial attitude toward a person or group of people, a desire for power or domination over said group of people, peer pressure, jumping to unfair or poorly-thought-out conclusions

Characters in Literature: Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), The Malfoys, most of Maycomb County (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Positives: The positive side of the prejudiced person is that they are often very loyal, to a group of people or an ideal (however misguided). It also takes a great deal of determination to stick to an idea that is patently wrong (as most prejudices are). These characteristics can be used to build empathy for a prejudiced character. Prejudice is also a great vehicle through which to create misunderstanding and conflict within your story.

Negatives: Prejudiced people think they're better in some way than the people they judge, and so come off as self-righteous. They dismiss people or whole groups of people and cheat themselves of possible friends, lovers, and mentors, and miss out on the knowledge and experiences those people would share. Another problem with prejudice is that it often occurs in groups, so those who are prejudiced have no one to tell them they're wrong. The group (mob) mentality encourages their bias, making it difficult for them to see the wrongness of their thinking and change their ways. 

Common Portrayals: the old South, white supremacists, Nazi Germany, judges and juries, crooked cops. I tried to also list groups of people who are commonly prejudiced against, but the list went on and on and on. And for every group that is misjudged, there's an opposing group doing the judging. So really, just about any people group can be the victim or purveyor of prejudice.

Cliches to Avoid: the backwoods hick, prejudice in the small town, prejudice described as ignorance or closed-mindedness (however true either may be)

Twists on the Traditional Prejudiced Character: 
  • The prejudiced character who is well-learned and highly intelligent instead of ignorant
  • Instead of applying prejudice against a race or nationality, have your character judge another based on a simple character trait (like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride or Prejudice). Your character might judge a shy person to be stuck-up, misjudge kindness for manipulation, or dismiss a popular person out of an assumption that they're superficial.
  • To my knowledge, the prejudiced person in literature is always portrayed as wrong. But what if the rest of society was wrong and the prejudiced person was right?
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Prejudiced Character unique or more interesting: apologetic, cautious, gracious, shy, curious, kindly, rational, wise

19 comments:

genelempp said...

Nicely done, Becca. Another great addition :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Great one Becca! :)

Gail Shepherd said...

As usual, you are one step ahead of me, and how glad I am of that! My next novel deals with prejudice as a central theme, so I'm going to copy these notes verbatim into the cool little index cards on my new...ta dum...Scrivener program! I'll also mention a terrific book you may not know but that deals with prejudice in 1960s Florida: *Down Sand Mountain*, by Steve Watkins. Thanks Becca.

Katrina S. Forest said...

Really nice post! The only book I can think of in which the prejudiced people might've been "in the right" is Childhood's End. And even that's kind of up to interpretation.

Lisa Gail Green said...

There's unmined gold in this one I think. So many potentially creative ways to make an important point. It's unfortunately a subject that is in no danger of going away, it's only the face that changes.

lufftocraft said...

Just found you through AW. I love it! These Characteristic are fun it will take me months to read them all :)

Bish Denham said...

Good one Becca. Lots of people thought I was stuck-up when I was really very shy and introverted, so I know about that kind of prejudice.

Heather said...

Unfortunately, I live in the clique. :-/ Which is why I plan on moving soon! I'm immersed in this trait, it is all around me, suffocating at times, so when I say you nailed it, I truly mean it! Great entry! And um no, thankfully, I didn't grow up here. I moved here for a job.

Jack said...

Fabulous work, ladies! I have attempted to join from work, though the company's computer has problems with the "followers" section sometimes, to the point that I can't see the list. If it didn't take, I'll take care of it from home later on tonight. Pay me a visit if you have a spare moment at www.jackshideout.blogspot.com.

Again, just super! Looking forward to spending many hours appreciating your hard work.

- Jack

Becca Puglisi said...

Welcome Lufftocraft and Jack! This was a weird one, I admit, because it's so intensely negative. But I have a prejudiced character in my WIP, so I wanted to explore it.

Leslie Rose said...

Loved your POV on breaking out of prejudice stereotypes. I thought THE HELP handled prejudice in a very intriguing way, adding the layers of the Jim Crow laws as a factor, and even showing prejudice within a race through Skeeter and her fiance's conflicts.

Traci Kenworth said...

I applaud you, a very difficult character trait to pull off, especially with sympathy. Your ideas to make it (instead of an entire race) a tic that someone doesn't like about certain people is brilliant. This will certainly help me in my own work.

Kristen said...

Love how you picked Elizabeth Bennett for the photo for this one! You avoided a cliche so nicely ;).

Carol Riggs said...

Thought-provoking post. It's often difficult to do this w/o losing your reader connection to your character, though! I've had to tone my MC down, some.... I like your idea about what if the character was right and the society wrong?!!

Ruth Cooke said...

Ooooh! Thanks for this, Angela. Reading this through just gave me about a half-dozen plot ideas. Great post!

thepatientdreamer said...

This will certainly help me with my WIP thankyou very much.

Theresa Milstein said...

I like your examples that avoid stereotypes.

readable books said...

i also like this article. very good post.

Cedric J. Sims said...

the main character in my book is always judging people by their look. this is a great reference once again

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...