By Kara Hildebrand
A literary trope is something repeated so often it borders on cliché: the mad scientist, the forbidden romance, the antihero, the tragic backstory. Perhaps it’s just natural for certain repetitions to become cemented in our literary canon, or perhaps there’s something more to why we identify with tropes enough to reuse them. Characters are people we can latch onto, that we can know more intimately than even our own friends. Who they are and what they do matters to us, and the tropes that define the ones we’re drawn to are subtle ways through which we reveal our values and aspirations. We identify with characters we are like, and we identify with characters we want to be like.
And perhaps the best way to explore how we process our own identity through story tropes is through a story itself, one where your choices allow you to discover yourself along the way. Continue reading to find out which main character you are.
Which Main Character Are You?
You are undergoing a test of sorts in a world as convoluted as the mind. There’s something… strange going on here. What could it be?
And who are you?
You wake beneath scratchy sheets that smell of something gone sour. Do you know your name?
Yes… Go to A
No… Go to A
You don’t recognize this bedroom. Everything is mahogany and frayed lace. Old furniture untouched by time; you skim the nightstand with your fingers and feel no nicks, no rust on the gold accents, and the drawer slides open with ease, though there’s nothing inside. You shimmy out of the covers, no sound but a
Your eyes catch on a timeworn vanity and a mirror etched with red letters.
Leave the bedroom to look for a way out… Go to B
Investigate the mirror… Go to C
You roam through ceaseless, expansive corridors with nothing to guide you. Picture frames display plain white squares along every wall. Every few feet, a new frame. Something is close. Something else is just out of reach. You walk faster. You emerge into the foyer, a large door standing between you and something you can’t say.
The door won’t budge.
A wrinkled piece of parchment hangs in front of your face.
X Go grocery shopping
X Start to unpack boxes
O Remain in denial
Do you check off the last item?
No, you head back to the bedroom… Go to C
Yes … Go to D
Approaching the vanity, you glimpse yourself for the first time through red smears you now recognize as candle wax. The features looking back, uncanny and cobbled together, seem less like yours than this dollhouse furniture and more like a mimic copying your every gesture. Letters, muted and tacky, spell out:
Like there’s a warmth blooming in my palms that builds with my confusion… Go to F
Like I’ve been assigned to this fate, but by whom?… Go to E
You suddenly get the feeling that you’re being watched. You turn slowly around. Stone statues make up a semicircle around you, mouths slit into grimaces, each holding something in their hands.
A guitar An open book
A mixing palette A football
What do you want to do next?
Weave through them and try to find another way out of here… Go to G
There must be a reason I’m here, so I’ll go search for answers… Go to E
Keeps getting louder as you walk
Keeps getting louder as you walk closer to the kitchen.
It’s coming from the fridge. The door creaks open. What you see doesn’t make sense. Letters stacked on letters, arranged like packaged food and cartons.
S T V X L Y L Q E E
L J R E P W V Q S L
F B H B F F Y D O T
L U H O N E S T U I
B H N F Y T D T T K
R U X N M N U B G T
A M C H Y U K C O A
V S S O L E M N I H
E H H Y Q U K I N D
Z Y P J A V R Z G A
You pick up something that looks like a jug of milk
and take a sip.
How does it taste?
Like sewage… Go to G
Like strawberries… Go to H
You stumble through doors, having to shove your shoulder against some to loosen them. Finally you wind up in a living room. It’s domestic, with couches and chairs adorned in a tacky orange flower pattern. There’s somebody in the chair. Their face is ashen and their eyes sunken in. They’re looking right at you. It’s you, you realize. Another version of you somehow. How do you know that?
“You’ve been following me.”
“You’re in my house.”
“But it’s my house too now, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
Fear and frustration starts to pool in your palms and you feel a scream start to build in your throat. Hands burning, you open your mouth but before any sound can come out the other you soars across the room and into the wall. The heat subsides quickly like an exhale.
Are you seeing things?… Go to H
Are you finally waking up?… Go to K
Suddenly, you notice footsteps in front of you. Hazy and not all the way there, like a mirage. You follow them through room after room, finding yourself in a bathroom. A figure stands in the corner. Their face is ashen and their eyes sunken in. They’re looking right at you. It’s you, you realize. Another version of you somehow. How do you know that?
“You’re me, aren’t you?”
“You’ve been following me.”
“I have a message for you.”
I knew that I was here for a reason… Go to J
I have no idea what it could be… Go to I
A vague awareness whispers in your ear, you can break out of here if only you try.
You concentrate, feeling a fire in your hands ignite… Go to K
You hear a booming voice start to speak… Go to J
I. The Everyman
“You have a quest to undertake.”
The other you hands over a key.
You feel unprepared but you’re ready, you make your way to the front door and unlock it. Your quest is clear now.
“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
How do we reconcile our normalcy with fantasies of adventure? Nebulous enough to be relatable, the Everyman is endlessly humble, adventure-averse, and oblivious to their own strengths. He is a wish we cling to that one day we can be pulled from this world, ordinary as we are, and be called to a higher purpose. We are not the subjects of prophecies, we have no birthright or heroic feats under our belt, and yet the Everyman, who is just like us, can be great. Our alignment with this character suggests, at its core, a poignant desire to matter, to explore what we see as heroic in our own lives. A grand quest may be as simple as running errands or raising a hand in class, but it can be heroic nonetheless.
J. The Chosen One
A voice crackles as if over a loudspeaker.
“It’s you. We’ve been waiting for you.”
You find your way out of the house. You were meant to do so, after all. Your quest is clear now.
“yours is the light by which my spirit’s born:
yours is the darkness of my soul’s return
–you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars”
– E. E. Cummings
The Chosen One is the recipient of our jealousy because we, too, want to be chosen. To be the subject of prophecies, to be completely integral to the future of our world; the dream of such a thing is addicting. Chosen Ones vary in their executions, but they all contain something rich and molten at their core: inherent value that is fated by the cosmos and can’t be erased or drained away. The Chosen One is the sun, the moon, and all the stars; when we absorb enough stories from their perspective, perhaps even a fragment of their self importance passes on to us. Through the Chosen One’s quest, we internally explore how we exert our own power and dare to see ourselves as the critical axis around which everything spins.
K. The Magician
You make your way to the front door and feel the now familiar sensation dance across your palms. The door swings open into the outside world. Your quest is clear now.
“To be alive—is Power—
– Emily Dickinson
The so-called “real world” with its gnashing teeth, she bites and we bite back. Magic is a perversion of the rules that govern our reality. The Earth doesn’t wield power over the Magician, the Magician wields power over the Earth. To imagine that we could manifest our intangible influence into something you can see, hear, touch is magnetic. The Magician can be many things: a child wrapped up in a fantastical world, a tortured woman simmering with untamed magic, a man with a long, white beard. Our obsession with magic represents an inner struggle for control, to take something from a world that takes so frequently from us.
Here you are, the end of a journey and the beginning of another. As you go forward in the world, you’ll know what type of main character you are in your story. Identity is a puzzle that we never fully solve. We enter life and our mind for the first time with this daunting task of self discovery and we’re thrust into the physical world where this pressure never ends. Stories and tropes, however, give us shortcuts to learn more about ourselves, to provide comfort and stability in a world full of chaos.
So what do you think? Did I read you correctly?