The introverted adolescent has become an icon for teenage angst, exploring complex themes of identity, alienation, belonging, sexuality and love. While reading and analyzing the novels in my “Fictions of Adolescence” class, I noticed that several of the protagonists have introverted personalities. From late 19th century novels to early 21st century novels, female and male introverted protagonists construct the adolescent experience quite well. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Mary Lennox is a “disagreeable child” who spends most of her time alone playing in the garden, Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood is a troubled adolescent who does not fit in with the rest of the young women in her magazine guest editorship, Peter Cameron’s James Sveck is a disturbed adolescent who is labeled a “misfit,” and finally Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen is a teen who spends most of her time hunting in the woods until she enters the Hunger Games. Perhaps the most infamous introverted adolescent is J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.
Why is it common to have an introverted protagonist when writing about adolescents? Perhaps it is the reserved and pensive manner of the introvert that offers more on the inner thoughts of the protagonist, especially if the novel is written in first person. The introvert has more time to think deeply and to meditate on the situations in their lives. Or perhaps most writers are introverted and their personality seeps into their characters’ personalities. No matter how troubled Holden Caulfield, James Sveck or even Katniss are, there is something about them that we can relate to, even if some of us are extroverts. Could this suggest that there is a hidden introvert in everyone? Aren’t we all the Katniss Everdeens or the Holden Caulfields of the real world? There is something intrinsically adolescent about them that we are drawn to. Novels express the different aspects of the human condition. This is what makes the introvert the ideal protagonist.