Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Are the Beautiful Good in Western Literature?: A Simple Illustration of the Necessity of Literary Quantification

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Are the Beautiful Good in Western Literature?: A Simple Illustration of the Necessity of Literary Quantification

Article excerpt

Summary

Social psychologists consistently find evidence for a physical attractiveness stereotype (PAS) whereby people attribute positive personality characteristics to the physically attractive and negative personality characteristics to the physically unattractive. Researchers summarise the PAS phenomenon with the aphorisms "what is beautiful is good 'and' what is ugly is bad". Are traces of this stereotype detectable in Western literature? Are "good" characters more likely to be portrayed as physically attractive and are "bad" characters more likely to be portrayed as physically unattractive or ugly? And what is the best way of addressing these questions? This study presents results of a quantitative content analysis designed to determine whether or not the PAS is reflected in a sample of plot and character summaries taken to be reasonably representative of "canonical" Western literature. Results are reported for the sample as a whole, based on the characters' sex, and for three broad historical periods. Discussion focuses on the relevance of our results to debates about the origins of the PAS, and on the unexpected finding of sharp differences in the strength of the stereotype in male versus female characters. More broadly, we seek to provide a modest illustration of the value of a more scientific approach to literary study.

Opsomming

Sosiale sielkundiges vind voortdurend bewyse vir 'n stereotipe wat berus op fisiese aantreklikheid (physical attractiveness stereotype, of PAS), waarvolgens mense positiewe persoonlikheidstrekke aan fisies aantreklike mense toedig, en negatiewe persoonlikheidstrekke aan fisies onaantreklike mense. Navorsers som die PAS-verskynsel op met die aforismes "wat mooi is, is goed" en "wat lelik is, is sleg". Is daar spore van hierdie stereotipe in Westerse literatuur te bespeur? Is dit waarskynlik dat "goeie" karakters as fisies aantreklik en "slegte" karakters as fisies onaantreklik of lelik uitgebeeld sal word? En wat is die beste manier om hierdie vrae te benader? Hierdie studie le resultate voor van 'n kwantitatiewe inhoudanalise wat ontwerp is om te bepaal of die PAS weerspieel word deur 'n monster van plot- en karakter-opsommings wat beskou word as redelik verteenwoordigend van "kanonieke" Westerse literatuur. Resultate word vir die monster in sy geheel weergegee, gegrond op die karakters se geslag, en vir drie bree historiese tydperke. Bespreking fokus op die relevansie van ons resultate vir debatte oor die ontstaansmoontlikhede van die PAS, en op die onverwagte ontdekking van skerp verskille in die sterkte van die stereotipe in manlike versus vroulike karakters. Op 'n breer vlak streef ons na 'n beskeie illustrasie van die waarde van 'n meer wetenskaplike benadering van literere studie.

Introduction

Social psychologists consistently find evidence for a physical attractiveness stereotype (PAS) whereby people attribute positive personality characteristics to the physically attractive and negative personality characteristics to the physically unattractive. Research subjects consistently prejudge attractive people as more likeable, happy, successful, sexually warm and responsive, kind, socially graceful, occupationally competent, and intelligent than less attractive people. The stereotype is already well established in the minds of schoolchildren, and perhaps even in infants, judging from the length of time they stare at attractive versus unattractive faces. As a result of this "lookism", people judged to be physically attractive by panels of independent raters receive better grades, land more prestigious and lucrative jobs, win more arguments, are more popular, marry wealthier spouses, receive lighter prison sentences for the same crimes, make the most successful salespersons and, not surprisingly, report being happier (for overviews, see major meta-analyses by Feingold 1992; Eagly, Ashmore & Makhijani 1991; Langlois et al. 2000). Thornhill's review of the PAS literature leads him to opine, "There is probably more prejudice in the context of physical attractiveness per se than on the basis of ethnic group and sex combined" (1998: 559). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.