What comes to your mind when you think about your favorite book? When I think about my favorite reads, I remember the characters I fell in love with and with whom I wouldn’t mind trading places for a day. What I’ve come to realize is that in literature – as in life – we often identify with characters who share the same hobbies, interests and personality traits we do.
Of course, this is not always the case. Sometimes we admire a character because she represents something we would like to have ourselves: confidence, a witty sense of humor, a devil-may-care attitude; whatever it may be. Characters from all sides of the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum can teach us something about ourselves and make us question our own behaviors.
So how come so many authors rely on the same old archetypes?
ISFJ: Always the sidekick, never the hero
As someone who enjoys discussing literature, I can’t help but notice how many main protagonists are depicted as the archetypal ISTP – emotionally detached, analytical and results-oriented; the ultimate action hero. It has become a literary trope.
Because of this, it’s easy for readers to overlook characters who do not share the usual ISTP traits. More affectionate, traditionalist or empathetic characters – those we could type as ISFJs – are often deeply misunderstood. ISFJs have been in the literary canon for a long time, but they rarely take the center stage. Rather, they invariably appear as the trusty sidekick, the reliable friend in the background, or the affable mother who makes everyone feel at ease.
ISFJs have their own shortcomings, of course. But if we can learn anything from them, it is how being kind and compassionate goes a long way toward resolving a challenging situation, and is just as important as the ISTP’s can-do attitude and self-reliance.
So without further ado, let’s look at five incredible literary ISFJs who show us the importance of kindness.
1. Hercule Poirot from Agatha Christie’s Poirot series
To say that Hercule Poirot is an interesting character is an understatement. This ever-popular private detective is so full of contradictions, he is one of the most curious literary characters to analyze.
At first, it may seem strange to typecast Poirot as an Introvert. Christie populated her novels with plenty of characters, and Poirot is often seen at large parties and events. However, Poirot confesses on several occasions how he truly wishes for a quiet life, away from all the fuss that solving murders involves. “I am like a cat. I sit by the fire and keep myself warm.” he says in the Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
True to his ISFJ nature, Poirot prefers to focus on facts and details. Whenever he is investigating a case, he might have an idea of who the murderer is from the beginning. But he will only pursue his theory after confirming all the details match up.
Despite being methodical and factual, Poirot also demonstrates a strong sense of morality. His Protector nature comes through when he feels the need to defend the voiceless. In reality, he cares more about the wellbeing of others than with the prestige he might achieve with each new case solved. In Death in the Clouds, Poirot admits, “There are more important things than finding the murderer. And justice is a fine word, but it is sometimes difficult to say exactly what one means by it. In my opinion, the important thing is to clear the innocent.”
Famous for his wit and intelligence, it is safe to say that Poirot has the gift of charm. He is at his happiest when he sees his detective work helping people and shining a light on the intricacies of the human condition.
2. Anne Elliot, from Jane Austen’s Persuasion
At 27, Anne Elliott is the oldest of Jane Austen’s protagonists. When we meet Anne, her father has brought the family into great debt and her sister Mary will be the wife of a wealthy man, so the Elliotts have to move out of the family home and cut down their expenses.
From the beginning of the novel, Anne shows her ISFJ Protector nature by being compassionate and willing to help those she loves even if they often underestimate her, as is the case with her father, Sir Walter.
He dismisses Anne’s opinion on any matter and the narrator describes our protagonist as being a ‘nobody’ to her family: “Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way— she was only Anne.”
Despite her father’s indifference towards her, Anne values the opinions of her loved ones. After all, it was due to her close friend Lady Russel’s advice that she broke off her engagement to Captain Wentworth, the man she still loves.
However, no matter how valuable Lady Russell’s advice may be, it affects her only to a certain extent. Anne is capable of thinking for herself. She has a practical nature and common sense, and these ISFJ traits make it easier for her to come to terms with her family’s new financial situation, while her father and sisters are still mourning their old lifestyle.
Another of Anne’s strongest ISFJ attributes is her ability to listen, which makes her a good friend and someone who others enjoy having around. Anne is often Mary’s confidant to her marriage complaints, and Anne herself recognizes how the best way she can help people is by listening: “How was Anne to set all these matters to rights? She could do little more than listen patiently (…).”
Humble and unassuming, our protagonist spends eight years without looking for Captain Wentworth for she fears she has lost his affection forever. Yet, we know by the end of the novel that his feelings have not changed and he wishes to rekindle their relationship. Anne’s diligent work and sweet nature ultimately pay off as she finds her happy ending with the one she loved all along.
3. Neville Longbottom, from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
Ah, sweet Neville. From a modest start as the butt of all jokes, he quickly becomes one of the most memorable characters from the Harry Potter series and the character who undergoes incredible changes.
At the beginning of his journey, Neville is an insecure child who questions why the Sorting Hat put him into Gryffindor. After all, this is a house for courageous wizards and Neville does not see himself as particularly brave.
However, as the years pass, he reveals his true Protector nature by consistently standing up for his friends. Though other students mock him, Neville manages to fight his own insecurities in order to defend those he loves. Even if it means slaying a snake with a magical sword.
Despite often getting into trouble, Neville, like most ISFJs, desperately wants to follow the rules. He values stability over flexibility and is loyal to Hogwarts and its traditions.
In the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, when he sees Harry, Hermione and Ron out of bed, he tries to stop them, for he understands how their transgression will affect the whole of Gryffindor house. He considers their behavior selfish and therefore condemnable and tries hard to make things right again. “’You can’t go out’, said Neville, ‘you’ll be caught again. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble.’”
In the end, Neville proves to everyone (including himself) that he deserves his place in Gryffindor. Out of all the characters, he perhaps displays the most loyalty and courage.
4. Beth March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women
Beth is the quietest of the four March sisters. While Jo wants to be a writer, Meg wishes to marry well and Amy works to become an artist, Beth is the gentle soul who finds comfort in staying at home, playing her piano.
Though rarely enjoying the company of strangers, Beth has a deep influence on her sisters, especially in Jo who is very close to her. What Jo mostly admires in Beth, is her selflessness. Others appreciate Beth for the diligence with which she carries on her everyday tasks, never complaining.
As an ISFJ, Beth’s Protector nature reveals itself in dutiful acts of service. The author describes how Beth “never was too tired for Marmee and the girls, and day after day said hopefully to herself,’ I know I’ll get my music some time, if I’m good.’”
Beth’s docile nature makes it easy for everyone to love her. However, being a private person, who sometimes restrains her emotions, also means others can often underestimate her. It takes the length of an entire novel for the March sisters to realize how much Beth suffered in silence, too humble to share her grievances with any of them. Alcott winks at how we frequently overlook the ISFJs of this world, mentioning:
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”
In the end, Beth’s compassionate duty does not go unnoticed, and she spends her life the way it pleases her: close to her loving family.
5. Samwise Gamgee, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy
We cannot speak of loyal characters without mentioning Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Frodo’s constant and loyal friend is a textbook ISFJ who goes to great lengths to defend his companion. For him a promise is a promise. When he tells Gandalf he will never leave Frodo, he means it.
In fact, Sam carries Frodo to the top of Mount Doom, and ends up completing the mission alone only because he understands how the most important thing to do at that moment is to burn the ring.
Besides defending those he cares about, Sam also has an ISFJ traditionalist inclination. We often see him reminiscing about the past and remembering things Bilbo used to say to him and his companion.
Another ISFJ trait we instantly see is Sam’s selflessness. Sam does not seek external validation for his work, and does not care if people see him as a hero or savior after their quest. His main drive is to defend Frodo and complete the mission, avoiding anything that might deviate them from this purpose — something we conclude he does brilliantly.
I said at the beginning that every personality type can teach us something about the world and ourselves. While these incredible ISFJs may not have been given the spotlight they deserved, they still taught me some important lessons. Through them, I know that kindness, compassion and quiet strength are just as valuable as gun-toting born-readiness, and we should all seek to foster these skills.
What about you? What have you learned from your favorite book characters? Tell us in the comments below!