Rebels have been part of our culture since the beginning of story telling. Sometimes they’re the good guys, the heroes who stand up for the poor, the weak and the ones without voices. Sometimes they’re the outcasts; the misfits and dreamers who don’t belong. But they always served a moral purpose, teaching a lesson about right and wrong on both individual and societal scales.
As literature evolved, our stories changed as well. Morphing from cautionary tales to more dynamic introspection, the nature of how we view rebels also developed. Rebels in literature today are more dynamic, more complex, and far more varied than before. Wrapped in a hero story or simply giving the reader the ability to examine society from afar, rebels still serve to teach us lessons about who we are and who we want to be.
In that vein, it’s fascinating to view how specific personality types rise when the right set of external circumstances emerge.
The misunderstood rebel
Ever since Jim Stark in his red jacket and perfect pout smashed on the scene in 1955, rebels took on a new identity. They became the quiet outcasts; the non-conformists. They’re the ones who wore their hair long and their opinions loud. In perfect literary irony, Rebel Without A Cause actually gave teens a cause to rebel against: conformity.
This particular brand of rebel is pure INFP, and no two characters capture this personality more than Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye and Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders.
Both Holden and Ponyboy are full of capital F: Feelings. We get pages of their sensitive nature, their compassion, the way they care for others. In true Introvert fashion, they reveal their emotions in quiet iNtuitive ways, through essays or literature, always searching for greater meaning and frustrated when they can’t seem to relate to others on these deep, emotional levels.
These Feelings, coupled with their iNtuitive and sensitive nature, make their Perceiving status of outcast a very painful but real part of their identity. As such, they search, successfully in Ponyboy’s case, for their own community, a group that accepts them and allows them to be who they are, showing that it isn’t people they’re rebelling against, but the expectation for them to cease being individuals.
The reluctant rebel
Staying true to the introspective trope, the reluctant rebel has become a popular theme in rebel literary characters. Two of the more popular examples of this type of rebel are Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and the eponymous rebel of the series Harry Potter.
Both ISTP to the core, Harry and Katniss aren’t the type of rebels looking for a fight. In fact, both are incredibly introverted, seeking to stay well under the social radar and get by. But the worlds they live in aren’t exactly stable ones, and life (plot) throws them into the rebel spotlight.
It may seem like they are more heroes than rebels, at least on the surface of their literary journeys. However, neither of them want to be in the positions they’re in. Because of their iNtroverted nature, they are quiet observers. This makes them extremely perceptive to the nuances of their environments, which makes them fast acting when situations arise. Because they are Thinking types they value analyzing situations. Again, when emergencies happen, they are fast reacting because they’ve sensed the change (S), have perceived and adapted to the environment (P), and have a well thought-out plan (T) already in the back of their heads.
Harry and Katniss may be reluctant rebels, but when pushed, their natural leadership qualities inherent in their ISTP personalities make them perfect to face the evils of their worlds.
The solitary rebel
When living in a totalitarian regime, keeping your head down is a survival tactic most people employ. And for the solitary ISFJ rebel, it takes a very specific form of oppression to raise the spark of resistance. We see this perfect storm in both Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale and Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451.
Both Offred and Guy aren’t exactly happy with their roles in life. However, their ISFJ traits make them seemingly ideal subservient citizens. They both keep their introverted heads down and follow the rules. But they never turn their Sensing minds off. Constantly observing and taking in their surroundings, they make decisions based on their feelings and sense of justice, never moving far from their deep rooted objective to take care of the people they love.
This is more apparent with Offred, who struggles with the idea of saving herself while having to leave her daughter behind. But that doesn’t mean Guy isn’t being driven by his loyalty or his emotions. It is in fact concern over his wife that sends him down the path of rebellion, her nearly dying from triggers both his Feeling nature and need for justice.
Neither Offred or Guy are natural leaders. Had they lived in a world that allowed them to protect the ones they loved, these personality types may never have stepped into the role of rebel. But their emotional drive combined with their structured Judgement makes their rebel tendencies impossible to ignore.
Rebels with a cause
Not all rebels are quiet introverts, only fighting when the exact circumstances are right. Some, like the ESFJ, go looking for a fight. Or, at least, are actively looking for a cause.
Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz are interesting rebels. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like either Alice or Dorothy would be inclined to kick up any rebel forces. But, put them in unknown worlds, surrounded by people and situations that challenge not only their views of themselves, but of what they feel is just and their ESFJ rebel natures come out in full force.
Their extraverted natures shine through from every initial meeting with both girls. They stumble into strange worlds and, rather than shrink inwards, both Alice and Dorothy make friends and learn about the underlying problems within very short periods of time. It isn’t the worlds themselves that spark their inner rebels to appear. It’s more that they come across situations that they feel need their help. This also highlights their extraverted traits, as they don’t back away from the problem and in fact end up pushing to try to right the unjust wrongs before they consider going home.
Both Alice and Dorothy have a strong sense of their values. It isn’t logic that drives their convictions, but their Feelings. These emotions drive their values, making their sense of justice extremely well defined and easy for them to follow. To walk away from this conflict without resolution is unthinkable to both girls, and while they want to go home, they also feel very connected to their new friends and cannot bear to leave them in an unjust situation.
We live in complex times, facing unprecedented changes almost every day. As society changes, our stories should change with us. If the best stories are the ones we find pieces of ourselves in characters, then these characters and stories need to be far more varied than ever before.
Rebels may have once been outcasts, the disenfranchised living on the fringes of society. But today, a rebel can be a hero. They can be the quiet Introvert who bravely protects the ones they love or the extraverted adventurer who doesn’t back down from an unjust regime. Either way, they are varied and dynamic, just like we are.