Saturday, July 25, 2015

Middle-Child Media Study

     This was partly inspired by Naomi's (Wonderland Creekpost about busting the stereotype of older sisters and partly because I am a middle child and can understand the complexities of middle child syndrome. All middle children are different, but the term "middle child syndrome" exists for a reason. Oftentimes, middle children tend to be loners, preferring to go at their own rate and pace. Middle children seem lost in the shuffle and oftentimes don't open up easily to people.

     Literature and media seem to enjoy separating the middle child character and making them as different from the rest of the family as possible. Whether it's the (overly unfair) stereotype of the plain boring sister (Edith Crawley and Mary Bennett) or the popular wild child with no regards for rules (Tristan Ludlow and Arya Stark) or the person who is just finding their own way (Marianne Dashwood and Laura Ingalls Wilder), no two middle children are the same.

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The Invisible Sister

Edith Crawley 
L-R: Lady Edith, Lady Mary and Lady Sybil
     How I will always love Julian Fellowes for popularizing the invisible sister in the most negative way. Edith Crawley came onto the Downton Abbey scene in the pilot episode of season 1 and was immediately dubbed, the ugly sister. Fellowes went the extra mile by also giving Edith a mean, vengeful, shallow personality and oftentimes came off as thinking only of herself. As a matter of fact the Mary//Edith debate is a consistent point of contention between my older sister, who is always defending Mary and me, who tries to see the good in Edith when no one else can. For the first two seasons of Dowton Abbey, Edith was thoroughly unliked and even the media enjoyed making fun of her. To be honest, I think it was a terrible portrayal for the middle child, but it is Julian's story. 

     In season 3, Edith's life takes a drastic turn when she is jilted at the alter and sadly, most of the blame is on her father. Afterwards, there was a new perspective to Edith. For so long she was seen as manipulative and cruel and people longed for the day when she would get her comeuppance, but then it happens and guess what? Fans are furious!! Edith didn't deserve that! She deserves to have someone love her! If Mary can marry the man of her dreams, why can't Edith???

      Eventually Edith gains her own independence and pretty much forges her own life separate from Downton Abbey. By the time season 5 ended, mistakes and hard life experience, mixed in with a little forgiveness and grace have created a completely different Edith who is now one of the most beloved characters on the show. Edith isn't an angel, but she isn't a demon either. As with middle children portrayal, she's complex and confusing and desperate for attention, but she's also creative, understanding and willing to except change and change for Lady Edith is a very good thing.

Mary Bennet
L-R: Lizzy Bennet, Jane Bennet and Mary Bennet
     I have always had a hard time understanding the point behind Mary Bennet or if she was written to prove that not all the Bennet girls were lovely? In the book (and films) Mary Bennet is another negative portrayal of the ugly invisible sister. Although she's a talented pianist and avid reader, Mary is boring with no sense of humor and give little care to her appearance. Sandwiched between her two beautiful older sister's, Jane and Lizzy, and her two mischievous, but equally pretty younger sister, Kitty and Lydia, Mary spends most of her time by herself and not invading either of the biological buddy systems in the Bennet household. In the book, little attention is given to Mary and what is given is usually in a humiliating and irritating form. By the end, Mary seems to have gone through some mild changes, but still there is no focus on her as a character. Quite frankly, I think the books would have done just fine with four sisters who all had equal representation than with five sisters where one child serves no purpose at all.

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The Rebel Child

Tristan Ludlow
L-R: Alfred Ludlow, Samuel Ludlow and Tristan Ludlow
     My first introduction to Brad Pitt came in his award winning characterization of the rebel middle son, Tristan Ludlow in Legends of The Fall. Set in Montana in 1914, Tristan Ludlow has had the luxury of always being everyone's favorite. Placed between his practical older brother, Alfred and his educated, but naive younger brother, Samuel, Tristan is the somewhat odd child who doesn't fit in with his family's traditional and proper Edwardian ways. He would rather hunt bears and catch wild stallions than sit in a dining room drinking tea. He's stubborn, but generous and is courageous to a fault. Everyone loves and admires him. So it's no surprise when Samuel's beautiful fiance, Susannah, falls in love with Tristan too. 

     When his little brother is killed in war, Tristan goes through an intense time of grieving and mourning and eventually gives in to his harbored feelings to Susannah. This doesn't sit well with Alfred who is also in love with her and feels that Tristan tried to seduce her while she was still engaged to Samuel. What I love about Tristan is that he can be very sacrificial. Rather than stay and have his brother as his enemy, Tristan leaves to try and figure himself out and after several years, returns home a changed man. 

     While Tristan's problems are far from over, his natural rebel nature is what keeps him going. Tristan always hated being the favorite, he hated the Alfred was overlooked and that he was never there for his brothers when they needed him. As the middle child, Tristan is portrayed in the unusual opposing light as being the favored child, but also keeping with the characteristics of the lonewolf who lives by his own rules.

Arya Stark
L-R: Bran Stark, Arya Stark and Sansa Stark
     I am surprised that I managed to muscle my way through season 1 of Game of Thrones. I could understand why it's so popular; the storyline in general is gripping and the characters are well written and personable. So, when I was introduced the the popular character of Arya Stark I could see why people loved her so much. Arya is the the tomboyish daughter of Eddard and Catelyn Stark of Winterfell and middle of the five Stark children. While she lives in the shadow of her beautiful ladylike older sister, Sansa, Arya is spoiled by her older brother and has no problem bullying her younger brothers. She is especially close to her father's bastard son Jon Snow, who sees the warrior heart that Arya possesses and believes that one day she is going to make a difference as a skilled fighter. Arya uses her position as the middle child to her advantage. She is able to sneak away with no one noticing and is able to dream about a life far away from Winterfell. As true to the loner characteristics so often seen in middle children, Arya survives because she is better on her own. 

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The Balanced Child

Laura Ingalls Wilder
L-R: Mary Ingalls, Carrie Ingalls and Laura Ingalls
     As a child, Laura Ingalls always seemed to be one-upped by her prettier older sister Mary, but that was what made her life story so endearing. The simple life of the middle sister moving all around the American prairie. Laura Ingalls can easily be described as a romantic, a person who strives to see the beauty in anything and everything and oftentimes that nature is seen in the middle child who is caught between both the younger child and the older child. While Laura's main problems seemed to be with Mary when they were little girls, she never seemed to have any general middle child syndrome and that was probably because her little sister Carrie came when she and Mary were older. And Laura enjoyed being an older sister to Carrie who eventually became her best friend after Mary went off to school, which was hard on the whole family, but especially Laura who had developed a deep close friendship with Mary over the years. Laura is a perfect example of a middle child who doesn't seem to bear the usual innate qualities of middle child syndrome. She's balanced in who she is as a daughter and most especially as a devoted sister.

Marianne Dashwood
L-R: Elinor Dashwood, Margaret Dashwood and Marianne Dashwood
     Marianne Dashwood is a middle child who actually seems to enjoy her position! While constantly fussed over by her older sister Elinor, Marianne has no problems bullying her younger sister Margaret. She is a romantic by heart and oftentimes lets her emotions overcome her common sense. Marianne is hardly someone who prefers to be left alone and enjoys parties and social gatherings. While she may be balanced in her position as the middle sister, she tends to demand too much of both sisters. Marianne expects Margaret to have the social graces of someone twice her age and for Elinor to step down from her role as the dutiful older sister and have fun. I wouldn't call Marianne a spoiled child, but she is very use to seeing the world her own way. As her character develops in the story, Marianne must learn that the world is a far greater place than she imagined and must understand that too much expectations of a person, can cause you to never understand them at all. 

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      I can't say that I enjoy being the middle child, but I've been the middle child for 16 years and so it just becomes an identification for me. I can also say that I am prone to middle child syndrome and trying to get my family to understand the stresses of being the middle child is next to impossible. That's why I have a blog; I'm able to say what I want to say without the aggravation of being interrupted or the humiliation of being ignored. While some say that the middle child is social, I disagree and believe that the major common denominator is that middle children are oftentimes alone and secluded, which is why they also tend to be creative and work hard at what they're good at. There's is no perfect position in the family (and never will be), there's no denying that the middle tends to be the most unique.


  1. I'm a middle child too. Actually I'm second of four, does that still count? Either way I have the symptoms. ;) And probably fall into the "balanced child' category. But even though I am one I still find this all very interesting! Middle child characters always have a special place in my heart.

    It took me a long time to "get" Mary Bennett, but I finally did a couple years ago when I played her in an onstage production of P&P. Now I really really love her, and feel for her. It's so sad how she fell for Mr. Collins and he never even noticed her, even though he's such an annoying person. She just thinks so differently from everyone else; she basically lives in her own world separate from everyone and doesn't even know it. I need to re-read the book again to see if my view of her lines up.

    Very interesting post, Ivy, I enjoyed reading it! :)

    1. Thanks! Middle Child Syndrome is more or less a state of mind than it is being an actual middle child and I see that in a lot of films as well.

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