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When you see someone with expensive jewelry, driving a Lexus with tinted windows, rap music blaring from a mega stereo system, do you assume that he is a punk or drug dealer? This is an example of stereotyping. How are stereotypes assigned? Often they are created by society and are based on gender, race, religion, age, or social standing. Henrick Ibsen focused on the theme of stereotyping in his play A Doll's House.
In A Doll's House, Nora is seen as more an object than a person. When the play was written, women in general were viewed as wives and mothers, not individuals. Nora skillfully plays the part of obedient wife as Torvald questions her about what she did in town, assuring him that she "would never dream of doing anything [he] didn't want [her] to (Ibsen 933)." In "The Breakfast Club," the characters' peers designate stereotypes as a result of a combination of social status and behavior. Brian is "the brain" because he is an A student, Bender is "the criminal" on account of his rebellious behavior, and so forth. In his essay to Mr. Vernon, Brian addresses the stereotypes that have been placed on him and his peers:
"...we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us...in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed" (Hughes).
In agreement with the opening quote from the movie, these characters "are quite aware of what they're going through" (Hughes).
Stereotypes are superficial, however, and when they are peeled off they often reveal something completely unexpected. When Torvald receives the letter from Mr. Krogstad and learns of Nora's secret, he begins to see her as "a hypocrite, a liar...a criminal" (Ibsen 974). When the conflict is resolved and it becomes clear that no one will suffer because of her forgery, Torvald returns Nora's stereotype of vulnerable woman, telling her he "wouldn't be a proper man if [he] didn't find a woman doubly attractive for being so obviously helpless" (Ibsen 975). In "The Breakfast Club," the teenagers have been aware of their stereotypes for quite some time.
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After stereotypes are rejected, they must be replaced with something else; the person who was stereotyped must find his or her individual identity. When Nora realizes that she and Torvald do not love one another the way they should as husband and wife, she makes a decision that she must "learn to stand alone" (Ibsen 977). Rather than remain the object she is in her marriage to Torvald, she desires to be her own person. She tells Torvald that she is leaving him to find herself, launching her search for individuality. In "The Breakfast Club," the characters tackle individuality from a different angle. Rather than asserting their distinctiveness by focusing on their differences, they cross the social boundaries of their high school peers, become friends for a day, and concentrate instead on their common ground. Brian appropriately conveys this idea in his essay to Mr. Vernon when he says:
"You see us as you want to see us...in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?" (Hughes)
The characters discover their individuality in their similarity.
When people reject their stereotypes, they frequently find that the stereotype is actually a part of them. Rejecting a stereotype may entail simply revealing another side that has never been shown before. Or, as in Nora's case, it may involve doing something unexpected or unheard of. Stereotypes are not necessarily always negative, but one must keep in mind the truth in the old adage, "You can't judge a book by its cover."
Hughes, John. The Breakfast Club. Universal City Studios. 1985.
Ibsen, Henrick. A Doll's House. Literature and the Writing Process. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1999. 930-980.
"Internet Movie Database." 28 Apr. 2001. http://www.imdb.com.
"Stereotype." Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. 29 Apr. 2001. http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary.