There have been books that move and inspire people. Some of those books become movies and real-life adaptations. Many don’t live up to expectations of people that love those stories. With it being summer, now is the perfect time to relax and find new things that pique your interest. Recently, something that piqued my interest was a twelve-episode series on Hulu. Normal People was the second New York Times Bestselling novel by Irish author, Sally Rooney, in 2018. Online streaming service, Hulu, took that beloved story and brought it to life in the spring of 2020. This sounds like something that’s been said and done before.
However, the interest in the story is that it changed the stereotypical boy meets girl narrative and characters and brings a more realistic approach to contemporary fiction. It touches on topics like gendered society, dating, sex, class differences, and mental health in a way that makes it feel tangible to the reader and the watcher of the story alike.
The story of Normal People follows Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridon as they navigate life and their relationship over four years. What caught me, specifically, about the two main characters, is how human they appear to be. With most of the contemporary fiction that I have read and the tv series that I have watched staying within the confines of stereotypes that make the characters relatable, but it is very clear that they are not real. With this story, Connell and Marianne seem like people we’ve met in our lives and are more like old friends than fictional characters.
Connell Waldron, on the surface, is what you normally think of when you think of the popular guy in school. Handsome, athletic, and smart. However, Connell continues to exhibit signs of increasing social anxiety and depression. Throughout the story, Connell continues to be insecure and unsure of himself as well as what he thinks and wants. He is never fully able to express his emotions, especially with Marianne.
Marianne doesn’t quite fit into a particular mold of a character. She doesn’t have any friends (aside from her outside relationship with Connell), keeps to herself, and is often ridiculed by her classmates. Marianne is also outspoken and intelligent. She doesn’t fit into a mold. She becomes a separate entity from most female stereotypes that tend not to crossover. Marianne and Connell take the stereotypes of their genders and completely throw them out and rewrites them.
Connell exhibits a vulnerability that often is a pressure point for most men. Connell was the kind of person that would follow the crowd and keep his opinions to himself. He was insecure about himself and was never sure what he wanted and what he wanted to be. When Connell left high school and went off to college, he felt trapped, and the anxiety and insecurity became crippling. Connell’s issues with anxiety and mental health are gracefully covered in a way that shows a gradual worsening of his mental state. Connell begins talking about and getting help for his troubles without judgment from his peers resulting in him finding better and more productive ways to deal with his issues.
The representation of masculinity is broadly used but not broadly spoken about. When men are represented in fictional stories, they are brooding, mysterious, and strong with an unclear past that might contain some troubling points. When a man shows vulnerability, it is not often praised by others. It can become a point of ridicule and a reason for them to act out as a way to cope with their emotions. Connell can cope with his emotions healthily and productively, rather than keeping it inside until he can’t handle them anymore and acts according to what he feels.
Marianne shows a strength that often is overlooked when society talks about women. Marianne had a difficult home life that made her grow up faster than she really should have. She spent a lot of her time reading and being alone because her peers outcasted her for being weird and annoying. However, as she leaves high school and goes on to college, she begins to experience relationships that would be considered abusive– including when her home life becomes physical. Even in these kinds of relationships, she finds a way to stand up for herself no matter how long it would take. She would maintain her smart and witty attitude even if she was feeling completely out of control of her life and the situations going on.
A women’s strength is not a physical asset that can be measured and clearly observed. Women are often considered gentle, timid, and weak. Women who act out of that stereotype are criticized for not being ladylike and following the beat of their own drum. Women have a kind of emotional intelligence that allows them to be able to bounce back from and handle difficult situations with dignity and strength. Marianne showed such strength considering the situations that she experienced in four years, that in many ways, is the time in any person’s life that is meant to figure out who we are.
Marianne and Connell are two characters in fiction that are so easy to connect with. Everyone – regardless of gender, race, or any other characteristic that often allows audiences to connect – knows or understands what it is like to be in situations where they feel they don’t know who they are, they don’t have control over their lives, they struggle with family and relationship issues, mental health, or any of the other topics covered so gracefully and so humanly in Normal People. I highly encourage everyone to read and watch this truly amazing and encouraging story. Maybe it will inspire you the way it inspired me and millions of others.