Identification (literature)

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Identification is a term used in literary and film studies to describe a psychological relationship between the reader of a novel and a character in the book, or between a spectator in the audience and a character on screen. In both cases, readers and spectators see themselves in the fictional character.

Identification is usually supposed to be largely unconscious: a reader may be aware that she likes a given character, but not that she actually sees that character as an alter ego, a version of her, or a projection of her aspirations for herself. It would be a mistake to think all heroes foster identification, or that all villains inhibit identification—many, perhaps even most, characters elicit some degree of identification on the part of the reader or spectator. In film, Alfred Hitchcock exploited the traits of casual identification with specific moments, even when the character was villainous. In Psycho (1960), Hitchcock explained that as the character Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was disposing of the car containing Marion Crane's body in a swamp, for a brief moment he had the car stop sinking. "When Perkins is looking at the car sinking in the pond... the public are thinking, 'I hope it goes all the way down!' It's a natural instinct."[1]

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  1. ^ Truffaut, Francois (1978) Hitchcock (Revised Edition) Paladin, p.342