Gather your pitchforks, everyone, because I’m out to kill the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This film-turned-literary trope exists out of the misogyny and laziness of authors. What is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a.k.a. MPDG, you ask? Olivia Gatwood of Button Poetry makes it pretty clear.
Urban Dictionary tells us that the term was first coined and defined by Nathan Rabin, a film critic, as a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Modern examples of the MPDG include Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicides and Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer. The literary embodiment of the MPDG comes in many forms, and all of them are characters that have an adoring fanbase. They include Daisy Buchanan of Great Gatsby fame and Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451, and a few more recent characters: Leslie the quirky best friend in Bridge to Terebithia, Sam from Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Alaska Young from Looking for Alaska.
Now, wait a minute, readers say. Daisy is a major player in the plot! Leslie tore my heart in two! Sam reminds me of people in my life! What’s so wrong with being a dream girl? This trope starts and ends with the idea that the MPDG is only consequential to the story not because she herself is interesting and insightful, but because of what she causes to happen within the psyche of the male main character. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is disposable, like Gatwood said, “the convenient thing about being a magical woman is that I can be gone as quickly as I came.” This characteristic teaches girls that they are expendable.
And yet, girls do. The MPDG is a failed attempt at authors telling girls that being weird and unique is good. In all honesty, these women teach young readers that they live not for themselves, but for the sake of the mle main character. Something dangerous, considering that three out of my five literary examples ended up dead.
John Green has been confronted with the notion that his character Alaska from Looking for Alaska is an MPDG just like Bradbury’s Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451. He agrees that she is. He also defends himself by saying that his main character– and narrator–named Pudge is a heterosexual male, so yes, this exactly how he would view her because he would bring “all kinds of privilege” to the perspective. “But,” he says, “. . . Bradbury does nothing to counter his simple reading of Clarisse . . . the entire second half of [my] novel is spent exploring the ways that Pudge oversimplified and misimagined Alaska.” Misimagined? Misimagined. In reality, it is Green who is misimagining Alaska, not his character.
The deepest flaw with the MPDG is that she is not a real person. So how does one see through the classically annoying trope and avoid writing under the influence of MPDG syndrome? Here are some solutions.
- The girl doesn’t have any flaws? Give her some flaws. A good way to accomplish this is by having the character fail and then grow from it. This will show that she is her own person.
- The girl doesn’t have a life outside of the guy? Give her some depth. A big problem with the MPDG is that every detail of her life only exists to benefit the male main character. By allowing her to live on a separate timeline, the character gains power.
- The girl has unnecessary quirks and no motives? Treat her like a real person and learn about her by devoting some detail. Does the girl have to be so unconventionally-conventionally pretty? Does she have to fit the outsider stereotype? The answer is no, she doesn’t. Also, why is she friends with the main character? Not just because he’s available and she’s bored. Make her have ulterior motive, issues, a real reason to be in the story.
The women in this world deserve more than Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Next time a bubbly magical girl with no real depth or purpose flounces across the written page, whether it be a book published or in progress, kill her. You’ll be doing us all a favor.