Another topic (was Re: Identifying with characters)

Charles Butler hannibal at
Tue Dec 2 04:54:40 EST 2003

Sallyo, responding to Robyn:
> > Why would you use "that"? "Who" is for people, characters are people,
> right?
> Not always, by a very long chalk. A character is a sentient being in a
> story. It can be a cornflake box on legs.

Now that sounds like a cardboard character. :-)

To me, it feels right to use 'who' for any self-conscious being, whether
made of  flesh or metal or recycled seaweed. It's the self-consciousness
that confers who-hood, I'd have thought, rather than membership of the human
race - otherwise, think of all the fantasy characters (elves, gods, talking
animals, etc. as well as robots) who/that would be excluded.

The it/she/he question is another can of worms. If the entity has a gender,
one can happily use 'he' or 'she' as appropriate. If not, but it's still
self-conscious, we find ourselves staring into a grammatical abyss where an
English pronoun ought to be. 'It' can seem faintly derogatory, 'he' and
'she' too restrictive (and arguably sexist to boot). It's tricky.


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