There must be something about four characters and their ability to attract and keep large audiences, because groups of four are so common in the media. In this post, I want to map out the four “types” of women that make up the usual quartets of female friendships, exemplified by Now and Then (1995), Sex and the City (1998), Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005), and Girls (2012). SATC and Sisterhood are both based on books (published 1997 and 2001 respectively), but here I’m focusing on their screen depictions.
I don’t know where these types originated (maybe with Little Women?), but I think their endurance has something to do with the way they encompass a range of personality traits that everyone can relate.
- The Narrator. She’s usually a writer; she’s observant and funny and can see her friends for who they truly are. She turns this introspection onto herself (sometimes) with varying degrees of success. She is Jo March, Samantha Albertson, Carrie Bradshaw, Carmen Lowell, Hannah Horvath.
As I’m writing this, I’m becoming more convinced that Little Women (book first published in 1868-9, best movie version came out in 1994) is the inspiration for these types.
The book is a masterpiece of female relationships, a touchstone for generations of women (especially women writers). I assume the above characters are the ones with whom their respective creators most relate, and they are the closest things to protagonists these ensembles have. (In the case of SATC and Girls Carrie and Hannah are more clearly the main characters).
2. The Reality Check. This personality varies a little depending on the more specific personality of the Narrator. She is the one most likely to be the one to correct/redirect the Narrator when she has some truly awful ideas. Their relationship goes through phases of extreme closeness and damaging fights. She is either more feminist/unconventional (Roberta, Miranda, Tibby) or more traditionalist (Meg, Marnie) than our main character. Her name should have an “M” in it. She is Meg, Roberta Martin, Miranda Hobbs, Tibby Rollins, Marnie Michaels.
She has her resting bitch face down.
I think these are the characters people are least likely to want to be like, but I think they are far more familiar to us than the Wild Child or the Innocent, who are archetypes. The Reality Checks are complicated and multi-dimensional characters.
3. The Wild Child. She is the Free Spirit who does what she likes despite conventions. Men usually drool after her; she’s usually blonde. She pushes her friends to do new things, but she often puts her own needs before others, which can sometimes be hurtful. Sometimes she has a tragic back story, sometimes not. She is Amy, Teeny Tercell, Samantha Jones, Bridget Vreeland, Jessa Johansson.
She yields the greatest gifs:
They are good for the other characters and entertaining for audiences, but I often wonder whether these girls would really be friends with the others in real life.
4. The Innocent. She is the one with a learning curve, more naive than her friends. Sometimes she tries things willingly, other times she castigates the others for their behavior. She alternates between acting like the little sister and the mother. One could make an argument that Meg March fits well in this spot, but but she is a better Reality Check than Beth is. Like the Wild Child, she is an archetype, and is often a more extreme version of her character than you would expect to see friends with the group in real life. She is Beth (again, it’s tricky because [spoiler alert] no one dies young from scarlet fever in the other series), Chrissy DeWitt, Charlotte York, Lena Kaligaris, Shoshanna Shapiro.
Check out those bambi faces. And pigtails to indicate their childlike natures!
When I was in Middle School, we all had to take the True Colors personality test. Now I think personalities are too complicated to be reduced to four types, but at the time it was my first experience with personality testing and I loved it. But maybe the recurrence of these quartets of women speaks to the relevance of these four personality groupings. (They correspond rather well: Narrator=Green, Reality Check=Gold, Wild Child=Orange, Innocent=Blue).
These types obviously work really well to create drama and snappy dialogue in all situations because of their complementary personalities.
Are there other examples of these types? Pretty Little Liars doesn’t really work…