Friday, January 20, 2012

Unwrapping: Does Familiarity Really Breed Contempt?

My view of the Belle Femme-
in my daydream, of course
If you read my post this past Wacky Wednesday, 1/17, then you know of my conversation with two of my characters [if not, you can click here to read it but do come back].  After my discussion about love and marriage with them, I began to consider something else. 

As writers, we develop a tension between our hero and heroine, then throw them together in a situation where they must deal with each other under less than ideal circumstances and yet they eventually fall in love.  As I consider this, I'm reminded of the old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt."  So why then do we assume that our couple will fall in love with each other after they are thrown together? Is it the familiarity that allows it to happen? But then what of the contempt?

That old saying was actually the moral to an Aesop's Fable, THE FOX AND THE LION.

When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the wood. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  
                                   Moral:  Familiarity Breeds Contempt.

It is true that when we first meet a person, generally one of the opposite sex, we set an impression in our minds about that person. We might dislike him/her, we might be enamoured of him/her, or we might even be intimidated by him/her. No matter what we first think of someone, as we get to know them better, more familiarly, our impression tends to change. Sometimes for the better, and unfortunately, sometimes for the worse.

Our heroes and heroines, like most men and women, are usually attracted physically to each other yet there seems to be something that almost always keeps them apart from the start.  It isn't until they're thrown together, when they have no other choice but to become familiar with each other - i.e.,  that they get to know each other better - that they fall in love! Our hero usually gains a respect for our heroine and our heroine usually decides he's not such an obnoxious arrogant SOB after all.  So why doesn't this newly discovered familiarity drive them apart rather than together?

I pondered this, for too long, I think, but I think I understand, at least in respect to Aesop's Fable ... well, I hope I do. In the case of the Fox and the Lion, the Fox was terribly frightened by the Lion. He feared the Lion would eat him straight away. It was only after the Fox discovered the Lion could be considered a friend rather than foe that he turned 'his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony." It didn't mean the Fox wouldn't return another day to pass the time with the Lion only that he no longer feared the Lion. The Fox was then capable of actually turning his back to the Lion without fearing the Lion would leap upon him and devour him. His familiarity with the Lion led him to have contempt for his own fear. Ta Da! Well, I guess that's right!

If I am correct, that familiarity merely allows a person to feel contempt for whatever it was that held them back in the first place, then in regards to our heroes and heroines, it's the familiarity that grows between them that allows them to put aside that first impression.   Let's say our heroine thinks our hero is an arrogant misogynistic SOB and she'd rather kiss the back end of a toad than have anything to do with him. Yet, after spending some one-on-one time with him, she's leaping into the sack with him. So I can only assume that the familiarity leads to a contempt for something other than him, but what? You tell me, have I got this right or am I way off track? 

Kathleen was ready to take that knife to good old Joe Fox.
Fox  ...  F - O - X
Think about the characters, Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, in the movie, YOU'VE GOT MAIL -  they meet (instant attraction), they find out who each other is (instant contempt), they slowly get to know each other (they fall in love).  Familiarity brought them together so what happened to the contempt? Uh oh, I'm confused again!

So ... does familiarity really breed contempt? Or is that Aesop was completely off base when it came to relationships? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter because I'm still feeling lost. Or perhaps it's just contempt for Aesop's moral. 

Happy Reading Everyone!


Beebs said...

Hi Amy

I've had coffee, brain is now functioning....ish.*g*

I think familiarity does breed contempt, in certain situations. We've all met people we've liked at first, but in getting to know them properly have come to dislike them.

On the other hand we may come to love people we were wary of on first impression. So, I think you may be on the right track with your theory that as the fox became more familiar with the lion, the less in awe of him he was. I think in relationships between people, that could be construed as losing your fear of opening up and not being afraid to show your true self. So, not contempt for the other person necessarily but contempt for our own fear of being hurt?

I think Aesop's morals are definitely open to interpretation.

Amy Valentini said...

Hi Beebs,
I've always understood the saying 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' but this one has always confused me. I've been thinking way too much lately, I think. LOL!! I do understand it in regards to being married - argh! Good to see you, my friend! : )

Beebs said...

Good to be here, Amy, very profound thoughts, definitely needed the coffee before contemplating this. LOL

I've been in a bit of a fug all week - INSOMNIA, aaaarrrggghhh - so I've been incoherent mostly, got plenty of reading done however.

I finally got to read Johanna Lindsey's Once a Princess, after reading the follow-up You Belong to me ages ago, I'd been dying to read it, loved it. Just finished Anna Campbell's Midnight's Wild Passion, really liked that too, off to the TBR mountain to see what's up next. :)

Amy Valentini said...

Sorry to hear you're not sleeping but one benefit is it does give you time to read. ONCE A PRINCESS is a good one ... haven't read that one in a while. Hmmm ... maybe I can squeeze it again sometime. ; )
Let me know what you think about MAD ABOUT THE EARL - it's on my list. : )

Beebs said...

Will do, Amy, I did enjoy Once a Princess, have to re-read You Belong to me now, just to refresh the rapidly deteriorating memory.

Just won a Kindle copy of Barbara Monajem's Unrepentant Rake, new-to-me author so looking forward to it. Have a good weekend. :)

Amy Valentini said...

You've certainly got the luck of the Irish, Beebs. Congrats on your win. Enjoy. Good weekend to you, too! : )