What’s So Great about Relatability?

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In the wake of a tweet by Ira Glass that called Shakespeare’s plays unrelatableRebecca Mead explores why we care so much about whether we can relate to a play, story or work of art. She admits there’s nothing new about people wanting to see themselves reflected in art, but is still bothered by this recent insistence on relatability:

To appreciate “King Lear”—or even “The Catcher in the Rye” or “The Fault in Our Stars”—only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure.


Kathryn Sukalich is a Wisconsin native living in Oregon. She received an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. You can find her online at kathrynsukalich.com. More from this author →