Without a doubt Marge is the most cautious member of the Simpson family. She lives almost her entire life by the maxim ‘better safe than sorry’ (quite a good thing to say to yourself when deciding how she’s going to react to new situations).
When writing Marge therefore, one has to be careful of not having her jumping into new situations too quickly; she’ll stop and think about it and the possible repercussions first, possibly focusing on all the practical problems organising it may involve. To a degree she has to focus on such things, to balance out the fact that Homer will never consider them in a million years. Conversely, she’s liable to be quite enthusiastic about tamer activities such as going for walks or visiting orchards, simply because she doesn’t have to worry about who’s going to do the picking up afterwards.
Due to her cautious nature she’s also the family member most likely to seek compromise on issues, or suggest less ambitious alternatives, quite often ending up suggesting things which miss the point - such as the time she suggested Homer pretend that the living room was a bar, so he could spend more time at home with his family. One of my favourite quotations comes from The Twisted world of Marge Simpson, and is her response to the ideas of the other members of the Springfield Investorettes;
“I’m not wild about these high-risk ventures. They sound a little risky.”
There, not only is she acting cautiously, but she manages to phrase her concern in a cautious manner! (Incidentally, Marge doesn’t often voice her opinions as forcefully as other characters - she tends to be understate them, usually to avoid possible hurt feelings, or sounding too contentious. There’s one major exception to this rule, which will be dealt with later.) As a side effect, her cautiousness also means she’s a sucker for routine and orderliness (the former in turn implying she doesn’t like diversions – e.g. if she sets out to a retreat to attend marriage classes, then by golly that’s what they’re going to do. Fishing’s obviously out, even if performed at times when classes aren’t even taking place such as very early in the morning), and she’s liable to seek out and create such things, as they put her at ease.
Marge has an extremely strong sense of right and wrong (and an equally strong one of responsibility). She very rarely dithers in the middle on moral issues, or sits and considers the pros and cons of things before deciding what she thinks. Remember how I mentioned above that Marge often sounds timid when giving her opinion on things? This is the exception – when it comes to moral issues Marge is quite forthright, and eager to have her opinions heard. She’s an activist, the sort of person who would tell off a complete stranger for littering, or at least grumble about it and pick up after them. To have her sit back and allow something that she morally objects to occur would be more than a little unusual.
It’s tempting to draw a parallel to Lisa here, the Simpson who is most commonly thought of as standing up for what she believes in. Note however that the motivation for Marge’s moral stands often differ, in so far as they’re more concerned with the immediate wellbeing of her family and friends – a more practical, day to day activism, concerned with the nuts and bolts rather than the big picture. So while it would be quite in character for Lisa to organise a rally to raise awareness about the plight of the rainforest, it would seems slightly unusual for Marge to do the same – I think she’d be more concerned about whether the public parks her kids play in are safe. Also, note that while Marge tends to be conservative on issues Lisa is exactly the opposite, liking variety for its own sake. This makes it harder than one might at first expect to find a situation where they’d both campaign passionately towards the same end goals.
While this all sounds very admirable there is something of a flip side to it.
It’s due to no ill intentions on her part – as said before, if she sees something she considers wrong then she will try to fix it. The problems come because her definition of ‘wrong’ is not always the same as everyone else’s, and quite often she will take it upon herself to start fixing things without asking if her help is wanted.
There are plenty of examples of this, ‘Itchy and Scratchy and Marge’ being one of the most obvious (where she has Bart and Lisa’s favourite show changed to the point where they no longer enjoy it). ‘Homer the Heretic’ is another excellent one, in which we see Marge A) inviting Reverent Lovejoy over for dinner, ostensibly simply to be hospitable, but in fact to try and get him in a position to try and convince Homer to change his mind, and B) threatening to tell her kids that their father is ‘wicked’. Stop and read that last one over a few times, remembering how much emphasis Marge usually places on improving the relationship Homer has with his kids.
From a fanfic point of view then, note that Marge will make decisions for people without necessarily consulting all involved. This may result in her doing something wonderful, or doing something that really doesn’t work out (for a display of both being skilfully achieved go read Child of Darkness, where Marge organises two birthday parties for Lisa – the first is a flop, and an upset Lisa forbids her mother from organising another. Marge, however, ignores this request, and simply is more careful with the next one). Be aware that this isn’t limited to the big issues in life. She tells Homer what to wear to church, buys her kids shoes that are too big because they’ll grow into them, secretly pours some meat juices into Lisa’s gravy to get round her vegetarianism… If in doubt, remember that Marge takes the phrase ‘a mother knows best’ literally, and work from there.
Remember also that she’s not completely unchanging on everything – for example, she backed down on the Itchy and Scratchy affair when she realised that enforcing her wish to not have violence in cartoons would result in Michelangelo’s David not being allowed into Springfield (a very apt threat, given her artistic leanings). It just takes more to change her mind than some other characters (Lisa, for example, is more inclined to be won over by an intellectual argument), preferably needing some concrete example of why she should re-evaluate her opinions.
P.S. On a related note, bear in mind that her highly developed sense of right and wrong pretty much precluded her from ever doing jobs in a half assed manner, or lightly give up on things. She’s responsible and used to rolling up her sleeves and pitching in, and I quite frankly don’t think the thought of goofing off, or quitting, like Homer does would ever occur to her (she probably considers sitting down for five minutes after hovering the entire house to be quite an indulgent thing to do). So if you intend to have her quit at something then you probably need to give a very good reason.
P.P.S. One thing that’s less clearly cut in all this is that if Marge has such a strong moral code, what set of rules does she use to judge whether things are good or bad? This topic is given a whole chapter of ‘Philosophy according to The Simpsons’, which means that if I were to try to write about it at length myself, I’d probably just end up copying them. What I shall say is they point out that Marge’s morals, while sharing a lot in common with basic Christianity, are fundamentally of her own devising (a view Tony expressed independently in chat a while back, and which I found most reassuring to hear coming from someone else). She’s not moral in the zealous sense of the Flanders, and is quite willing to criticise Reverent Lovejoy on occasions if she feels he’s acted in a way that violates her own, independent principals. That said, she’s probably the most devout family member (Lisa’s Buddhism aside), so a careful balance must be struck.
Marge’s view of the world
Without a doubt Marge sees the best in people – I’ve never seen her be rude or thoughtless to someone, even complete strangers (cases of road rage or overdoses of steroids aside…). She’s rarely overly critical, and is happiest when everyone’s having a good time. The problem is this also means she can view things through rose tinted glasses, seeing what she believes should be there rather than what is, and a certain naivety and innocence comes with this.
This results in her being quite a selfless individual, helping people out or doing nice thing for no other reason than the fact she can. But it can also lead to her failing to fully grasp situations at times, and therefore giving useless advice or making incorrect decisions. I’m going to illustrate this using the advice she gave during her stint as the listening lady - she was good at helping Moe feel better about himself, she was able to comfort Sideshow Mel over his dreams of falling, but when it came to dealing with people who didn’t fit into her sugar coated view of life (Jimbo, Nelson, etc hanging around outside Ned’s shop) her advice was worse than useless.
There are a lot of obvious conclusions one can draw from this as a writer, the main one being to stop and put on your pink tined, lets-try-and-do-the-right-thing glasses for just a second whenever you’re trying to decide how Marge will react to something. A slightly more subtle conclusion is that if she is ever hurt/betrayed by someone, Marge is going to find it more difficult to bounce back and recover, simply because she’s going to find it harder to reconcile within the way she views the world. She’ll take things more to heart, just as Lisa pointed out in the episode where Bart was caught shoplifting, and as such it’s going to take longer, or require a grander gesture, for her to forgive any major indiscressions.
- Sydney Brenner
On the face of it, Marge doesn’t initially appear to have any particularly strong yearnings to be a high flier in society. She seemed much more concerned with family life. We do, however, get a few hints otherwise.
The most obvious is when she had an opportunity to join the Springfield Country Club – the episode is self explanatory, so I won’t dwell on it. I will instead point out the events at the beginning of War of The Simpsons though. We’ve seen Homer very drunk lots of times, and Marge has presumably been dealing with it ever since they started going out. Yet when he gets drunk at a social occasion, in front of their friends and neighbours, and makes a fool of himself, it’s enough to make Marge feel they need marriage counselling. When you consider all the other stuff Marge puts up with in their marriage that’s really quite an extreme reaction. There are several other illustrative instances (such as the thought of her father being an ‘air stewardess’ being enough to give Marge a phobia of flying, or the way when Milhouse’s parents break up Marge’s first comment is ‘I can’t believe it. The Van Houtens broke up at our dinner party’ – note the stuff in italics).
All good and interesting, but what are we getting at here? Well, very crudely, this provides OFF fanfic writers with almost a ready made ‘wedge’ one can drive between Homer and Marge, should they desire one (to set up a story, perhaps). A damn good example of this being put into practise comes at the beginning of Colonel Homer (where I would say it’s not just Homer’s general inability to sit and watch the film, but the fact he’s also publicly being irritating, that drive Marge to blow up at him).
A second point is that you have to be a little bit careful when dealing with any topic that is going to have an affect on Marge’s social standing, and not have her treat it in too carefree a manner. ‘Tennis the Menace’, for all its problems, is a good example of Marge viewing things differently to the rest of her family – where they see a chance to play tennis, she sees something that’s going to earn her a little respect socially. There’s no need to go overboard on this, and Homer has done enough embarrassing things in his time for you to justifiably push aside any social concerns Marge may have due to his actions, but be aware the option is there.
Thirdly, remember that she’s going to feel that the town judges her on how good a mother she is by the way her family behave and dress, and to a degree the state of her home. Under normal circumstance she’s likely to take an active interest in these manners, and make sure Homer doesn’t go out with food stains down the front of his shirt for example.
Finally don’t overdo it! Marge may desire to be more popular, but in the majority of episodes this is overruled by her obligations as a mother. If you’re going to invert this balance then make sure you’ve got a good reason, or build up to it. Writing her as a pure social climber is not the goal here – remembering that how she and her family are viewed by the rest of the town is a consideration that goes in the back of her mind is.
Marge and her family
Marge spends most of her life cleaning, picking up after, feeding, and providing a taxi service to her husband and kids, to the point where she is pretty downtrodden at times. The most open admission of this comes in A Streetcar Named Marge, where she asks why Blanch can’t just take her abuse with ‘gentle good humour’, pretty much the way she does.
One might argue that this desire to please people and put up with things may stem from her childhood. She describes herself once as being a ‘lonely little girl’, who looked forward to having kids so that she could have a best friend. Her sisters have always been an exclusive club. Even her parents seem to have been generally critical of her, especially when Homer came on the scene. This is all just provided as food for thought, though – I doubt very much that Matt Groening was thinking along these lines when he created Marge.
More immediately, there is the simple observation that she gains a considerable amount of satisfaction from making sure Bart and Lisa are packed off to school with full lunchboxes, and giving Homer big piles of pork chops for dinner, and she takes a lot of pleasure in all her kid’s/husbands small victories. Vicarious pleasure, yes, but genuine none the less. Be exceptionally wary of breaking this relationship when writing about her. Marge takes a lot of pride in her family’s achievements, and is very unlikely to be disinterested in something they’ve done, no matter how small or inconsequential (in ‘Lisa gets an F’, Marge produces Lisa’s A+++++ paper in the middle of dinner, despite Lisa having hidden it – an wonderful example of her 1. taking pride in her daughter’s achievements even against Lisa’s wishes, and 2. taking it upon herself to act without consulting people, as mentioned in Marge’s Morality). She’s also likely to be more in tune with how her family members are feeling (simply because she pays more attention to them), and is therefore something of a natural choice for other family members to end up talking to if upset or in trouble.
On the other hand, however, all this catering to making everyone else happy leaves something of a hole in Marge’s life. Specifically, she has very little time to do things she wants to do.
My single rule on the topic of Marge’s personal activities is that she has a lot of inertia – it takes a lot to get her motivated to do them (be they take up painting, have a few day’s break at Rancho Relaxo, or buying a dress), but once she gets going it takes even more effort to dissuade her. She’s also likely to invest a lot of time and energy in them, and so be pleased when they work, and upset if they don’t or people aren’t interested (her pretzel making business is a prime example of many of these aspects). No shrugging her shoulders and dismissing things the way Homer does (unless you have a reason, of course).
It also means that in general Marge is likely to be very grateful of any instance where her family pay her attention, give her a compliment, or offer to help – much more so than Homer, who will sit and wish they’d given him some money instead. Having her ignore such things off as irrelevant/worthless would be unusual (but not unheard of. The aforementioned ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’ manages to build up to Marge getting annoyed at a compliment from Homer at the end quite wonderfully).
And that’s all I’ve got to say. May you find something of interest in it, or at the very least, something amusing.
- Sydney Brenner
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This is a glowing testimony to the wonder that is Marjorie Bouvier Simpson. I have nothing to add or detract. I can't even imagine how much work went into this, but you certainly have something to show for it.
I'm still awake inside my head
I'm floating up above the house and looking down.
I guess I gotta go back there,
I guess there'll never be any other answer,
And as the freeway hums the cars go by
The headlights roll across the sky
Many miles away and I can see them speeding through the dark.
- Jonathan Coulton, "Shop Vac"
- Kif White
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Bravo! That was pure brilliance, with many a nail getting hit on the head. Nicely done and very in-depth.
Two things I'd like to see covered that weren't would probably be issues relating to some of the recent traits she's shown, unfortunately negative ones. 1) Marge's sexuality, which could be controversial, that started out as a more private thing she was very conservative about but has recently been more sexed-up. Newer writers used to newer episodes may go with the latter, which I'd advise against. 2) Marge's more recent tendencies to go cooky and/or insane. This is something else I feel should be avoided when writing her. In some situations it's fine, such as her fear of flying, but when related to episodes like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge and Jaws Wired Shut, I feel she tends to cross the line too much.
One thing I'd like to add is Marge's general naive nature about her children and the life they live compared to her days. The best examples would be her asking if kids still went on bike rides and said "cool" any more, as well as her buying clothes for Bart and then sending him outside where the bullies are. I like the fact she seems to just be blind that things have changed for her kids since she was one.
"Know the conflict within before facing the conflict without."
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