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Gammas in Literature: Severian [Retracted]

Updated: Jan 18, 2020

“The Shadow of the Torturer” (1980) by Don Maitz.

RETRACTION: I have since discovered that although Severian may have some gamma tells, his character is more complex, and it is an unjust oversimplification to categorize him as a gamma.

I recently started to re-read The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe and I’m beginning to suspect that the titular character (and the author’s stand-in) is a total gamma.

As I understand it, there are several qualities that are common for gammas in literature, and although these are not hard-and-fast rules, they are strongly indicative.

First of all, Severian is a secret king, a chosen one. His destiny is written in the stars. He was born to rule and to save the world. He did not seek the throne, but passively“backed into it”.

Gammas tend to think they should really be Alphas, and if only people understood how smart or insightful they are, they would be offered positions of authority, so gamma literature tends to portray this sort of situation, which is unlike what usually happens in real life.

Reflecting on this has also made me begin to wonder about the trope that says the best man to be king is the man who did not seek the throne. King Bran from Game of Thrones comes to mind as an example of this trope. In reality, people like Donald Trump become kings. He thought he could do a good job at being president, so he made it happen.

Ruling, like anything else, requires experience. Will the sensitive, intelligent, and insightful barista make a good manager? Probably not.

Severian also does not actively seek out his adventures. He is a sort of pawn. Things just sort-of happen to him because he happens to be in the right place at the right time… repeatedly. In literature not written by gammas, it is more common for the main character to see a situation that needs to be dealt with, and then he sets out to deal with it. Frodo must go to Mount Doom. Mount Doom does not come to Frodo.

Even how Severian makes love smacks of gamma-tude. He does not actively seek out romance. He’s thrown together with a woman, he becomes infatuated with her, and then she just throw herself at him when she realizes what a nice guy he is. Gammas often envision romance as themselves saving a naïve woman from the depredations of selfish and rough alphas. They don’t understand that women are usually more attracted to a man’s ability to provide for her (future) children, rather than to how “nice” he is. As Vox Day says, in real life women are usually repulsed by gammas.

For more information on gammas and the social-sexual hierarchy, check out Alpha Game.

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