One of the most reliable tools in the trade of storytelling is empathy, and it is for this reason that the underdog is among the most popular character types. A loser; a nerd; a wimp.
There’s something about this character that inspires something within his audience. We want to see the underdog succeed because it proves that we, too, can persevere.
Jeff Kinney’s underdog becomes the narrator in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid and from the get go the reader can infer what type of story this will be. It is comedy in its full embodiment: a protagonist on the bottom rung of social standing finds himself in trying situations in which at times he comes out successful, but most times not.
The great thing about the loser is that he can lose and not be broken by the loss. He hardly comes out on top, but when he does it’s in a big way. One thing the underdog excels at is losing after he’s already won. Like when Greg and Rowley escape the teenagers on Halloween only to be drenched by a trashcan full of water. You take the wins with the losses and move on to the next challenge, is the message this book drives home to its young reader audience.
Failure isn’t really the word for it. Greg attributes his errors and mistakes as lessons to be learnt. Because, can a child truly fail in the eyes of the American zeitgeist? Kids can do the zaniest, craziest things and get away with it because they are children and lack the mental facilities to know better. Except, Greg thinks he knows everything. That’s one of the most endearing qualities of a kid, but it can get annoying to a non-youth reader. When Greg lets Rowley take the blame for the worms, we think come on that’s not right but Greg only feels remorse upon being served his consequences. Here’s where a certain disconnect occurs between intended and non-intended audiences. This is YA literature at the end of the day, and we are observing it exclusively from a humoristic stance. What is significant to take away from this book, in terms of our class, is the tropes and types of characters highlighted.
This is an episodic story. There is no central plot that runs throughout the story. It is simply a year in the life of a wimp. There is some nice resolution when it comes to the cheese that slaps a moldy bow on the whole book, but for the most part Greg lives like his central reader lives: day by day in the blur of youth. The story doesn’t end just because the book does, which is especially true considering how this is part of a series. The situations change but the characters remain largely static; unchanging in the limbo contained between the wide ruled notebook paper.