Have you ever noticed what a huge role jealousy plays in fairy tales? In Cinderella, our heroine has to stay home and clean out fireplaces because her stepsisters and their mother are jealous of her. In Snow White, we have an evil queen, jealous of her stepdaughter’s youth, beauty, and sweet disposition. Even Sleeping Beauty begins at the baby’s christening, at which fairies are invited to be her godmothers, but another fairy who was left out is jealous and curses the baby instead.*
Jealousy is a classic motivation in stories, especially murder mysteries and thrillers. Shakespeare called it "the green-eyed monster." It also pops up a lot in the romance genre, but I sometimes find it troubling. It’s often used as a signal to alert the main characters they’re starting to think of the other as more than a friend, but it can easily cross the line into creepy. Have you ever read about a heroine who interprets the hero's jealous behavior as proof of love, while your inner voice screams “control freak” or even “potential abuser?” I have. And I don't like it.
On the other hand, jealousy is a very real human emotion, and it does play out in real relationships. We can’t just ignore it, even if we wanted to. But how far is too far? I personally can’t get behind a hero that tries to control the heroine’s actions out of jealousy. Or visa versa. Nor can I support a heroine manipulating the situation in order to make the hero jealous. It’s not only immature, it shows her willingness to use other people for her own ends. But people make mistakes and I’m a big believer in redemption. If they've seen the error of their ways by the end of the book, I can usually forgive them. Just how far wrong the characters can go and still be redeemable depends a lot on the writer’s skill.
What do you think? When it comes to jealous behavior, how far is too far?
*In one version of Sleeping Beauty, the king and queen only have twelve special fairy dishes, and don’t invite the thirteenth fairy for that reason. There’s a hospitality lesson in there somewhere, but that’s a discussion for another day.