Alpha Males in Fiction:

I recently stumbled across two articles on the subject of the Alpha Male. One was very scholarly and the other a blog-type post. What struck me was how much both had in common, and I realized that I had written characters that were Alpha Males throughout my writing career. (Not that I’m patting myself on the back. A true scholar would have made a concentrated effort). The scholarly article by Frans de Waal was part of a TedMed talk entitled “The Surprising Science of Alpha Males.” De Waal examines how chimp behavior is similar to that of evolved humans. The blog post from “How to Beast” by David De Las Morenas shares many interesting similarities with the scholarly article by Dr. deWaal even though Morenas concentrates on the social aspect of human Alpha male identity. They both agree that the Alpha Male in more recent years has been portrayed as a bully. According to both authors, the bully is an aberrant form of the true Alpha Male. I found both perspectives fascinating and related them to my own characters. The descriptions were illuminating because novels, especially romance novels, often have Alpha Males as a central character. An Alpha Male portrayed correctly is the ultimate hero.

1. The Alpha Male Asserts himself: De Waal’s work is with primates, and he contends that the Alpha male has to be “impressive, intimidating, and demonstrate {his} vigor on occasion and show that {he is} very strong.” However, he disagrees with those who see the Alpha Male as an obnoxious loud mouth. According to deWaal, these people see the Alpha Male as a “bully.” In his study, male chimps that are true Alphas are leadrs but never bullies. Both authors agree that the Alpha male is assertive but not mean-spirited. According to Morenas, the top (human) dog isn’t afraid to make decisions or say what is on his mind. He “proceeds and states his honest opinion. . . ,”but he doesn’t make “people feel like sh– or {start} worthless fights.” He doesn’t let “uncomfortable interaction stop him from getting what he wants.” In From Ice Wagon to Club House, Jude Mooney pursues what he wants even when he knows it means incurring the wrath of his parents or society. His pious parents don’t want him working in Storyville, but he does it to save them from starvation. The gorgeous Irish rebel Maeve is the love of his life, and he woos her until she becomes his. During the bleak days of the Depression, Jude turns to bootlegging when his family again faces dire poverty, but he is never bullying to anyone he encounters and even helps a young man who tries to rob his house. In The Progeny, Jude’s sons, Daniel and Paul, are very much like their father. They join the military to fight Nazi aggression, and they make purposeful decisions that lead to love, risk, and adventure. 

2. The Alpha Male is Courageous. According to Morenas, “We all have insecurities and fears that we cannot control. However, the Alpha Male is able to push on in a particular direction in spite of his fears.” The Alpha Male always tries even if he may fail. In From Ice Wagon to Club House, Jude and his partner Pete open their own restaurant/bar even though they may fail. The mob wants in on their business, but they stand their ground. In Love at War, Keith Roussel takes on the mission of a sniper in WWII to take down dangerous German officers and defeat Nazi bullies. 

3. The Alpha Male is Generous. This theory was one that surprised me.  According to de Waal, the Alpha doesn’t simply become the Alpha through brute strength. The males have to be liked and respected by the group. When male chimps are campaigning to be top dogs, they “share food very easily with everyone or they start to tickle the babies of the females.” The males “spend a lot of time currying favor with all sorts of parties when they are campaigning.” This According to de Waal, we see politicians engaging in such behavior all the time. In my books, Jude as well as his sons provide for those they love; in return, they are respected and loved as well. This behavior remains in the Alpha chimp even after he become the Alpha and would be an appealing trait in a Romantic hero.  

4.  The Alpha Male Holds Himself with a Strong Posture. According to Morenas, the Alpha Male “doesn’t slouch forward or stare down at his feet.  .  . He holds his head high and looks you in the eye. And this strong, confident posture is mirrored inside of him.” In my books, my characters are not all tall or stunningly handsome. (Well, some are.) What they do possess is a confidence that they will succeed. De Waal has seen parallel behavior in chimps. The Alpha Males often “{stand} on two legs and {put} arms out. This is called bipedal swagger. It’s a very common posture in high-ranking males and it’s very recognizable because humans do this kind of stuff.” The male is asserting himself and achieving success. 

5. The Alpha Male Attracts Respect and Sex. According to Morenas, the Alpha is “the guy who men respect and women lust for.” According to de Waal, the biggest privilege of achieving Alpha status among chimps is “females.” Maybe this is why Alpha males are so popular in romance. Even in these more enlightened and liberated times, we like a man who can sweep his lover off the feet and inspire devotion. In Love at War, Keith Roussel inspires such devotion that Nuala extracts extreme vengeance of the enemy she believes kills him. In From Ice Wagon to Club House, Jude Mooney inspires love and lust in several beautiful women. 

I found both authors and their views enlightening. They provided a revelatory  analysis of what makes an Alpha: assertiveness and not aggression; generosity and not covetousness; directness but not bullying. Those traits should define the hero in any Romance novel. 

About viola62

I am a teacher by day and a writer by night. I live in New Orleans with my loving husband and write historical fiction, mysteries, and contemporary romance. New Orleans is frequently a character in the book, but I also traverse continents in my quest to bring my characters to life.
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1 Response to Alpha Males in Fiction:

  1. sueberger3 says:

    Very interesting. Thank you for the post.

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