Plotrospection-- Arranged Marriage

Baby bear says, “Don’t forget to enter Enna Isilee’s giveaway of Ice! You won’t be sorry!”

Here's a new thing I'm going to try out, it may happen again in the future, or it may be a one time thing. But here we go.

Plotrospection: The act of looking at and examining a specific plot piece


I'm sure I'm not the only one who's noticed that an arranged marriage is not an uncommon plot point. But... has anyone else noticed that they always seem to work out?

I'm trying to think of a book where an arranged marriage made the characters unhappy (after they met each other). I can think of some where the main characters parents were... apathetic, but not unhappy.

In real life, an arranged marriage isn't quite so lucky. Here's an interesting article I found on the subject:

"Arranged marriages have been a topic of interest for centuries. Authors across the ages have explored this theme at length, and it still surfaces in literary works today. What's the appeal? Is it the fascination with the lack of lust and desire we cultivate in North American society? We strive on the element of danger, of the forbidden, while an arranged marriage is usually a safe way to ensure a family's approval of a union.

"But how are suitable spouses chosen? In Japan, for instance, "when a woman reaches the marriageable age of 25, she and her parents compile a packet of information about her, including a photograph of her in a kimono and descriptions of her family background, education, hobbies, accomplishments and interests. Her parents then inquire among their friends and acquaintances to see if anyone knows a man who would be a suitable husband for her" (the Asia Society's Video Letter from Japan: My Family, 1988). Usually, the most important aspect of choosing a suitable spouse is the bond between the two families, rather than the relationship between the couple being married. Property or land with the aim of securing social status sometimes seals marriage agreements."

Which is why we see it so many times with royalty. Yeah? That's perfectly understandable. But, do arranged marriages work?

"Opinions tend to differ. Statistics place the divorce rate for arranged marriages much lower than those in the United States, where marriages out of love are the rule. However, research also shows that the pressure a married couple encounters from both society as a whole, and from the respective families, suggests that divorce is often not an option."

So, divorce rates are lower, but is it because they're happy? Or because divorce is not an option?

What do you think? Do you think arranged marriages are really sucessful and that books are just reflecting this? Or do you think they over inflate the likelyhood of happiness?

On another level, do you think too many books use this? Do you like this plot point?

And, discuss.


~Enna Isilee

This article quoted throughout post


  1. I've actually met a person in an arranged marriage. It wasn't a good situation for the woman, but the man liked the arrangement. By the way, I passed you the Honest Scrap award.

  2. I think arranged marriage can be a good thing, and it cannot. The same when people marry for love. Success in marriage really has more to do with the moral fiber and selflessness of the person after marriage than anything before marriage.

    If two good, selfless people get married, it will be a good marriage. If two bad, selfish people get married, it will be a bad marriage. It doesn't matter if it's arranged or not.

    And I like arranged marriage as a plot point. In fact, my favorite romances are where people have arranged marriage, get married, and then fall in love.

  3. It seems if you live in a culture where that is the norm, marriage is then seen as a business arrangement and in business, if both couples want it to succeed, they'll work it out. However, you really have to live your whole life devoid of fairy tales and romantic ideals to be o.k. with it.

    I doubt the real victims of arranged marriages really are that happy since from what I've read, the girl is usually very young and the man is old and crotchety. Images of Henry the VIIIth come to mind. Ick!

    But it also seems that the women of those real tales have not gone through any sort of women's liberation movements and are still seen only as bearers of children and most likely they themselves don't see beyond that role for their potential or personal desires.

  4. I've even heard LDS leaders say that any two people with a shared value/belief system who are committed to making a marriage work can MAKE IT WORK.

    While I agree that a shared value/belief system and a commitment to longevity are KEY, I don't think they're the only ingredients to happiness. If your prospective husband isn't your deep-down trusted ally and BFF, then all you're doing is sticking it out.

    BTW, can I win the teddy bear, too?

  5. I think arranged marriage could be a good or bad thing, every situation is different.

    I actually have an arranged marriage in my current WiP! It's a YA fantasy, and after the MC falls in love with a boy she finds out they are supposed to be married. She doesn't know how she feels about it, because even though she loves him she doesn't necessarily want to be pushed into marriage with him. I haven't written that part yet, but I think it'll be fun to explore how she's feeling!

  6. This is fascinating. So, it seems like love and effort are very intertwined. So what do you guys think about "effortless" love?

  7. I think that the success/happiness of an arranged parriage depends on the temperament of the couple.

  8. My idea of the arranged marriage thing is that if two people get married who are close in age and share some values and ideas, they could be happy. Maybe they won't love each other, but they can be friends. Now in the case of a young woman marrying an older man who happens to not be a nice guy, I'd say that probably wouldn't be so fun for her. I think arranged marriages work or don't depending on the people in it, just like other marriages. While i wouldn't want to be forced into it, I can't say that all arranged marriages don't work. I think some people are happy with them.

    And on your other question. I think that effortless love doesn't really exist, and if it does, it won't last. My idea of effortless love is the honeymoon stage of a relationship. Sometimes couples have hard times, and they work it out. I don't think that most relationships are going to be effortless, unless they are simple friendships.

    Interesting point of discussion!

  9. This is a pretty heavy duty discussion. I personally don’t think arranged marriages work. However, I think parents can help guide children to make wise choices, but only if they have an open honest relationship with each other (you’ll notice most parents aren’t around in novels). The head and the heart must work together. Spending lots and lots of time talking, laughing, and observing each other in many situations helps the head to couple with the heart (that powerful physical attraction ever present in the young) to make a wise decision.

    Maybe I’m reading different books than you are, but most of the books I’ve read with arranged marriages, portray unhappy people ("Shabanu" and "Pope Joan" – the last two I’ve read) who have adapted to their mate’s personality and circumstance because they have no choice. As you’d say, they’re apathetic. Can you be apathetic and happy with your marriage partner?

    Arranged or not – each person must be willing to unselfishly serve, praise, give, take, work, share, laugh, understand, love, and be committed to each other. No one is perfect enough to portray all of these attributes all the time. It takes effort and a desire to be successful.

  10. The book Looking for Alibrandi contains an unhappy arranged marriage.

    Arranged marriage = ew, no way, awful, etc. Eh, not saying it can't work with specific people, but... "making it work" is very different in my opinion from "happiness."

  11. Wow, such a great topic for discussion. In books, I particularly like to see the how/if they can make their marriage work. I personally love this as a plot device, because it just adds another deeper level of conflict than a normal "fall-in-love" scenario when that choice is taken from them (internally, externally, socially, etc. There are so many aspects to it that can be delved into, though sadly, not all books go the potential they could in this).

    Are you going to compile a list of "arranged marriage" books as a follow-up? I think that would an incredible idea for each of these discussions. The Princess and the Hound immediately come to mind. You really could take these discussions far. Keep these up, they are fantastic.

  12. As both a reader and storyteller, I really like the arranged marriage element-- after all, every reader *knows* these two main characters are going to end up together anyway; lets get past the angst and on with the story, shall we?

    Yeah, I'm the practical romanticist: I like happy endings, but respect my intelligence as we get there {wink}.

    About "effortless love": I think it's like effortless writing or effortless reading or maybe even effortless breathing... I believe all these things exist because I've experienced them all.

    I've had occasional challenges in all these areas, and know people who struggle *deeply* with any of these things, but there really are things you get so familiar with they become effortless.

    I like to say love is like a garden (sorry that's such a common/cheesy analogy): there's no shame in saying it takes work, since that's what separates it from the wilderness. At the same time, if you maintain it as a basic element of your life it becomes as common as breathing and you sort of forget it's work.

    Yes, it's possible.

  13. My parents are from an arranged marriage. They seem happy enough! They come from a country where having an arranged marriage is quite common, and acceptable in the society. However, both of them get final say, it's not as if their parents forced them into it.

    An arranged marriage can be a good thing, or a bad thing. It can be good since the parents of the two getting married usually have a sound idea of what respectable qualities in a spouse are. It can be a bad thing because the two people never get the chance to find their own love in the real world by themselves.


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