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20.12.2011 17:59    Comments: 0    Categories: Writing Characters  Writing Romance      Tags: alpha  hero  heroine  romance  suzette l. mako  

Alpha Amours The Roles of the Alpha Male Hero & Alpha Female Heroine in Romance

 

The earl towered over her lithe form, broad shoulders blocking her view of the glittering ballroom. With his lazy smile, white teeth gleamed, almost feral in the candlelit corner. Boldly, he traced his great hand along the full curve of her hip, rising gently . . .

 

"Young, but not too young," he murmured for her ears alone, and the cultured sound of his voice was enough to finally startle her from her reverie. She shook her head and a glossy curl escaped her coiffure.

 

"I'll do whatever it takes to get what I want," she told him, surprising herself with her daring. "Even - marry you!"

 

His eyes shuttered instantly, and he leaned so close that their lips nearly touched. "You may find yourself in my bed - but it will never be a marriage bed."

 

"Typical romance genre goings-on," sneers the uninitiate or the derisive critic, upon reading a romance passage such as the one above. Why must the romance hero "always" be the tallest, most handsome man in the story? Why is he always a man of great social standing? Why is he always "sardonic," "fierce," "dangerous"? Why does he seem to spurn the heroine in one scene, then turn about to pursue her aggressively or treat her with jealousy?

 

Why is the heroine of a romance always, if not classically beautiful, still of above-average looks? Why does she always seem to rise to a position of status in whatever social context she inhabits? Why is she always "tempestuous," "fiery," and "passionate"? And why, in these days of relative sexual freedom, is the heroine "always" a virgin?

 

Each of these characters' descriptions points to basic biological clues identifying the heroine and her reluctant hero as role models on an instinctual level. In anthropological circles, these are known as "alpha types": gender models that exhibit traits most successful for ongoing existence - for procreation and continuation of the species. What sorts of things constitute the alpha male and female type, and how are these alpha types integrated into the romance?

 

The alpha types were first identified as they related to animal success in the wild. Imagine the lead wolf in a pack, the king of a lion pride. Then imagine the lioness who guards her cubs to adulthood, training them in survival lore, or the graceful mare nurturing her colt. The attractiveness of alpha types is a certification of biological quality, taking into account such factors as bilateral symmetry (the extent to which a body exhibits balance in its features) and weight/muscle ditribution as cues to freedom from harmful genetic mutations. These are all successful alpha types. These concepts were then applied by anthropologists to ancient (and modern) humans as indicators of why certain traits succeed in the highly competitive human gene-race.

 

Hardly the stuff of romance yet, but as we apply the alpha type concepts to men and women, and to romance characters in particular, a familiar picture begins to take shape.

 

The alpha male is physically powerful, his goal dominance through acquisition and subsequent protection. Research has shown that, regardless of cultural background, a male who exhibits the traits of strong jaw, broad chin and imposing brow will be found attractive by females. His height and weight are visual clues to his genetic background, and to the positive environmental factors of his infancy and youth ([he] towered over her). Upper body strength as evidenced by wide shoulders, deep chest and well-toned musculature, proclaim him capable of success in gain through aggressive force, self-defense or the protection of what is "his" (broad shoulders . . . great hand). Trim hips and long legs show the lower body strength that allows him to travel swift and long on foot, pointers to endurance. Most of these alpha male traits are indicative of healthy levels of the male hormone, testosterone. Among his other features, the alpha male is a born breeder. Beyond all these, always desirable are any other cues for healthy "animal" traits ([his] teeth gleamed, almost feral).

 

The alpha male ignites an instinctive attraction for most females, who see in him the potential for a valuable mate. What better role model for the romance hero? There have been attempts by romance writers (or more often, misguided publishers or editors) at making the beta male a hero. However, though appealing in his own way, the beta male is always second: a safe, civilized shadow of the alpha, a follower versus a leader - he's the man you'll take home, but not the stuff of dreams.

 

Back to our alpha man: he holds a prominent social position within his "pack" or society, due to a combination of his physical prowess and his competence and coping skills (The earl . . . the cultured sound of his voice). His immense physical capacity for destruction is overlaid by an equal or stronger force for constructiveness (boldly . . . [yet] gently). When in society, force is used only out of need or circumstance. His intellect is considerable, another example of good breeding (in a physical sense), and it is a well-honed tool. He does not use his mind for flights of fancy; his words are considered, weighed, delivered with controlled force. For the civilized alpha man holds control in high esteem.

 

Emotionally, the alpha male is usually control embodied, a creature formed by social strictures. His emotions are generally repressed or used only as tools. Those emotions, such as tenderness, affection or love, that are not directly in demand for the primary alpha male goal of dominance tend to be suppressed (his eyes shuttered . . .).

 

Yet never lose sight that the alpha male is human. The capacity is there for a full, deep range of emotions. It wants only the alpha female to bring them forth. What ensues in the battle for emotional freedom over emotional control can make the romance hero behave with all-too-human erraticness: he will pursue, then reject the heroine as one emotion after another vies for supremacy. Jealousy is a common theme, rightly reflecting the alpha male's territorial imperatives.

 

The alpha female, for her part, is possessed of physical and other attributes which make her the true and rightful mate of the alpha male. Her goals: integration and expression, and, as with her male counterpart, she is concerned with protection and procreation, but these are entwined issues.

 

Though not having the sheer impact of the male's physique, the alpha female is still physically fit (her lithe form). She is, in the anthropological or animalistic scheme of things, a prime breeding prospect. The curvaceous figure of the romance heroine, with a the swell of hip at just the right degree, is an attractor that responds to deeply ingrained genetic codes regarding fertility (the full curve of her hip). There is even a biology to the beauty of her facial features, in that test subjects (regardless of age or gender) found a high forehead, full lips, a delicate jaw and narrow chin most attractive. Her strong, attractive body and face are evidence of good genetic makeup and of positive conditions in her formative years, traits she is likely to convey to offspring . . .

 

The Romance writer tells the story of a woman readers can identify with on some level, using key phrases to evoke the Alpha female's physical appearance (not too young . . . a glossy curl . . .). As with the Alpha male hero, the details of her appearance are unimportant, things such as hair and eye color being largely a matter of personal taste, but the central image of the Alpha type rings clear.

 

The question of the Romance heroine's virginity is a frequent one and has many answers, depending on the context: social or philosophical, cultural or psychological. In the context of the Alpha type, in which animal and physical basics are central, the answer is simple. The untouched female promises a genetic purity for her mate: the male can be assured that it is his genetic material alone that is being reproduced upon mating.

 

Romantic? Maybe not very much, but it does hearken to basic human instinct, enhanced by millennia of cultural enforcement. Whether we accept moral constructs in favor of virginity, the idea has a genetic resonance. Experienced heroines are far more common in Romance these days, either as a reflection of, or a concession to, changing mores. Still it is the "Woman Becoming," the virginal heroine, that continues to enthrall Romance readers.

 

The Alpha heroine has far more flexibility in her social roles than does the hero with whom she interacts. This is because, in a way unlike any other genre, the female protagonist adopts the heroic pattern, holding the central role. Romance is the story of the heroine's journey of self-development, of her perceptions, her actions and the changes she makes in her world. She has the ability to move both vertically or horizontally in the social structure of her world. Unlike the Alpha male, who is in part defined by the strength of his social standing, the feminine role in the Romance reflects the heroine's rise to the "lead pack position," using, among other things, her quick intelligence. This Alpha trait is never in short supply and the heroine's often cutting use of her wit makes for exciting repartee.

 

Most engaging about the Alpha female, as personified by the Romance heroine, is her capacity for emotional articulation. She is in touch with her full emotional capacity, and unafraid of expressing herself. In the pursuit of her goals, and the hero, she will exhibit passionate courage, determination, and a willingness to be vulnerable (whatever it takes . . . daring . . . even marry you!). She will form whatever bonds, by whatever means, that she deems will support her quest. And through her emotional strength, she will draw forth her Alpha male's own emotions, until he, too, is able to see and appreciate the gentle strength of the love that has developed between them.

 

In spite of the superficial differences between Romance's Alpha heroines and heroes, and in spite of the (sometimes delightful, sometimes heartbreaking) friction that these differences engender, Alpha types have the same basics in common. Physical strength and beauty or handsomeness as reflections of genetic stability and positive environment. Social status or the acquisition thereof. Intellectual prowess. Emotional depth. These are all integral to the Alpha type, be it male or female.

 

And lest we forget those passages, so varied from writer to writer, that send a thrill up any Romance reader's spine, that make her melt in anticipation, remember that the combined effect of the Alpha traits, the sum of their biological equation, is pure sexual attraction: "he leaned so close that their lips nearly touched. 'You may find yourself in my bed . . .'"

 

One final thing marks the Alpha type, and, in the context of the Romance genre, it is paramount: the desire to create a lasting pair bond. The Alpha type seeks to replicate itself, and when we meld that desire with the romantic ideal, this reproduction comes within the bonds of a committed relationship between a man and a woman. The development of their relationship and the understanding fostered by it are enhanced by the integral element of shared sexuality.

 

Romances may take a reader high and low emotionally, they may travel a glittering world or roam a small town. They may be peopled with a few key characters or a saga-filling gathering of pro- and antagonists, but in the end, it comes down to two people, alone, together.

 

Romance delights in epilogues that, after tales of high adventure, show the heroine and hero, now deeply bonded, with their children held in loving, protective arms or gathered about them. This is the Alpha's highest goal, and its attainment is the Romance reader's joy.

 

Does the Romance writer consciously set about to make use of these Alpha types - to create a primeval hero or heroine that exemplifies a Darwinian ideal? Rarely. Just as the reader embraces these types without any sort of indoctrination, so does the astute Romance writer recognize the Alpha character by the simple depth of resonance that he or she evokes. And just as simply does the interaction between two strong Alpha players create an atmosphere charged with physical and sexual tension, alive with intellectual interplay, and surging with emotion.

 

The understanding does not have to be explicit. It is understood by our very genes. And when the Alpha pair bond is attained, it is not a moment for scientific inquiry. Rather, the Romance reader's response is a resonating sense of identification with the Alpha in all of us and the fulfillment of life renewing itself.

 


About the Author

 

Suzette L. Mako was born in 1960, grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Lansdale and attended Syracuse University, majoring in Pre-Grecian Art History with dual minors in Archaeology and Social Anthropology.

 

For over two decades, she has enjoyed a career as an Executive Administrator/Operations Administrator in such diverse fields as Automotive Electronics, Historical Renovations, Restaurant Services, International Sales, and Mergers & Acquisitions. She is an alumna of Pi Beta Phi sorority and Romance Writers of America. Her passions include reading, organizing events, and all manner of creative and artistic endeavors.

 

Suzette has published a book in the Romance genre, "Irish Gold," which draws upon Celtic myth and legend, and is set in both historical Ireland and its otherworldly counterpart Tir na nOg. In 2008, she edited and published the cookbook "Jeanne Cook's Gourmet Gatherings, Volume One;" Volume Two is in development.

 

Suzette lives with her two beloved sons, Gordon and Connor, and two Siamese cats - chocolate-point Neko Shunrai (Japanese for "cat of spring thunder") and lilac-point Akashi Kiri ("red autumn mist"). Suzette may be contacted at SuzetteLMako@gmail.com.


 
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