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A Defense of Rory Gilmore

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

There’s just something about Gilmore Girls that pairs so well with October – the falling leaves, the plaid skirts, and a fashionable mother-daughter duo. When I watched Gilmore Girls for the first time, I felt like the writers lifted Rory Gilmore’s personality out of my own. I felt seen by a character who cared deeply about her ambitions, but more importantly, who struggled when she faced failure in the real world. However, I was shocked to find out that most people see Rory as an entitled, self-defeating character who continually fails to make the right choices and is unlikeable to many. For instance, CBR claims that Rory’s “constant denial of her incredible privilege, her chronic unfaithfulness to boyfriends and her loss of a spine” made her an instant failure in the eyes of viewers who yearned for the innocent and kind-hearted pre-Yale Rory. Even though these characteristics may seem ‘unlikeable,’ these are the very dynamic and complex personality traits that make Rory a beautifully-written and realistic portrait with faults as well as strengths. After all, some stories are not supposed to make people comfortable – they are supposed to connect with people. 

The first major critique that most people have with Rory is her development from an ambitious, successful Yale student to a lost, struggling character. While interning at Mitchum Huntzberger’s newspaper, Rory loses her dreams after Mitchum tells her that she does not have the ‘ability’ to become a journalist, insinuating that her personality is an issue for the field. After this, Rory steals a yacht and ends up dropping out of Yale for a semester, culminating in a massive argument with her mother and causing her to live at her grandparents’ house. Most critics find this moment self-defeating, wondering what happened to the Rory that could stand up for herself and her beliefs. However, the reality is that Rory is quintessentially a character that always struggled to face criticism and failure: she was perfect in school, prepared by people around her to ‘fulfill’ her dreams, and constantly dreaming about the life she’d have. The show presents the alternative side of this perfectionist lifestyle in her inability to conceptualize her life after her dreams take a hit. In my mind, Rory’s response (albeit irresponsible) represents a realistic and humbling portrayal of early adulthood anxiety. As a ‘perfect’ child, she never had the chance to act out, and this moment portrays her decline into a childlike rebellion in order to deal with the ‘destruction’ of her dreams. While making her seemingly unlikeable, this moment actually presents the writer’s skill in taking a highly valued trait of Rory’s (her dedication and intelligence) and showing that even the most accomplished people feel lost at times. I appreciated the honesty in this portrayal – not everyone’s life is as ‘picturesque’ as their 14-year-old self thought. Rory’s rebellion shouldn’t be looked at as a failure, but as an internal struggle that should remind us all to be kinder to others and ourselves. 

Additionally, Rory’s decline in these seasons to a character who essentially becomes her grandmother, works at the DAR, and avoids talking to her mom, represents her struggle to define herself outside of school. It’s easy to characterize her ‘late’ rebellion as irresponsible and annoying, but Rory is a character that never had a ‘problem’ in high school and in that light, her fight with her mom seems to boil down to a ‘teenage-like’ reaction against the demands of the world, including her mothers’. This internal struggle animates her character, which is what makes her such a complex and realistic character. She is not unaware of the fact that she’s given up – in fact, she tells her grandfather, “Everything’s falling apart. I messed everything up… I’m so sorry, Grandpa.” This moment reveals her as a character with deep regret, sorrow, and self-doubt: she is not entitled but struggling to find value in herself when she seems to have let down the people and the ambitions they paved for her.  While Lorelai and her grandparents supported her in her dreams, they also put tremendous pressure on her, and this one moment encapsulates how her ‘unlikeable’ rebellion and problems arise out of this internal and external pressure. Although it’s disappointing to see her this way, it’s essential for an ‘accomplished’ character like Rory to become human. In the first seasons, I saw her as naive and unrelatable: she was too perfect. But, in these later seasons, she becomes a person who others can empathize with and she demonstrates that people make bad choices sometimes, not because they are malicious or eternally flawed, but because they are struggling, and we should allow them room to do that while we recognize their issues. 

Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham in gilmore girls
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

The most compelling part of her ‘failure’ is other peoples’ abilities to see through her facade. For instance, when she meets Jess, an ex-boyfriend, he tells her, “What’s going on with you?… I know you. I know you better than anyone. This isn’t you… Why did you drop out of Yale?” Although it seems like Jess attacks her for giving up her dreams, he actually challenges her on the way that she’s changed her worldview. It’s not so much her dropping out of Yale that drives this confrontation but her apologies for her current boyfriend, Logan, who Jess points out seems to go against everything she ever stood for and epitomizes the guys they “made fun of” in high school. Rather than focusing on Rory’s external ‘failures,’ Jess sees her internal struggle underneath by asking her what is “going on.” He sees that despite her facade, she is confronting a difficult reality and struggling to find her place in it. Rory actually needs Jess’ critique and interrogation into her emotions, because this compels her to go back to Yale. It is not coincidental that after someone recognizes her inner struggle, Rory finds the courage to go back to her dreams. In this evolution, Rory is not static, which is oftentimes what irritates people most. She will never go back to being the naive, perfect, Chilton girl, nor is she defined entirely by her failures to face criticism. Like all people, she fluctuates between accomplishment and failure, kindness and cruelty, and dreams and hopelessness. Perhaps I feel most connected to Rory because I feel like she represents what happens to ‘perfect’ characters when the curtain falls.

We should not excuse Rory Gilmore’s mistakes but we should see her as a full person, with empathy towards her complexities. It is in fact her inconsistencies and failures that animate her as a character, making her the most realistic female character I have ever connected with. While some may see her evolution as self-defeating, Gilmore Girls never sought to represent ‘happy endings’ – most of the relationships do not end well, family issues never truly get resolved, and Rory does not fulfill the dreams she used to have. By suggesting that Rory should statically exist as her Chilton archetype, viewers also put the pressure on her to define herself by her childhood dreams and personality. The reality is that most people evolve, often in problematic and difficult ways, and the beauty of Rory lies in her exhibition of what happens when the picturesque landscapes of Stars Hollow enter a real, complex world of adulthood. 

Resources:

https://www.cbr.com/gilmore-girls-rory-became-most-hated-character/#:~:text=The%20character%20corrected%20course%20in,her%20loss%20of%20a%20spine.

I'm an English major at University of Windsor. I enjoy reading, writing and painting. I'm very interested in social justice issues, like climate change, women's rights and sexuality/gender studies.