Freudian Friday: Xander Harris

Damaged Xander is serious.

Good old Alexander Harris: carpenter, Zeppo, sidekick, general, best friend, almost-husband, and heart of the Scoobies. Without him, the gang would fall apart. Without him, Buffy would have given in to her tendency to treat others like weapons. Without him, Willow would have destroyed the world.

But what do we know about the man himself? What makes Xander tick?

When we first meet him, he’s a nerdy, awkward guy who quickly falls head-over-heels for sexy new-kid Buffy and never realizes his cute pal Willow has the hots for him. He rolls with the punches, accepting the existence of vampires and the death of his friend Jesse with minimal angst.

Although he lacks a superpower and takes a lot of the hardest hits for the Scoobies (hyena-possession, syphilis-infection, eye-reduction), Xander keeps his irrepressible spirits up and continues to feel special just to be included in Buffy’s supernatural world. Throughout the show, he rarely gives in to his doubts—though the women in his life (Anya, Willow, Cordelia) tend to bear the brunt of his moments of weakness.

Xander’s relationship choices are probably his biggest flaw: he seems incapable of entering a relationship that is not doomed, dangerous, or taboo. His attraction to Cordelia sees to stem (at least at first) from a mutual dislike. He becomes involved with Willow only when they’re both in other relationship and it’s a risky, sexy game. And finally, he dates Anya only because she chooses him and then, at first, because it’s convenient. We also can’t forget the odd assortment of demons, bug-women, and evil-doers that he dates along the way.

Why is Xander so prone to falling for women who don’t really care for him? And, once they do care for him, why does he end up hurting them deeply?

Xander hurts Anya in the short-term so he won’t hurt her in the long-term?

Since it’s Freudian Friday, let’s look at some of the supposed root causes. We learn that Xander’s family is dysfunctional to Nth-degree, and we get to witness that horror secondhand through Xander’s tale of woe and firsthand at Xander and Anya’s catastrophic wedding. Xander’s parents are hateful to one another, and Xander fears he’ll end up in the same sort of semi-abusive relationship with Anya.

His father is an overbearing a$$hole who demeans his mother; perhaps we can assume that Xander picks women who walk all over him in a desire to not be like his father. That doesn’t really explain, though, why Xander ends up hurting all three women who care for him the most.

Is it insecurity? He’s the only one of his crowd without a magical power or supernatural ability, so he acts out by acting like a jerk? I don’t really think that’s quite the answer. He’s insecure, yes, but his choices have more to do with a lack long-term planning: perhaps his constant exposure to danger makes him act recklessly, choosing to seek pleasure in the now rather than looking toward long-term happiness. That’s a problem both Buffy and Willow deal with, as well.

What do you think, readers? What is it about Xander that dooms his relationships? Are all the Scoobies adrenaline junkies who are incapable of long-term, successful love?

Xander’s love for Willow saves the world.

7 thoughts on “Freudian Friday: Xander Harris

  1. Pingback: Space for Rent: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games « Neither Here nor There….

    • It’s true. Everything advances at the speed of plot. But it’s fun to engage with the characters, all the same! 🙂

  2. Magic Mint has a point – conflict drives a storyline. There’s more to it than that, though I’m not sure I agree that Xander picks women who dominate him so that he’s not like his father. I suspect it’s because deep down, it’s what he thinks he deserves. Cordelia put him down every chance she got, Faith as much as said he was just a boy toy, and Anya? Hello, demon. Willow was the only one who both liked him and had a soul – and she was gay. Some day I’m going to check out Season 8 of the graphic novels to see how Xander turned out.

    • I’m working my way through Season 8 (slowly, cause they’re not cheap!), and it does seem like Xander is starting to come into is own.

      It’s sad to think that he thinks this is what he deserves. Drew put an interesting spin on this when he read your comment — he suggested that Xander chooses dangerous women and situations so that he can *survive*. It’s a badge of honor, winning through these terrible things, like it shows that he is strong enough to keep up with the supernatural folks around him.

      Ah, the many ways to interpret Buffy. I could write an entire three-days-a-week blog about the show.

  3. Gaaaaack….graphic….novels.

    I know I say it a lot, but…yeah. There are some very fascinating Xander developments in seasons 8 and 9.

    I think he chooses doomed relationships because he is not ready for the real thing, and he subconsciously seeks unions where there is a skewed balance of power because nothing with that much imbalance can survive for long.

    I always found him to be intensely hypocritical throughout the show. He despised Angel (partly because of Angel being competition for Buffy) for being a monster (and Spike), but then dated a thousand-year-old ex-demon who had done exponentially more damage than Angel or Spike ever managed in their comparably short lifetimes. One of the most poignant moments on the show for me is in season seven when Anya butchers an entire frat house and Buffy is about to start hunting her, and Xander says something nasty about Spike, yadda yadda — and Buffy goes, “I KILLED ANGEL.”

    Yeah. No one can compete with her on making the tough choices.

    Anyway though, Xander is interesting because he is soooo human. He is the product of his upbringing and has many good qualities, but he’s also very flawed.

    • I agree with you so hard. And I am working through the graphic novels, I promise!!

      I always felt like I was supposed to really love Xander, but I never really have. He expects the Scoobies to give him some slack when he makes mistakes, he *never* gives Buffy any credit. As soon as she screws up, he jumps all over her and won’t let her live it down, and I didn’t really explore that aspect of his character. So much here to write about… 🙂

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