Can You Add to This List of Famous Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers?

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Can you add to this list of famous Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers?

I continue to be preoccupied with refining the framework of the Rubin Tendencies. In a nutshell,

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves


To help clarify the categories — and to help us all understand ourselves better — I’m devising a reading list.

I want to provide examples of the Rubin Tendencies from well-known movies, TV shows, and literature, or from memoirs, autobiographies, or biographies.

I just started looking for these examples, and I could use many more suggestions. I highly recommend everything on this list, by the way, even aside from the light they shed on the Tendencies.


–Book: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter books — the character of Hermione Granger. In particular, her campaign on behalf of house elves in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good illustration of a classic Upholder looking for the rules beyond the rules.

–Movie: The Bridge on the River Kwai — the character of Nicholson


–No example yet. Help!

Rebel (these are both autobiographical, and I’m sure these two Rebels would be annoyed by the fact that I’ve slotted them into a category):

–Memoir: Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage

–Magazine article: Elizabeth Wurtzel, “Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life,” New York Magazine, January 6, 2013


–Novel: Laurie Colwin, Family Happiness — a brilliant portrait of an Obliger in full Obliger-rebellion

I think — but I’m way behind in watching, so this is very preliminary, and may be disproved by episodes that I haven’t seen yet — that in the TV show Girls, the four characters embody the four Types. What do you think, does this work?

Upholder — Marnie

Questioner — Hannah

Rebel — Jessa

Obliger — Shoshanna

NOTE: I’m using these terms with very specific meanings, so for instance, a person who is doing rebellious things may or not be a Rebel.

As you can see, this list is very preliminary. So your suggestions are most welcome.

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  • Karin Jenkins

    Queen Elizabeth is an upholder – she’s all about duty.

  • Karin Jenkins

    Daniel in the Bible – another upholder

  • elizabeth

    Is Edmund in the Narnia Chronicles a Questioner?
    Also, I like the idea of using characters from famous television shows – what about Seinfeld, Sex in the City, Friends?

    • Jenya

      Jerry and Elaine: questioners
      Kramer: rebel
      George: obliger

      Sex and the City
      Carrie, Samantha, and Miranda: all questioners
      Charlotte: upholder

  • Jen

    I would think most of the ladies involved in the Suffrage and Civil Rights movements would be questioners. They met their inner expectations, but questioned those imposed by society. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Rosa Parks.

  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    If you’re looking at Harry Potter, Harry’s the classic questioner (as is, I think, Dumbledore). Little Women – I would peg Meg as an Upholder, Amy as a questioner, Beth as an Obliger, and Jo as a Rebel.

    • jenny_o

      I see Meg as Upholder and Beth as Obliger, but Jo as Questioner and Amy as Rebel …

    • Kris

      I was just going to say the same thing! Harry throws off the Imperius charm by questioning.

  • OK, Friends characters…
    Upholder: Monica
    Questioner: Ross
    Obliger: Rachel, Chandler
    Rebel: Phoebe
    Sorry Joey, I think you were too dumb to be classified!
    Back to work…

  • When you say your husband is a questioner, what types of things does he do / question that makes him a questioner?

    My thinking on questioners are that many attorneys may be questioners by nature, where they tend to challenge conventions that they don’t think make sense (like challenging or arguing to extend laws) and hold closely to things they believe strongly in (like general Constitutional guidelines, “the legal process,” etc.). I suspect many famous attorneys would fall into the questioner category if I’m understanding it correctly.

  • skepticalcyclist

    I’m reading the new biography of Jonathan Swift that just came out. He was a questioner through and through–he couldn’t even resist questioning the things he held most dear (politics, faith). I think it’s unsurprising that a questioner would become a professional satirist…

  • Veta Grace Nebel

    Jack Nicholson character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: Rebel?

  • Blair424

    Cool Hand Luke [=] rebel

  • Blair424

    Javert [=] upholder
    Huck Finn [=] questioner

  • Penelope Schmitt

    Do you think Pope Francis might possibly be a Questioner? I bet that Sigmund Freud was an Upholder (of his own theories!) Justice Ginsburg, a Questioner surely? Sherlock Holmes, a Questioner with Rebel tendencies, and Dr. Watson, quite an Obliger. Those are a few I can think of.

  • annelibera

    Dorothea in Middlemarch is the ultimate in Upholders.

  • annelibera

    Michel de Montaigne is a Questioner. And I think that Jo in Little Women is one too (although I see where you could make the case for her as a Rebel). She really wants to do what is right but can’t if she feels it is wrong for her. Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” is tragically an Obliger as is Sonya in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” I think that Hedda Gabler is a Questioner with Rebel tendencies.

  • Caroline Donahue

    As I’m currently listening to Longbourn on audio, I am submerged in Jane Austen’s world.

    I think the following characters from Pride and Prejudice fit the types:

    Upholder: Mr Collins
    Questioner: Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy as well, I think
    Obliger: Jane Bennett, Mr. Bingley
    Rebel: Wickham, Lydia Bennett

    I am curious, though- what type follows internal rules but resists external? Like a reverse obliger? Because I understand the rebel to rebel against all rules and the questioner to also question all rules, although they seem to be the closest to this option.

    I also thought of figures like MLK Jr., Ghandi, and Rosa Parks as questioners- their questioning helped us move past rules that were outdated and unfair.

    • gretchenrubin

      That type is a Questioner. They make expectations into inner expectations. Off to get my copy of Austen…

      • Caroline Donahue

        Gretchen- that makes sense. I see sometimes that people, myself included, have “shadow types” or types that we revert to under stress. For example, I am generally an Obliger, but when stressed I can turn into a rebel until I feel more settled again.

        I can see this in characters as well- for example, Jane Bennett as an obliger becoming a questioner briefly at points when Bingley retreats and she questions his sisters’ influence on him.

        Do you find this to be the case with people in general?

      • Agnes

        Since this gets asked almost every time you write about these, perhaps you should add it to the definitions?

        • gretchenrubin

          Yes! The next time I post about this, I will.

    • Jenya

      I think Mr. Darcy is actually an upholder. That’s why the story is so romantic — he eventually chooses love over upholding very strong inner and outer expectations. Mary is another upholder. If Mrs. Bennett had any sense, she’d have pointed Mr. Collins in Mary’s direction.

      Elizabeth is, of course, the classic questioner, but I think Mrs. Bennett is one too. She doesn’t care a fig about what society thinks, but her own rules/biases are very important to her.

      • Caroline Donahue

        Interesting point. I could see Darcy as an upholder. But I think he does question rules to make certain that they conform to his sense of correctness. I think his internal morals are very strong, but he is critical of the outside world’s rules. Perhaps he veers back and forth between each.

        Mary is definitely and upholder- I agree. And it is sad that she wasn’t noticed by Mr. Collins, but I think Charlotte Lucas qualifies as an upholder for certain- she marries Collins simply for safety, convention and to avoid being a burden to her family.

        Mrs. Bennett might be a split type- I think she thinks that she cares what society thinks, and practically she wants her girls conventionally and well married off, but she is willing to be a bit devious to get her way. Perhaps she swings between Upholder and Rebel?

        I think Mr. Bennett might be a rebel as well. He ignores the danger to Lydia when she goes to Brighton, hides in his library, and supports Elizabeth in turning down Collins.

        Oh how I love geeking out on Austen characters and personality types. This is a real treat! Thank you both for following me down the rabbit hole.

  • HEHink

    If you’ve ever watched the Disney cartoon Phineas and Ferb, I think you’ll find all 4 types represented. (And if you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a look. As a parent, I’ve found it to be one of few well-written kids’ shows that an adult can actually enjoy.)

    Upholders: Candace (always wants to bust her brothers for breaking the rules), Baljeet (wants to do what is required to get an A. May have some obliger tendencies.) Also Perry the Platypus, who, although his job is to fight evil as a secret agent, usually ends up helping the villain out of mortal danger because it’s the right thing to do.

    Questioners: Phineas and Ferb (pull off amazing projects against all expectations for kids their age, but because they can, not because anyone – besides Candace- has told them not to).

    Obligers: Isabella (along with Fireside Girls, always wants to help Phineas and Ferb with their creations, and ROCKS at it!), Jeremy (Candace’s tolerant boyfriend)

    Rebels: Buford, the stereotypical bully, is also a rebel because he just wants to do the opposite of what others expect. The evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz may fit here, but he works very hard at rebelling. He may actually be more of a questioner who chooses the evil route to dealing with his questions.

  • Jenya

    Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert — questioner
    Cleaving by Julie Powell — rebel

    Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye — rebel

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks, everyone, for all these suggestions. Keep them coming! So helpful.

  • Georgy Evans

    Sex and the City …
    Upholder: Charlotte
    Questionner: Miranda
    Rebel: Samantha
    Obliger: Carrie
    But Charlotte & Carrie also have something of the rebel from time to time.

  • Esme

    Is Mr Spoke a Questioner ?

  • Mimi Gregor

    To continue the Harry Potter classification, Snape is a classic Upholder. He tries to fulfill so many expectations from so many different people, that it would break a weaker person.

    In Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryan would definitely be a Questioner. She goes along with expectations that make sense to her (Marrying royalty she does not love in order to make peace), yet rebels against expectations that don’t (doesn’t retire quietly after her husband dies, but calls herself “Khalissi” and leads the people who are willing to follow her. Buys armies from the slave cities, then turns around and conquers the cities and makes the slaves free men.)

    Ned Stark and Sansa Stark are both Obligers, putting what is expected of them from others (for the good of the realm) above their own desires.

    Tyrion Lannister would be a Questioner. He does what he is told — or at least keeps to the spirit of it, because to do otherwise would be folly, and yet manages not to compromise his own standards. (Marries Sansa under his father’s orders, but does not consummate the marriage because he deems her a child.)

    Cersei Lannister would be an Obliger; for all her plotting and underhandedness, she always does what daddy tells her to do.

    Jamie Lannister starts out an Obliger; Cersei’s word is paramount to him. Along the way, after a series of losses, he becomes an Upholder, developing a moral code of his own as well as doing his duty.

    Jon Snow would be an Obliger, through and through. Robb Stark, a Questioner.

    Oh… this is fun!

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Yes, I agree that Snape is an Upholder, a really strong one. Harry’s propensity to break or bend the rules makes him crazy! He masters his own emotions incredibly powerfully to do the right and good thing, even though it goes against his deepest feelings. A most admirable Upholder, Snape.

  • Elana Greenwood Lanzetta

    Ferris Bueller:Questioner, his sister Jeanie: Upholder, his friend Cameron, Obliger

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve been meaning to watch this movie again – haven’t seen it since it came out – and now I have a reason!

    • Jamie

      would Simone be a rebel?

  • Michelle S.

    I would switch Shoshanna and Marnie from Girls. Shoshanna is the upholder, I believe. She is very focused on her own goals in later episodes as she finds her sexuality but still has her “where she wants to be in 20 years list.” I would suggest Marnie is the obliger. Although she’s having trouble even meeting outer expectations lately! … I also agree with the person who suggested lawyers are questioners. My husband is a litigator and boy does he fit into that category! It would be interesting to look at couples and how compatible these categories are.

  • jack

    One of the best (but unrecognized) authors of the 20th century – Edward Abbey – He would definitely qualify as a rebel AND questioner. His most acclaimed novel was Desert Solitaire, but his fictional novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” basically was said to be the impetus for the near anarchist group “Earth First!” He died
    in 1989 at the age of 62.. Please google him if you are not familiar with his work.

  • Lisa

    Jessa is the questioner and Hannah is the rebel because Jessa constantly questions the norm and goes against it. Hannah never seems to follow any order or rules.

  • Just a total random shot in the dark: Steve Jobs as a Questioner?

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I think this interesting discussion should provoke us to speculate about the likeliest character flaws to appear in each type, as well. When characters go right off the edge into narcissism and psychopathic behavior they just seem to me to be not ‘measurable’ because they have no standard but the infantile one of ‘I want.’
    However the danger of being too much of an Obliger is illustrated by Nancy, hapless victim of the violent Bill Sykes in Dickens’s Oliver Twist.
    Upholders who value the rule of law or just ‘the rules’ are legion in fiction and in life. Being too rigid would seem to be their downfall.
    Rebels, similarly, are their own worst enemies, too often destroyed by their own behavior.
    Questioners, questioners . . . what gets us in trouble? Over-analyzing a problem? Expressing doubt in a dangerous circumstance? Waiting for proof?

    • superpoppy

      My dad is a classic questioner, and I can tell you what kind of trouble it gets you into. People may not like working with a questioner because he is so focused on the framework that he can never get to the real problem. For example, if the project is to build a boat, the questioner will be asking, “Why a boat, why not a plane, or a raft, or a hovercraft?” The other people working on the project will just say, “Come on–it’s a boat, that’s a given, let’s get started.” The corolating strength is that if the questioner can ever get his mind on to the real project, he can give a great analysis of all the pros and cons of building the boat out of wood vs fiberglass, or what shape of hull is best in various circumstances. However, he might take such pleasure in the analysis that he never actually starts on the project, which is why questioners are most effective as part of a (tolerant) team.

  • mtitus16

    I actually think Marnie is the Obliger and Shoshana is the Upholder. No?

    • Penny London

      I was thinking the same thing.

  • Carolyn Moir

    Questioner: Emma from the book “PTA Disaster and the System”

  • Jamie

    I’m a bit late coming into this conversation, but my first thought when considering Questioners is the whole category of Documentaries. Morgan Spurlock from SuperSize Me and Ricki Lake from The Business of Being Born.

  • Penny London

    Just finished the book “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach and these are my thoughts on those characters:

    Upholder: Mike Schwartz
    Questioner: Owen Dunne
    Obliger: Henry Skrimshander
    Rebel: Pella

    Guert Affenlight starts as an Upholder but then becomes a Questioner.

    Would be interested in thoughts from others who have read the book.

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  • Lori

    I’m thinking of my favorite childhood book Charlotte’s Web:
    Templeton is the Rebel. He only helps out the barnyard when there is something in it for him.
    Charlotte is the Questioner…Why can’t a spider be beautiful? Why can’t a spring pig live to see his first snow? Why can’t a pig and spider become the best of friends?
    Fern is the Upholder. She made a promise to Wilbur and she is going to keep it even when her father tries to let her out of that promise.
    I’m thinking about Wilbur. Perhaps he is the Obliger? He is a sweet, little pig who does what Fern and Charlotte ask of him. He lives his life based on pleasing Fern and Charlotte his two mother figures.

  • Joan

    Questioner – Henry David Thoreau.

  • Clare

    Questioners – Seinfeld? Definitely Charles Darwin. James Bond is a rebel.

  • Rachel

    If you’ve ever seen the television show Parenthood, you’ll know that Max Braverman is a perfect example of a Questioner. Largely driven by the character’s Asperger’s Syndrome, Max is constantly questioning instructions that lack in fairness and logic. I love the show, and I thought immediately of Max as I read through the Questioners portion of the quiz.

  • L

    In your 2013 World Domination Summit talk, a handful of people in your audience felt they didn’t fit into your four tendencies framework, and you were open about the limitations of this (and any) framework. However, I couldn’t help wondering if those individuals are “rebels” that don’t immediately identify as themselves rebels. This could be totally off but thought I’d toss out the idea…

    • gretchenrubin

      No framework captures everything, so makes sense that some people don’t fit.
      I do think there’s an issue of people “wanting” to be in one category or another. Some don’t want to be Rebels, some DO want to be Rebels, etc., whether or not that’s really the most fitting category.

      • lavendermintrose

        The framework seems to be a quadrant sort of thing – Questioners live up to inner expectations, Obligers to outer, Upholders to both, Rebels to neither. I think for some of the people who find they don’t fit into one squarely, it might be that they become different types in different situations – e.g., they Question their boss’ expectations, but Uphold to their fitness coach’s, or they Rebel against a diet plan (or Oblige their friends’ request to go out to dinner instead of sticking to a diet) even though they Uphold to other plans they set of themselves (like a writing schedule or skincare regime, or quitting smoking). If that’s the case for a person, figuring out what makes them behave differently in situation A vs situation B could be very helpful for them.
        (latelatelate reply, I know, I’m sorry)

        • gretchenrubin

          It seems likely that people would show different Tendencies in different situations – but that’s not really what I’ve observed. People stay very consistent to the perspective of their Tendencies, throughout the circumstances in which they find themselves. As you point out, the Tendencies overlap, so every Tendency shares with other Tendencies.

          For instance, to be an Upholder to a fitness coach – well, that’s an Obliger. An Upholder might benefit from a fitness coach, but wouldn’t NEED a coach to get to the gym the way an Obliger would. They both respond to external expectations, but the Obliger doesn’t respond to inner expectations (so needs the coach).

  • Carla F

    Jane Eyre: Questioner, no question!

  • lannabanana

    What would you call someone who vacillates among all four of the Tendencies and/or can’t pick one because they all seem in some ways to “fit”? A Questioner? Or just a garden-variety Maximizer?

    I’ve been Rebelling it up for the past several days but now I’m not so sure I picked correctly. I can’t tell if this is me resisting expectations (You think I can’t self-regulate? Watch me!) or holding out for more data (Questioner). I think it’s the latter…or, in fact, both, since Questioners can swing Rebel. Do they ever switch it up and lead Upholder?

    I love the Rebel vibe, but it doesn’t really fit with all my history.

  • Deb

    To Kill a Mockingbird: Scout

  • Deb

    Questioner: To Kill a Mockingbird — Scout

  • Leigh

    Scientists, existentialists, and philosophers should be the easiest famous questioners to name: Einstein, Currie, Plato, Aristotle, Steinem, Friedan, Emerson, Thoreau, Newton, Galileo, Tesla, Hawkings, Boer, Heisenberg, Nightingale… So very very many more.

    • gretchenrubin

      Being an intellectually questioning person does NOT mean that you’re a Questioner. It’s not tied to intelligence or curiosity…it’s about why you do what you do. So these folks aren’t necessarily Questioners.

  • María Burgos

    The “Parks and Recreation” show has been mentioned on the podcast and several characters’ behaviors exemplify the Rubin Tendencies. Gretchen would likely have a more accurate assessment, but I would categorize them as follows:

    Ann Perkins
    Ben Wyatt
    Jerry Gergich

    Ron Swanson
    April Ludgate
    Tom Haverford

    Leslie Knope
    Chris Traeger

    Donna Meagle
    Andy Dwyer

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m working on a book about the Four Tendencies right now – and included Ron Swanson as a Questioner!
      But hadn’t thought about the other characters…much to ponder.