Jake English is the most intelligent character in Homestuck. And he hides it deliberately.
For a given value of “intelligence”, anyway. I don’t hold that much truck with the concept in general–there are different kinds of intelligence that run the gamut of human skills, and reducing that to a single concept is reductive, to say the least.
However, it’s hard to deny that there are real cultural forces in our society that do treat intelligence as a monolithic descriptor of skill and worth, and it’s a cultural idea as pervasive in reality as it is in Jake’s character arc.
For that reason alone, I’ll be using “intelligence” as a term referring to Jake’s awareness of and competence at identifying and solving problems throughout this sequence. The term as I am using it here is only relevant in the context of the themes and language Homestuck sets up.
Intelligence, competence, and awareness are key parts of Jake’s relationship with the people around him, and particularly with the way he is dehumanized, taken for granted, and abused.
In fact, almost every character Jake is close to in canon questions his intelligence at some point:
And this dynamic isn’t just present in the characters. It’s in the fandom as well.
Fandom perception of Jake English often considers him comically unaware of his surroundings and reality, dense and slow or even straight up unable to pick up on ideas that come naturally to many of the other characters.
This is true across the board of opinions of his character: Some consider Jake a self-absorbed, thoughtless asshole, others still consider him a helpless victim who isn’t quite quick enough on the uptake to keep up with how he’s manipulated by others.
It’s hard for us–the fandom, I mean–to be sure of just how much Jake understood about how badly Lil Hal treated him (and by association, Dirk, in much of the fandom’s eyes). Or that Jane liked him. Among other things. It’s part of the general air of helplessness and incompetence that surrounds Pages, I guess, and air set up around Jake for quite a lot of his narrative:
(Note: This is Brain Ghost Dirk specifically questioning Jake’s intelligence.
I hope you’ve got some good note taking pens, because this is going to be important later.)
It’s pretty much accepted that the degree and reach of Jake’s intelligence is, at the very least, a matter of debate. I am here to say that it is not. At all. And I can prove it. By allowing ourselves to doubt Jake’s intelligence, we–the fandom– have performed the equivalent of deciding Dave’s cool guy act is the real deal.
We have fallen for Jake’s bluff. I’ll explain.
Plenty of people are aware that Knights, as a class, tend to act out personas that reflect ideas about how they think they should act.
For Dave, that’s the stoic Cool Guy archetype, which he eventually grows out of:
For Karkat, it’s his ideas of being a Ruthless Big Shot Leader, which he also outgrows by the end:
And Latula has the thing about being a R4D SK4T3R G4M3G1RL!!! I don’t really think we need a quote to establish that–Dave and Karkat prove my point well enough, and this is pretty much common fandom knowledge.
What I don’t think is common fandom knowledge is that Pages do the same thing, but for a different purpose. Pages and Knights both set up Personas that they project into the outside world. And both of them do it to control how other people perceive them. But for different reasons.
Knights do it because they want to be perceived as capable, in control, and unflappable, basically. Karkat wants everyone to rely on his executive ability as a Leader. Dave wants to be admired and validated by his friends, or. Well. Anyone. In essence, Knights want to be relied on by others.
Pages, on the other hand, develop this fabricated identity for themselves. At this point, I should mention I’ve come to agree with Tex Talk’s view that Knights are a passive class and Pages are an active one.
Knights use their aspect to benefit others. Pages use it to benefit themselves.
Horrus develops a strangely blank persona, so conspicuously fake it is hard to tell if he even reacts to input–so it’s easy for him to just pretend he didn’t hear it when Rufioh tells him he wants to break up–again, I don’t really feel like going through all of Openbound to get all the screencaps and I don’t think they warrant that much space on this post.
Tavros does the same thing, enveloping himself in his games and fantasy so much that he veers away from almost any responsibility in the session, and does only what he wants to…unless Vriska is stealing that ability from him. However, even through her abuse, Tavros manages through sheer presentation of his person to encourage the other trolls to help take care of him.
Specifically, by giving him increased mobility–mobility and freedom of movement being concepts closely related to Breath. It’s worth mentioning Tavros is able to inspire this care not just in Kanaya, but in Equius, who looks down upon lowbloods and whose culture would have encouraged him to KILL Tavros for his weakness rather than help him.
But because of Vriska’s exploitative and cruel influence on him, I’m not sure to what extent he really lives up to his full potential. That said, he DOES manage to completely live out his own personal fantasy, coming to embody both his childhood image of Peter Pan…
BUT ALSO being the only one of the Alternian trolls to accomplish his original childhood goal: Becoming a Cavalreaper.
Get it? He’s literally cavalry. Ha ha. Is this kind of a fucked up victory? Maybe, yeah. But it’s fitting that the character obsessed with the Peter Pan fantasy of leading a troupe of “Lost Boys” never really grows up with the goals he sets for himself. Maybe it says something about Tavros, or about the nature of Ghosts–either way, it definitely seems intentional.
Anyway, the Ghosts are another essay for another time. Time to talk about the kid I actually want to talk about:
Jake English has a fabricated persona, too. For Horuss, it’s nothingness. For Tavros, it’s endless childhood and Peter Pan. But Jake’s persona is a contrast to Dirk’s (and Dave’s) Cool Guy persona. Personas that, for each of them, sit at the dead opposite end of the spectrum from who all three characters actually are.
And for Jake’s constructed persona is that of the Hot-Headed Hero.
And like Horrus and Tavros, Jake indulges this fantasy version of himself even when he actively knows it makes no sense to do so, simply because it’s the fantasy about his life he wants to live out.
But like Dave and Dirk’s presentation of themselves as cool guys unphased by anything, this persona is a complete lie.
Jake is demonstrably extremely nerdy…
He collects pointless minutiae about his favorite movies and comic books. He looks up to comic book heroines so much he wants to dress up like them.
And also intelligent, curious, and good at evaluating the potential consequences of his actions–traits he literally willfuly holds himself back from.
His Modus is by far the most complex of all the kids. He uses a Puzzle Modus that allows him to fit any amount of items he wants in it’s storage space…so long as he can successfully spatially fit every single object within a finite space.
And Jake captchalogues a LOT of shit. Meaning he has to keep all of this inventory and know how to spatially navigate it to fit everything he wants at all times. And he does this casually, as a part of his daily interactions with the world around him.
But perhaps more telling than that is how Brain Ghost Dirk describes his own creation:
Brain Ghost Dirk implies that he is a Dirk splinter, but specifically a Dirk splinter that exists entirely through the ideas Jake has about Dirk.
In other words, Jake knows and understands Dirk so well that he can pretty much perfectly remember his body, movements and mannerisms on command. Again, not even actively, it’s just kind of how Jake English rolls-thinking about Dirk all the time is the status quo.
And Brain Ghost Dirk claims to be Jake’s literal brain, talking back to him.
Which means when Brain Ghost Dirk calls Jake out on something, he is forcibly communicating important information to Jake that Jake is actively choosing to ignore. It’s Jake talking to himself, not Dirk giving Jake information he doesn’t have by talking to him through Brain Ghost Dirk.
We have reason to believe the Ghost about this, since Dirk never expresses having any awareness of Brain Ghost Dirk’s existence.
So what important information does Jake willingly ignore? Well, earlier we saw him justify beating up a random alien girl even though a part of his brain knew she wasn’t actually Sea Hitler, and he kind of just wanted to play the part. But surely we can do better than that. How about everything about his friends’ feelings about him that makes him uncomfortable?
Callmearcturus wrote this brilliant thesis outlining why she thinks Jake deliberately manipulated Jane into failing to confess to him, but I’m gonna run over it real quick to ground it in this context and sell you on the idea that this is, in fact, not a theory and explicit canon.
Because we don’t need to guess at this by reverse-engineering Jake’s well-established feelings for Dirk. Roxy literally tells him Jane has these feelings before Jane herself does:
Jake recognizes what Roxy is saying, and guesses what she was alluding to on her own. Roxy doesn’t deny it by any measure, and when she asks Jake to drop the issue, Jake says he understands the dilemma this puts her in with Jane.
To stress: He received this information in confidence and knows it for a fact. And he trusts the information he receives so much that he then ACTS on it. After talking to Roxy, Jake messages Jane himself, OPENING by mentioning Roxy told him Jane was going to be contacting him.
And then he himself broaches the subject of their romantic feelings for each other:
But when Jane outright asks him if he has something he wants to say to her, Jake expertly dodges the question, keeping his options open while putting the onus of taking the first step and revealing her feelings on Jane again.
And then, once he’s got her trying to answer…
He KEEPS asking her, interrupting her several times while she starts to try sorting out her thoughts. He puts Jane under a LOT of pressure here, which…considering Jake literally KNOWS the answer, is a pretty shitty thing to do! Even if Roxy hadn’t LITERALLY TOLD HIM mere minutes ago, Jane’s reactions here would have confirmed Jake’s suspicions beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt.
Unless, of course, one has a reputation for not thinking things through or being aware of their surroundings.
Once Jake has his answer, he doubles back, making sure to ask her AGAIN while she’s off balance….
And he then shuts her down when she tries to take the initiative on taking it back and being honest, quickly following up by IMMEDIATELY letting her know he’s relieved about this–signaling his disinterest BEFORE she has a chance to reveal she actually does have a stake in the matter.
He then uses his goofy, unaware, trusting persona to set up a status quo where Jane continually helps him by acting as a sounding board for all his thoughts about Dirk–essentially, putting Jane inside a gender-flipped version of the laughable stereotype of The Friend Zone.
But wait a minute. Jane is one thing. But if Jake is actually this smart, aware, and capable–then it kind of has ramifications across all of his character interactions. What else changes if we read Jake this way? I know I said my next post would be on Roxy, but, uh…yeah. This one kind of got away from me.
In our next entry, we’re going to talk about Why Jake does what he does, and Why he seems so genuinely confused about it later into his narrative. We’re also going to look at some of the other consequences his Jake’s approach to his friendships has for his friends.
We’ll also make a case for Why exactly Jake ultimately falls in love with Dirk Strider, how and when Jake demonstrates and acts on that love, and if I can manage to squeeze it in–maybe even uncover the way the Heart aspects’ two different themes of Souls and Romance/Shipping are conceptually connected.
And on that note, it’s worth pointing out that there’s one notable exception to the list of people fooled by Jake’s presented persona. One character who not only never talks Jake’s intelligence down…
But instead talks Jake’s intelligence UP when he talks badly about himself.
See you again soon, everyone.
Until then, Keep Rising.