Tag Archives: The Awakening

Points for the Protagonist: Our Unyielding Devotion to Character # 1

Ed Davad → in Toys “Gotta love Harry”

A devout fan of the television series Breaking Bad, I became disgusted with myself one evening while viewing an episode with my husband. At a commercial break I began ranting about ‘what a bitch’ Skyler White, main character Walter White’s wife, was for wishing her husband dead. How dare she deliberately smoke cigarettes in his presence in hopes of his cancer returning? How could cause her lifelong partner such intense bodily harm?

Then it hit me: Why wouldn’t she want him dead?

He became a crystal meth proprietor behind her back. He murdered people. He poisoned a child. Truth be told, Skyler’s husband inadvertently dragged her into serious and potential legal problems. He endangered the lives of their children…and yet, I’m calling her the bitch?

More like Walt himself is the son of one.

It’s an interesting notion to ponder, because I’m definitely not the first, nor will I be the last viewer to deem Skylar the enemy. The thing is though, the story is not centered on Skyler’s point-of-view, if it was, then we’d certainly be ragging on old “Heisenberg” a bit more. But since this tale belongs to Walter, and we as an audience are following his journey from lowly high school teacher to number one drug lord of the American Southwest, we’re simply always going to be on his side. End of story.

*Some other examples from the networks:

1. Nucky Thompson from Boardwalk Empire

2. Don Draper from Mad Men

3. Tony Soprano from The Sopranos

*Notice all these protagonists are of the male variety?

Ed Davad → in Toys

Why We Always Root for the Main Character

Outside of television and inside of literature, this is nothing new. We can argue to the death that Odysseus of Homer’s The Odyssey fits the ancient Greek profile of a hero, but in reality, he was a cocky, philandering, manipulative, and war mongering individual. Yet, we love him. For centuries now, we’ve been giving him importance. We discuss his adventures at length. We analyze his motives. Why? Because The Odyssey is a great story. And whose story is it? That’s right. It’s Odysseus’s story.

Have you ever truly hated a protagonist’s guts? I don’t think it’s possible. Yes, I have encountered some disappointing protagonists (see examples below), but otherwise it seems most character-loathing is saved for villains, antagonists, or other secondary characters.

The protagonist though, despite her many shortcomings is basically the person we’re hanging with as we read the story. She may do some wicked and selfish things, but as readers we’re so appreciative of the story she’s telling us that we’re willing to forgive and forget. Besides, if someone (whether it’s told from first or third person) is essentially spilling her guts, we’re likely to find at least some redeeming qualities.

Examples of characters we hate to love:

Rachel: Protagonist in Emily Giffin’s novel Something Borrowed. Rachel has slept with her best friend’s fiancé. Yet as readers we find ourselves rooting for Rachel to get the guy. She does a great job telling us how she’s always been second-rate next to her alluring friend, Darcy. Plus, we come to discover that Darcy’s done some evil deeds on her own. Rachel basically becomes your buddy. Wouldn’t you take your buddy’s side?

Edna Pontellier: Protagonist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. She simply up and left her family behind (anyone can be forgiven for leaving an unsatisfying marriage, but to nix your parenting responsibilities?) simply because she was having inner-yearnings of something better out there. Yet she was bold, honest, and fearless. And since we’re hearing about her grief on such a deep level, we’re supportive of her decisions.

Ed Davad → in Toys

Examples of disappointing, but not hated protagonists:

Amir: Protagonist in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Amir watches Hassan, the son of his father’s longtime servant, go through a horrendous experience. Amir, however, does nothing to intervene and then proceeds to feel guilty about it the rest of his life. An underlying motive may be jealously as Amir’s powerful father, Baba, takes an unusual liking to Hassan. Amir is not to be despised, but he proves himself to be a weak character throughout most of the story. It is arguable at the end whether or not the amends he makes does proper justice.

Gene Forrester: Protagonist in John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Gene is studious and introverted—which is fine in and of itself, but he’s also insecure. Very, very, insecure. So insecure in fact, that he sabotages the athletic abilities of his sprightly friend, Finny by basically pushing him off a tree limb. Gene spends the remainder of the novel contemplating in an obsessive, incessant way whether or not he intended to do his friend harm.

Both Amir and Gene act on jealous instincts, which are essentially, human. They aren’t evil-minded guys, just vulnerable to life’s natural hierarchy. Despite their actions or lack thereof, they are both phenomenal storytellers, and without their keen perspectives, the books would not be nearly as enjoyable to read.

The truth is we let our protagonists get away with quite a bit, but if we want to hear the story, if want to be entertained, enlightened, mystified and moved, well then, we’re just going to have to put up them.

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Old School Sundays: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

It’s a common plot point: domestic woman leaves her dispassionate life behind to pursue self-gratification, spiritual fulfillment. Eat, Pray, Love and other stories may have spawned a revival of these tales of transcendence, but the originator of this notion was Kate Chopin, and her wonderful novel, The Awakening.

Of course the 1890s was not an optimal time for female self-actualization; thus, Chopin took great risks in composing her story. I first read this book in an American Studies class. I fell in love with the imagery, the symbolism, and strong thematic components. But more than anything else, it was the slow, dawning of epiphany that shook Edna Pontellier’s core that truly moved me.

Octavian → in Objects

In the beginning of chapter seven, the narrator describes Ms. Pontellier:

“Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life–that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (Chopin, 26).

I was initially drawn to this passage, because it seemed as though Chopin was not only describing her protagonist, but she was also describing me. But now I recognize this to be the work of a clever writer. As readers we’re supposed to identify with the characters. We’re supposed to feel like we’re reading about ourselves. A good writer will design such a universal protagonist so every person who ever lived can in some ways, relate.

It’s too bad that Edna Pontellier’s spiritual quest didn’t end as happily as say, the woman in Under the Tuscan Sun, but she is still  to be commended for surrendering to that inner inkling that begs us to reach for more.

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Why as writers, we strive to make sense of the world

Stephen Rayburn → in Plants & trees

I’m a reader, teacher, and (intrinsic) writer of literature. I’ve been trained to make meaning from the meaningless. To spot symbolism. To recognize “patterns.” For example, in Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening bird references run rampant. First there is the notion of the ‘caged bird,’ hence, the life of the Victorian woman, but as Edna Pontellier’s story moves forward, and she both physically and mentally escapes her bounds, the bird becomes an emblem for freedom—well, sort of.

This post is not an analysis of The Awakening. Instead, it’s an examination of both the reader’s and writer’s minds. As a student of literature, I would have been expected to pick up on Chopin’s bird motif. As a teacher of literature, I might expect my students to do the same.

I’ll always attest to the fact that my extensive reading of the classics and beyond has forever changed the way my brain functions. For years, my search for the significant went beyond the page. Those crocuses sprouting from the dusty snow became a personal “sign.” Hard times are over; transformation is possible. The stray cat in my backyard became an omen for an unexpected visitor. The tenuously shaped heart in the foam of my beer meant love was on its way. It was as though my life were a novel.

Recently, however, I discovered that science can explain this need to make sense of one’s surroundings. In the July issue of Psychology Today magazine, author Matthew Hudson says in his article “Your Sixth Sense:”

“Pattern-finding is so central to survival and success that we see patterns everywhere, even in random data—a phenomenon called apophenia. We spot faces in clouds and hear messages in records played backward. And while we expect some level of order in the world, on occasion our pattern-spotting gets away from us and makes a connection we wouldn’t expect. When that happens, we demand, at least subconsciously, an explanation.”

For the full article click here:http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201206/your-sixth-sense

Hudson says (and I paraphrase) that since our early schooling days, we are taught to recognize patterns. For example, we learn the alphabet and to count—all pedagogical pattern-finding practices. We are shown that the American Flag signifies liberty, and thus, our minds begin to associate stars and stripes with pursuing our dreams.

I believe we writers…we intrinsic writers are quite the experts on this practice. To us, everything is figurative. I’ve gotten so adept at this system that it happens naturally as I write. For anyone who has ever seethed in skepticism, “Did the author really mean to do that? Did she really intend for the road kill on the boulevard to mean that Mrs. Bumblestick’s dreams of becoming a model were ‘squashed?’”

My answer? Maybe. But more likely, with consistent practice, the author has simply gotten good at creating a web of connotation.

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