Lecture topic Character and its general purpose
Each character can be considered on their own, and their journeys, decisions and personalities can be analysed to teach us a lot about the author¶s attitudes, values and beliefs. Brave New World does a good job of giving us characters from within and from outside of the World State to help give us a really clear picture of the impact of stability, conformity and difference. This presentation will give a general overview of the value of character as a technique. We¶ll look broadly at how characters and character actions can be analysed in order to sustain an argument about what an author was trying to achieve. Follow up presentations will dig into individual characters and their specific impact on what the novel is able to achieve.
Good characters tend to be a lot more than just bodies in space who react to various events that randomly occur around them. They tend to be designed to be loved or hated and their actions and decisions become yard sticks for reflections on our own values an attitudes. Obviously, we don¶t have to read into and analyse a character to enjoy a novel, but a good character will be rich enough in complexity to challenge our thinking and allow for reflection.
What should I look for?
We judge characters like we judge people, and we mostly judge people by what they say and do. To a lesser extent, we judge people by what others say about them. However, this is far less reliable fodder for justified judgements. So, when looking at character, what we want to be considering are the following: 1) What they do - decisions, choices and actions 2) What they say or don¶t say - a character¶s unwillingness to speak up will say as much about them as their desire to speak If this doesn¶t give us enough information, then we can look to: 3) What others have to say about them
What should I expect to discover?
An initial examination of action and speech will allow you to make a judgement about where a character sits on continuums such as:
Dislike Despise Immoral
Like Admire Moral
Author¶s align themselves with the right
This isn¶t a political statement. Thinking back to each continuum on the previous slide, characters we admire, like, find ethical, etc. tend to become representatives of the author¶s attitudes and values. So, if we admire Helmholtz¶s commitment to art to the point that he is willing to be exiled to ³a thoroughly bad climate´, we can assume that the author wants us to admire that because they also admires this commitment to art/individual thought. As a consequence, we can make judgements about the beliefs of a writer by investigating where their characters fall in these continuum structures.
To put it simply...
This end of the continuum is for characters who are generally dislikable. Their characteristics/values/attitudes are to be condemned and they represent aspects of humanity we should avoid. Whereas this end of the spectrum is for those characters who we admire and/or like. Their values/attitudes are to be applauded and we it is suggested that we model ourselves after these characters. They tend to challenge us to live up their standard.
And characters change...
Getting a handle on this can tell you a lot about what the character is meant to express/represent. A character needs a catalyst for change, i.e. something to get that change going. In Brave New World, it tends to be an encounter with a different set of values that incites change. - John encounters the World State - Bernard and Helmholtz encounter John By examining the style of change and what creates that change, we can start to draw conclusions and judgements. For example, Bernard changes for the worse. This change comes from way he treats John. As a consequence we get an insight in the selfishness man is capable of - using and abusing another human being for personal gain. Huxley treats us to the dark depths of human behaviour so that we might learn from it. We despise the behaviour, so perhaps we try to align our own behaviour with that of Helmholtz, attempting to understand and empathise.
Ultimately, characters are symbols
In terms of literature and analysis, we are mostly interested in what different characters represent. We are looking to take their decisions, actions, values and attitudes and align them with different elements of humanity. The questions we always want to be asking are: 1) Who does this character represent? 2) What could this character be saying about humanity in general? So... Does Bernard¶s desire to be popular and successful represent an aspect of what it is to be an outsider? Does Helmholtz¶s desire to write something important represent the quest of all artists? Does John¶s inability to fit in at Malpais or the World State represent an aspect of all cultural outcasts?
Reading as an analyst
To a large extent it is about being as objective as possible. You should follow your emotions to begin with - who do I like? who do I dislike? - but then step back and question the consequences of empathising with some, while demonising others. It is likely the author is crafting their characters to get you to side with one set of values and attitudes, while getting you to despise (or at least dislike) another set.
Constantly questioning the actions, choices, thoughts and opinions of characters will allow you to make judgements about them that go well beyond their place in the plot. Ultimately, you want to be able to describe what a character¶s function is and how they go about making a text more complex/challenging/confronting.