In which the highschool version of myself cut Madame Loisel a lot of slack, and I’m still cutting fictional characters a lot of slack today.
When I was in 9th grade, we read Guy de Maupassant’s story “The Necklace.” Afterward, we were supposed to write a character sketch on Madame Loisel. My essay began:
Madame Loisel, from Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace” is quite intolerable at the beginning, but ends up being a sympathetic character over-all.
Those are some weak composition skills, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
What I want to talk about is that I went on to write an essay that cut this lady A TON of slack. My teacher wrote this comment on my essay:
Your analysis is interesting—I think you give her more credit than I would!
Yeah, well, I also gave her more credit than present-day me would. But anyway, it illustrates a point I’m trying to get at here.
Here’s the thing about me and fictional characters: while I can be pretty judgemental in real life (I’m working on it, okay?), I often find that my opinion on a fictional character ends up being WAY more favourable than that of other readers. If they do one awesome thing or even have a thought that’s slightly nice, I’m willing to forgive everything else they’ve ever done. Redemption in my eyes is pretty easy to attain for a fictional character.
I think the reason for this is that I end up looking at the big picture of this person’s life and kind of analysing how their circumstances or past experiences might be impacting their behaviours and thought-processes. Even if the author doesn’t show us the big picture, I’ll infer it. I’ll infer that they had a rough childhood based on one tiny detail, and excuse them that way. I’m extremely willing to believe that in better circumstances, they would have made better choices.
Actually, it’s probably because I’m not required to have any real dealings with this person (because this person is not real) and can close the book and take a break at any time. A good portion of my favourite fictional characters would probably be “quite intolerable” in real life, and probably without my ever coming to view them as “sympathetic…over all”
Additionally, the more interesting I find the character, the more slack I’m willing to cut them, whether they deserve it or not.
Here’s The Point:
I think I’m going to start a series on this blog where I’ll occasionally defend a fictional character that I think gets a bad rap sometimes. I’ll just share my thoughts on where this person is coming from and why that allows me to empathise with them and even find them at least somewhat likeable. And, since I FINALLY got around to reading The Catcher in the Rye, I’m going to be kicking it off with Holden Caulfield.
Now, I don’t think Holden is universally considered unlikeable. It seems like he must have some fans out there. But before I read the book, I had heard so many negative things about this guy that I went in really prejudiced against him. I’d heard people use words such as whiny, judgemental, hypocritical, and overall, unlikeable. However, I came away with a different impression. And I’d like to share my analysis with you.
And In Case You Just Want My General Thoughts On the Book While We’re Here…
If you really want to hear about it, it killed me. It really did. Old Holden really knocked me out. He was the kind of guy you’d like to call up on the phone and just chew the fat with for a while—I’m not kidding. But parts of it made me feel sort of lousy, to tell you the truth. I don’t know why. Anyway, I’m glad they’ll never be able to make a phony movie out of it. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.
Okay, I’m done. I know that doing an exaggerated imitation of the book’s iconic style is just about the least clever thing you can do when you talk about The Catcher in the Rye, and I’m am sorry…but not sorry enough that I didn’t do it anyway.
(Over)Analysing Literature: where I anticipate the feelings and opinions of my readers and then disregard them completely. Thank you for your remarkable patience in dealing with that.
Now that I have that out of my system: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It could be extremely funny one minute, and then hurt me in unexpected ways the next. That’s one of the marks of a great book, in my opinion. In fact, I’m going to make an intentionally arbitrary rule and say that it isn’t literature if you don’t come away feeling at least two conflicting emotions, plus at least one emotion that you can’t even identify.
So anyway…yes. Going to start a new series. Should be fun. Let me know what you think.
Have a lovely day!
(Psst: here’s my Patreon page. All of my reward tiers are very low cost to you, and you’ll get access to some cool stuff! Even if you don’t want to support me, you should go check it out, because I do have some public content on there, including an audio version of one of my latest posts.)