Monday, July 20, 2015

Reality Vs. Fiction: The Rules of Characterization

Hardy is not my favorite author, because most of his characters are unrelatable.  I don’t just mean that I don’t know what it feels like to be a shepherd (though this is true), but because the emotions and reactions to situations were so disconnected to what I would do. 

This problem is particularly evident in the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene, who vacillates from being the clever, strong woman of means that every man adores, to a weak, undecided, irrational servant of her own emotions.  It was as if the character of Bathsheba took on a life of her own against Hardy’s will, and he felt the need to inflict all the negative stereotypes of women on her in order to control her.  The problem with this characterization is it isn’t stable.  Hardy tries to have it both ways: he makes a great assertive character, someone who is loveable because she is strong and independent and fiery, in order to make it believable that all these men would fall in love with her.  But then he turns around and makes her needy, passive, compliant, so that she isn’t completely “out of their league”.   Because face it, all three men are boring compared to Bathsheba. 

I get that in real life, people are contradictory.  Emotions are unstable, so that one day a person might be calm and collected, the next impulsive and irrational.  Hardy uses this emotional instability and chocks it up to Bathsheba being a woman, as if men were exempt from such pendulous mood swings.  But even if Bathsheba were bipolar in some way, that doesn’t explain how she could be a good businesswoman, running her farm (albeit with Gabriel Oak’s help) on her own, and then suddenly she’s crumbling with self-doubt and submission.     

As I said, in real life, people are contradictory.  But in books, authors are not allowed this one piece of verisimilitude.  Characters, as opposed to flesh and blood human beings, must stay within certain parameters of that characterization.  The Spunky Woman Of Means is not allowed to blend with the Wishy-Washy Damsel.  An A-Type personality like hers doesn’t suddenly become a B-type without Author Interference on a major scale.  In this way, just as novelists simplify the world in general, distilling it into words composed of a mere 26 letters, they also have to compress humanity into set stereotypes.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reviewing Thomas Hardy’s "Far From the Madding Crowd"

In a nutshell, Far from the Madding Crowd is about the beautiful, mercurial feminist Bathsheba Everdene and her three stalkers.

The story starts with the humble shepherd Gabriel Oak, giving the reader the false impression that he is the main character.  Because his name is Oak we know right away that he’s solid and steadfast and wholesome like a great oak tree.  He sees the beautiful Bathsheba from afar, and immediately pegs her for proud because she’s practicing her smile in a mirror.  Nevertheless he also immediately falls in love with her.  Because she’s beautiful, in case I didn’t mention.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Romeo and Juliet: An Alternate Version

It is the true mark of tragedy, particularly the literary genre, that the terrible ending is almost always completely avoidable. The saying goes, “But for a horse, the kingdom was lost.” When it comes to Shakespearean pacing, however, it’s not so much a horse that’s missing, as just a few more soliloquys. 

Let’s take Romeo and Juliet, since, as the death of the main characters in any Shakespearean tragedy is a foregone conclusion, I doubt it would cause an uproar if I spoil the ending. 

Most people know the ending of the play, but here is the recap of what happens right before the tears get jerked: Romeo and Juliet, being from two feuding families, have fallen in love and married in secret. Juliet is being pressured by her dad to marry this other guy named Paris, and since she’s gotten married in secret to her father’s mortal enemy she can’t well explain the whole situation. Well, she could. But that would have forced the families to get along without their children’s untimely demise.  Can you imagine the Thanksgivings?* Since this is a tragedy, though, that would be totally ridiculous. So instead Juliet does the only rational thing. She runs away and a Friar helps her fake her death.