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Unique characterization can be a powerful tool for any medium, while books are no exception. Whether this is through powerful characters, the integration of real and historically famous figures, or some other way, characters are sometimes overlooked while too much focus is then placed on the situations. The following stories are examples of how unique characters and character development play key roles in unique stories.
Erdrich’s Love Medicine is an emotionally powerful tale, combining the perspectives of many while offering varying details and opinions in the accounts. The reader can form a deep understanding of each character in combining all of these views. The same occurrences are described time and time again but are unique because of the way they are told and the characters involved. The main character of this novel is not easily identifiable, and as such it could be one of several characters.
It is also reasonable to claim that there are many main characters. The characters LuLu, Lipsha, or Nector are all potential main characters or may share the classification. At any rate, each of the three characters is mentioned often while all are also very dynamic. Lulu attempts to gain more power in all parts of her life and is successful in doing so. Lipsha seems less significant and passive until LuLu inquires about family.
The uncertainty which is created spirals the characters into more action, revolving around a primary theme of the power involved with women. The male characters in the story are controlled and occasionally humiliated. The characters possessing the most power are female elders, who are both highly esteemed and feared. There is much diversity between the characters as well, while the author’s descriptions of them provide a clear and impressionable personal atmosphere.
Dos Passos’ 1919, the second part of the U.S.A. trilogy, reuses the majority of the characters found in the first novel. The characters in this book are faced with a challenge very soon while the reader follows a priest’s daughter, a country girl, a Jewish extremist, and several famous historical figures. The story relates to the characters while they face challenges and attempt to succeed in early nineteenth-century society.
All characters are portrayed beginning with childhood, although there is no close connection with all of their lives. Many characters with small roles are also portrayed in the book, more so than in the other books. This book is also unique (generally) in its portrayal of real-life historical figures, as it mentions many of them. Some of the related action is drier, such as the following of characters’ careers, while some are killed in trivial ways while losing some aspect of their life beforehand.
The characters in Doctorow’s Ragtime are entirely fictional and are faced with different sorts of challenges. The mother is part of an upper-class family, often feeling guilty about how her brother is treated. She experiences many personal changes throughout the story. The father is naturally in a similar situation except he does not share the guilt of the mother nor does he change in the same ways as the mother. The father’s character battles with alienation. The son of these two characters is the narrator, who is ever-developing throughout the story. The challenges this character faces are different due to his age, while he represents a new generation. This book too contains famous real-life characters, such as Harry Houdini, Sigmund Freud, and Evelyn Nesbit.
The characters in these books develop, chapter by chapter, as they face problems. It is the experience of change or overcoming the challenge that causes the majority of the characters to develop. The number of characters in these stories is also critical in that they can provide an interesting level of variation. Readers are not tempted to ‘tune out’ for this reason. If there were fewer characters with the same type of content, then the average reader would likely not be as interested. At the same time, this type of variation provides for less attachment to a fewer number of characters, and as such, the reader does not empathize or sympathize as well as they would have with fewer characters.
Advantages and disadvantages
The advantage in writing these kinds of books is that the variation creates a higher number of mediums for imagery in circumstances, while the author is less obligated to create extensive character depth and character dynamics. The reader becomes less inclined to form attachments to specific characters, yet is not tempted to ‘tune out’ because the dynamics in these books lie more within the situation and environment than within specific characters.
Love Medicine’s characters
The characters in Love Medicine are unique in that they are powerful, elder females which is not common in many situations. They contrast with the other characters in the other stories because they have a lot of power over the forces in life while they are also not the more ‘everyday kinds of characters that are in the other books. The character also develops more personal feelings for these characters.
While there is no main character in Love Medicine, and the perspective shifts around, the reader is still put in more of a position to bond to the characters than in the less personable stories. Ragtime is a particularly good example of this as it has the least sympathizing aspects of all the books. This is the essence of the story, and thus vital as if the characters were portrayed in the same ways as the other books, Love Medicine would not has its unique attributes and would likely not be as highly regarded.
Without the unique instances of characterization, there would not be as much variety in literature. Integrating historical figures makes stories seem much more real and easy to identify with, while an abundance of characters allows the reader to consider a variety of changes rather than become bored with the dynamics of one or few characters.
Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime. Modern Library, 1994.
Dos Passos, John. 1919. New American Library, 1969.
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Erdich, Louise. Love Medicine. Bantam Books, 1987.