TIn ordinary language it is common to use the words ‘hero’, ‘main character’ or ‘protagonist’ interchangeably, however in the language of dramatic theory, these terms are not identical; protagonists belong to a sub-set of main characters who undergo a change over the course of the novel. This change may be a literal change or a figurative change.
A usual form this change takes is the growth of a character from childhood to maturity or from mental immaturity to self-awareness. Three examples of such a change may be found in the novels Emma by Jane Austen (1775-1817), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel L. Clemens also known as Mark Twain (1835-1910) and My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (1929-2002).
In Emma, the eponymous protagonist Emma Woodhouse is, in the beginning, an immature, irresponsible and meddling young woman who blossoms into a mature and socially acceptable woman over the course of the novel. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry, a wild and adventurous rascal comes to terms with ‘civilization’. In My Name is Asher Lev, Asher manages to attain a level of reconciliation between the demands of his artistic muse and the norms of his community.
There are three literary elements which are potently applied in all three novels in order to portray the growth of the protagonist within the course of the novel. These three literary elements are; the use of point of view, the conflicts facing the protagonist and the use of symbolism to depict changes in the protagonist’s character. This paper aims to discuss the chosen literary elements that provide an in-depth insight of the personalities by elaborating author’s view about the growth of the protagonist in the course of the novel.
In terms of understanding protagonists Asher from the novel My name is Asher Lev, Huckleberry Finn from the novel Huckleberry Finn and Emma in the novel Emma, Asher Lev comes in front as the major character who has managed to bring better perception of the role of being a protagonist. Asher Lev has been projected as a character that was blessed with a community where one can live his life with serenity by practicing the ethical norms set by the community itself.
Growth of the protagonist has been shown from the fact that he comes into conflict with his values as bestowed in him by the community for the sake of his talent of painting. In the course of the novel, the author has projected the protagonist Asher to undergo turmoil as his parents did not want him to exhibit his paintings abroad because it rather reflected his anguish to the external world. The author has rather managed to provide a sympathetic concern with the protagonist that also motivates the reader (Potok, 2003).
Second in the examination of role of protagonists comes the character Emma projected by the author Jane Austen in the novel Emma. The protagonists has been projected as a complete stubborn and amazingly rich who tends to commit many wrong decision resulting a chaos in the length of author’s narratives in the novel.
The growth of the protagonist Emma comes visible to the readers as maturing by getting known the feelings of love and regret of matchmaking couple the way she wanted. The author has rather projected the character to be a negatively stubborn person who wanted to have everything. The character gets to know her flaws when she starts to know that she is a failure (Austen, 1816).
Huckleberry Finn is a feral child, who has grown up without parental control, he has been taught lots of things by those bent on ‘civilizing’ him, but he always ends up going against what he has been taught and doing what his heart tells him to do, despite being ridden with guilt at breaking the mores of society. In the end Huckleberry comes to reconcile with society, even while showing a glimpse of his former rebellious nature (Twain, 2007).
The literary element that differentiates the character Asher from the other chosen protagonists is the point of view. It has been observed that all three novels include narratives referring to point of view which is a literary element. For instance, in the case of Asher Lev, the narration or point of view helps us in understanding the growth of Asher from birth to mature age.
It is the narration that let us know that the protagonist discovered the talent of art within. We can understand the role of narration in shaping the perspective of readers regarding the growth of Asher by this quotation extracted from the novel stating, “As a matter of fact, observant Jews did not paint at all–in the way that I am painting.
So strong words are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated (Potok, 2003, p. 3)”. The quotation completely states and helps us observe the growth in protagonist as he confirms that he has started to paint and that’s the level of maturity. Moreover, the quotation also explains that people were using strong words against him that shows that in the course of the novel, the protagonist will have to go strong to face the hardships.
The quotation helps the readers to understand the role of narration or point of view in elaborating the author’s view of protagonist. In a similar manner, in case of other two novels, the readers have also been persuaded by narrations or point of view to shape a perspective regarding the protagonist Emma and Huckleberry.
The role of narration in the novel Emma clearly projects the growth of Emma, the protagonist, throughout the novel. The type of narration observed in the novel Emma is objective narration that supplies the views of author for the growth of Emma. In the case of Emma novel, one can observe an omniscient narrator unlike My Name is Asher and Adventures of Huckleberry Fin.
The narration in the novel Emma describes Emma to be a handsome and extremely rich person which clearly changes it description style as follows, “The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself (Austen, 1816, p. 76)”: As the quotations marks the maturation of character through omniscient perspectives. The quotation thus allows readers to shape perspective regarding the growth of the protagonist.
In the case of third novel, the adventures of Huckleberry Fin, we come to know that the role of point of view of narration is entirely significant as in this manner the perspectives of author come across easily but it is somewhere dependent upon the plot. It has been observed in the third novel representing protagonist, Huckleberry Fin, that the narration is visible in case of colloquial stating the protagonist to remain the same as in personality.
The only thing that changes around him is his environment influenced by incidents and adventures. For example, “The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her way (Twain, 2007, p. 32)”.
The quote states that protagonist for sure lived a terrible phase in his life but that could not change him or grow him in another personality. Thus it could be stated that the comparative pointer between the narratives with respect to the protagonist are quite precedent as it differs greatly. It shows that the literary element of point of view for sure shapes reader perspective regarding growth of the protagonist.
The second literary element that has greatly observed to serve as a perspective shaper for the readers of Emma, My Name is Asher Lev and Adventures of Huckleberry Fin is conflict. The second literary element is conflict that is visible in all three novels. For instance, in the case of My Name is Asher Lev, we can observe that the conflict is between the protagonist and his community.
The conflict between the protagonist and the community helps the readers to understand the source of growth in the protagonist life in the novel. The following quotation helps us in understanding that the conflict rather worked as a catalyst in the growth of the protagonist.
It goes as, “Away from my world, alone in an apartment that offered me neither memories nor roots, I began to find old and distant memories of my own, long buried by pain and time and slowly brought to the surface no (Potok, 2003, p. 113)”. The quotations shows us that the conflict between the community and protagonist gave way to the insight of protagonist and that he moved ahead to decide one thing from the options community and his passion.
The literary element of conflict also has a high significance in the novel Emma as the protagonist goes through troubles because of her self being. The concept of self being refers to the conflict that an individual probably have from himself. The protagonist grows in the course of the novel as coming to know the fact that self centeredness rather became a trouble. The following quote helps us understanding the role of literary element of conflict in the growth of Emma.
It follows as “The first error, and the worst, lay at her door. It was foolish, it was wrong; to take so active a part in bringing any two people together (Austen, 1816, p. 116)”. In this way, through the help of the above quotation, it could be understood that the protagonist turned towards a turning point to gain understanding with the right path. The conflict of individuality becomes visible in the novel with the help of conflict. The literary element conflict has not been made prominent in the case of Huckleberry.
The young boy Huckleberry does not have any of the conflict but the environment in which he grows in the course of the novel has rather conflicting instances. For instances, the environment set by the author around protagonist is conflicting to what we call a normal living. For example, “ hadn’t had a bite to eat since yesterday, so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens—there isn’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right (Twain, 2007, p. 234)” .
Thus, with the help of the above quotation, it comes to our understanding that the growth of the protagonist Huckleberry is elaborated in terms of the conflicting environment he lives. Therefore, it could be said that the literary element of conflict is present in all three of the protagonists’ life but the intensity has been observed to be less in the case of protagonist Huckleberry.
The third literary element is symbolism which is quite evident in all the three novels. It can be stated that in the novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, has a strong support of symbolism which helps the readers in experiencing the growth of the protagonist Huckleberry. The symbolism in the novel Adventures of Huckleberry is the river of Mississippi.
The symbolism, the river of Mississippi, states the escape of the protagonist from all the mishap where he stays for longer hours on his rafts. The growth in the protagonist is visible as he has found out the way to cherish his life out of incidents that have rather shattered him.
The following quote states the reason why the protagonist will go to Mississippi river to escape. “It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lie on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened (Twain, 2007, p.67)”.
From the quotation it comes visible to us that the protagonist does not really want to live a life full of negative incidents and he has rather grown to take his life where he wants to go. In this way, the readers experience the growth in the protagonist Huckleberry.
The literary element of symbolism plays a very major role in the elaboration of growth of protagonist Asher. The symbol used in the novel is ear-lock that shows the concern of religious closeness of Asher. In the course of the novel, Asher cuts his ear-lock that shows us the maturation of the protagonist.
The maturation of the protagonist is visible through the symbol ear lock because it was a symbol to show his belief in the rituals and value as his father had it and so he had that sort of hair style. The protagonist has been observed to cut his ear lock because he could not keep his religion and passion for art along as both of them were conflicting to each other. It was the religious belief that one should keep bonds strong and keep intensions within.
This idea comes visible from the following quotation. “As a matter of fact, observant Jews did not paint at all–in the way that I am painting. So strongwords are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am atraitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, myfriends, my people (Potok, 2003 p.87).”The protagonist cuts his ear lock which is action and a symbol indicating the growth of the protagonist in the eyes of readers and is a mere elaboration.
According to the protagonist, it was not the logic to keep the same haircut as his father did. In the case of third protagonist Emma, the symbolism is the word game that many characters in the chapter 41 play. The symbol of playing the word game actually illustrates misunderstandings among characters that rather work a source of growth of Emma in knowing something he never knew and changes his mind set to look at the things.
In this way the readers come to know the growing phase in Emma. The quotation adds a meaning to the statement of symbolism as, “Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken; but where, as in this case, though the conduct is mistaken, the feelings are not, it may not be very material (Austen, 1816, p. 132)”. This means that the literary element of symbolism for sure plays a major role in all three selected novels.
From the above analysis, it could be stated that the role of protagonist is very important to bring transition to the plot of the story and that the protagonist itself grows throughout the novel with the help of literary elements. The literary elements such as point of view (narratives), conflict and symbolism contrastingly and comparatively in the three protagonists namely, Emma, Asher and Huckleberry helps the reader to understand the growth of the protagonist in the course of the novel.
We have observed in the above analysis, that in particular, the element of narratives clearly reflects the idea of author and the second person. Narratives allowed us to understand feelings and attributes of protagonist from a different angle. Following the same manner, the second literary element of conflict also helps us in creating a perspective. It has been observed that the element of conflict takes place in all three stories Emma, My Name is Asher Lev and
The adventures of Huckleberry. The conflict has been observed in the stories differently from respective antagonists present in the novel. Thirdly, we have also noticed that the element of symbolism has also played a major role in elaborating us a different angle for setting our perspective. It has been studied that raft for Huckleberry, ear lock for Asher and word game assures maturation instances in the characters.
Austen, J. (1816). Emma. New York: Printed for John Murray.
Potok, C. (2003). My Name Is Asher Lev. New York: Anchor Books.
Twain, M. (2007). Huckleberry Finn. London: Evans Brothers.