Memorable characters are often what makes reading so worthwhile. Of all the books you've read, what character is the most memorable to you? Why do you think this character is so memorable? This can be from a book you read as an adolescent or as an adult. Please limit your answers to works of fiction.
I read Jane Eyre when I was fifteen years old. I loved it! At the time, I would not have been able to tell why exactly, but I did think that it was a great romance novel. Later on television, I saw the 1943 Jane Eyre movie starring Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine and was forever enchanted with these memorable characters. Wells luminescent voice simply brought not only Jane Eyre (Joan Fontaine) to her knees but impressed me as well. Now, at 65, I understand why it is a great novel and considered to be a classic. Jane Eyre, to me, is my most memorable classic heroine.
The less than ideal Victorian men in Jane Eyre's life only serve to support her shift toward womanhood. Most of those characters represent some antithesis of gentlemanly conduct. She stands up to them, never fears them, and usually surpasses them. In addition, Jane always learns something from her male counterparts. What a girl!
John Reed, Jane's cousin, thinks it is his job to make Jane feel and look beneath him. What a snivelling little twerp (as my granddaughter would say)! Jane more delicately describes him as
...large and stout for his age, with a dingy and unwholesome skin.
She appears to do John's bidding, but in the end does not care that she will be punished simpy by making sure he suffers as well. In the end, poor John becomes an alcoholic and dies penniless.
Mr. Brocklehurst represents the part of society that pretends to walk the life of religion, but, in reality, everything he does is only to enhance his standing and increase his wealth. He does nothing to help the little girl, who only needed his guidance and a kind word. Instead, Jane receives only what is necessary to survive and the education that she determines to acquire. From her time at the school, she earns the respect of the other students and the ability to stand on her own.
The next male relationship in Jane's life is our supposed "hero." Mr. Rochester seems to work against being called a gentleman of the time. He is not handsome; he has secrets that he can not share; and he is not forthright in his association with Eyre. Rochester sees something in Jane that she does not see in herself: her insight into the character of others. Immediately, he was drawn to her, and she to him.
As the Bronte reader knows, the truth will come out in the end. For Jane, discovering that Rochester had not been truthful with her breaks her heart:
Mr. Rochester was not what he had been; for he was not what I thought him. I would not ascribe vice to him; I would not say that he had betrayed me...
When her marriage ceremony is stopped, Jane is forced to run away and actually become an independent woman. Through her travels, she finds friends and family that help her to know what she really wants. Together she and Rochester will stand together independently and dependently as married people do.
Jane Eyre discovered that men are not perfect, but human; and women can stand strong and resolute alone. In the world of 1847 and for the later generations, Charlotte Bronte provided a heroine who might not live happily ever after but who would live on her own terms.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Alfred A. Knopf inc., 1991.
Scout Finch, without a doubt, is the character I adore most in literature. I love everything about this little girl, so much so that I nearly named my daughter after her. One of my favorite Scout moments was when she began using cuss words at the dinner table in a campaign to avoid school; her thinking was that if Atticus thought she was picking up bad habits at school, he would insist that she stay home. This led to her dinnertime request that someone "pass the damn ham".
Another priceless moment, albeit one of a more serious nature, occurred the night before Tom Robinson's trial when Atticus went to more or less "guard" the jail where Robinson was being held. He had been told that a mob from the country was headed to the jail to kidnap Tom Robinson, presumably to lynch him. Jem, Scout and Dill followed him to the courthouse arriving about the same time as the mob. Scout is puzzled and overwhelmed at the whole situation, as she realizes the group of men are not there for a friendly visit. Finding a familiar face in the crowd, she begins a friendly conversation. The man she recognizes is Walter Cunningham's father. Walter Cunningham is a classmate of Scout's, and Walter's father owes Atticus a substantial amount of money, which Atticus has not demanded payment for, saying to let this debt "be the least of your worries". Walter has also visited the Finch home for mid-day dinner. Because of the amicable relations between Atticus and the Cunninghams, Scout sees no reason why she shouldn't ask about the money owed her father ("How's your entailment comin' along?") and send her regards to Walter. Mr. Cunningham, visibly touched by Scout's naivete and innocence agrees to tell Walter "hey" for her, and disbands the crowd. Atticus, who it was apparent had been afraid of what was about to happen with the mob, was not even upset with the children sneaking out at night, realizing as he did that Scout's friendly overtures had probably saved Tom Robinson's life, and maybe his own, commenting:
So it took an eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses.... That proves something - that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children.
Character building is the touchstone of a great writer. As an addict to reading, my first impulse is to refuse one single choice. However, it is necessary to follow the rules of the game, so I am discarding a plethora of admirable characters and casting my vote on James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus.
Stephen is first introduced in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and makes his exit at the end of Ulysses. Through devices ranging from the stream of consciousness to pastiche, Joyce shows Stephen's process of evolution from early childhood into young maturity.
What makes him irresistible to me is that he is Joyce's alter ego. Joyce blends his own experiences, doubts, fears, joys, ambitions, erudition, and passions with those of his protagonist in A Portrait... and antagonist in Ulysses.
Although I am a woman living in another time, I feel identified with Stephen in a number of ways. I too bear a last name that aroused mockery and distrust among my schoolmates. I too was half blind when deprived of my thick lenses. Like Stephen, I witnessed arguments on politics that lay beyond a child's comprehension. Stephen's father and mine could have been twins.
Further similarities, among others the determination to become an artist, can be glossed over. In the maze of his unconscious, paralleled by the maze of Dublin's streets, Stephen overcame his shyness and hesitations to pursue his goal. He was different, an eccentric that did not bow to the established religious beliefs or to the leonized poets and thinkers of his day. He scorned false nationalists and exercised his right to freedom of choice to the last consequences.
This is the character that comes to my mind whenever I am confronted with an existential dilemma. Please do not mistake these reflections for an analysis of a very complex character. I know better than that.
I guess I would say that the character most memorable to me is Mink Snopes, who appears through Faulkner's "Snopes trilogy" and dies at the end of the last of the three novels. My selection gives me an excuse to quote the conclusion of that work, in which the bitter, thoroughly unlikable former sharecropper and longtime chain gang prisoner lies dying all alone on the bare ground.
But he could risk it, he even felt like giving it [the earth] a fair active chance just to show him, prove what it could do if it wanted to try. And in fact, as soon as he thought that, it seemed to him he could feel the Mink Snopes that had had to spend so much of his life just having unnecessary bother and trouble, beginning to creep, seep, flow easy as sleeping; he could almost watch it, following all the little grass blades and tiny roots, the little holes the worms made, down and down into the ground already full of the folks that had the trouble but were free now, so that it was just the ground and the dirt that had to bother and worry and anguish with the passions and hopes and skeers, the justice and the injustice and the griefs, leaving the folks themselves easy now, all mixed and jumbled up comfortable and easy so wouldn't nobody even know or even care who was which any more, himself among them, equal to any, good as any, brave as any, being inextricable from, anonymous with all of them: the beautiful, the splendid, the proud and the brave, right on up to the very top itself among the shining phantoms and dreams which are the milestones of the long human recording--Helen and the bishops, the kings and the unhomed angels, the scornful and graceless seraphim.
William Faulkner, The Mansion
The character most memorable to me is the main female character Katya in the novel The Russia House by writer John Le Carré. Katya is a young Russian woman who has in her possession a sheaf of military secrets entrusted to her by a Soviet physicist who desires to play his part in ending the arms race between superpowers by revealing secrets of one side to the other.
Katya is to deliver, in a clandestine manner, these documents to a British representative of a publishing house at an innocuous book trade fair taking place in Moscow. Katya and the Russian physicist want these documents to get into the hands of British authorities to expose Soviet military capabilities.
I admire Katya for her bravery and her determination in ensuring the physicist's objective is achieved. She is an idealist and nobody's fool as well. She understands the risks of her assignment, and the risks to all who become involved. This is evident in her statement to the British gentleman at the book fair (a publisher's representative) who takes the documents from her; she says to him, "You must believe in what you are doing."
She is also a woman who desires true love and ends up becoming involved with the recruited British operative sent to meet her. His name is Barley Blair; he's a publisher recruited by the British Secret Service to work with Katya in Russia, under an innocent guise. She makes the ultimate decision in her life - to leave Russia and resettle in Britain for idealistic reasons - Love.
John Le Carré
I love this question. It's easy to think of memorable characters but hard to narrow down the list to a favorite.
Moses Herzog is one of the most remarkable and interesting characters I have ever come across in fiction. The protagonist of Saul Bellow's National Book Award winning novel, Herzog, Moses Herzog is a failed intellectual who composes letters to dead people while running from a functional relationship into near absolute dissolution.
Funny and brilliant, Herzog is also sentimental and lucky despite his self-destructive tendencies. His greatest and perhaps most significant trait is in his sympathetic nature. He stands in for all of us, I think, and earns our sympathy and our respect, and tries to make meaning out of life in ways that will translate outside of his personal story.
Herzog, like Bellow’s other characters, ultimately concerns himself with “defining what is viablyhuman in modern life— what is creatively and morally possible for the displaced person that modern man feels himself to be.
One of this novel's great joys is also what might keep some readers away. It is dense in its prose and dense in its references to cultural history. The book is short of four hundred pages but when you finish reading it the sense of accomplishment is akin to finishing Anna Karenina.
I have always envied Huckleberry Finn. The opportunity to live by his wits, as he wished, moving on when he wanted, adventuring as opportunities arose, exploring the Mississippi River and learning to understand the natural surroundings of that environment - fabulous!
Of course, the reality is that Huck did not have it as easy and comfortable as my imagination made it. Even when I read about terrific thunderstorms and houses being washed down the river in the floodwaters, it never occurred to me that there were real dangers involved in living that type of life. When I interviewed for a job in a Mississippi river town (I could see the river from my classroom!), I referred to Huck in my response to the question of why I was interested in locating in that town!
As an adult, I still enjoy the story, and I can now appreciate the masterful use of dialects to bring life to the characters in the story. I will always support suggestions that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be required reading for all citizens of the United States. http://www.enotes.com/adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/summary
The author who is most renowned for memorable characters is Charles Dickens. All that is needed for a person to do is speak the name of some of his characters and people's faces flash instant recognition. Who can forget Scrooge, Miss Havisham, Madame Defarge, and so many others?
There is an anecdote from Readers' Digest in which an American tourist needed more yarn for her flight home so that she could knit. Not being able to communicate her desire at a huge shopping mall in Paris, she mimed the vengeful character as she knitted in the names of those to be beheaded and said, "Madame Defarge." With instant recognition, a sales clerk motioned upstairs and held the number of fingers for the floor.
But, what character in literature has ever equalled Miss Havisham of Great Expectations for bizarre? She is absolutely unforgettable as the quintessentially eccentric who has literally and figuratively stopped time, wearing forever her decaying wedding dress.
My all-time favorite most memorable character is a toss-up between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet; in a pinch, I'd narrow it down to Elizabeth. These are my all-time favorites partly because of the interaction Austen has with these characters. They don't stand alone in an objective prism of observation, such as Hemingway strives to create, but develop in partnership with Austen's ironic wit, satirical observations, sympathy and confederacy. Because of this relationship between author/narrator and character, social norms and social pressures unfold in precise detail (though never overtly singled out), like a rose is seen more clearly through dew drops and crystalline morning light. I'm hard-pressed to even think of scenes that present characters in a more memorable image than the scenes with Elizabeth, Darcy and his letter. On the other hand, there is Dickens' Uriah Heep, whom one might like to forget, "Heep!" but cannot!
My favorite character is a tie between Algernon Moncrieff from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Lord Goring from The Ideal Husband, and, curiously enough, Paul, from Willa Cather's "Paul's Case". I have always been obsessed with dandies, and wannabe dandies. I especially love those who are proud of being bad and mischievous. Learning about dandies in Literature has driven me to the study of real-life dandies. Out of those, my favorites are Le Comte Alfred D'Orsay, Benjamin Disraeli, and Lord Byron, among many others.
I guess the idea of a young bachelor with good looks, an exquisite sense of fashion, and lots of money and freedom to spend has always been my ideal of the perfect existence, even though I am a middle-aged woman with no intention of changing gender nor gender-preference :)
Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean of Les Miserables is my most memorable (the most memorable!) character. He represents human turmoil, tragedy, and suffering. He also represents redemption mankind can attain or achieve. He nobly sacrifices himself throughout the novel for the sake of Fantine, Cossette, and others, even showing Javert that mercy is higher than law. I can still see him out by the road, with the candlesticks the Bishop of Digne has just given him, struggling to realize that now he can make himself anew. From that moment, he acquires great wealth, becomes mayor, and gives great benefit to others, all without ever selling the candlesticks. He is a memorable role model for all as is the Bishop of Digne
Although you could probably guess by looking at my profile pic, my most memorable character in Literature is definitely Daisy from The Great Gatsby. Flightiest gal I've ever met, ... spitting image of Fitzgerald's own Zelda, ... perfect representation of a flapper from the Roaring Twenties and the shallowness of consumerism. I've spent years trying to understand her. I still don't, ... but Mia Farrow will always be Daisy to me. Perfect casting. Can't wait to see the new Daisy version in the Leonardo DeCaprio flick coming out soon!
Scout Finch is really nice.