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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Top Ten Fictional Characters: Part One

I developed this list and realized that my top ten fictional characters are all extremes; in innocence or madness, in their ambitions or the lack thereof, in their augustness or insignificance. These characters occupy my mind-space in whatever I do or wherever I go. I meet people and I end up branding a gesture here and an attribute there as Yossarian-esque or Voldemort-ish. So, here you go:

10. Vernon God Little: Vernon is the hero of the book by the same title. Often described as the modern day Holden Caulfield, in my opinion, he is much more than that. He is a brilliant creation combining tragedy and cynicism. But he really pips Caulfield because of his existential, almost dumb, manner in which he takes to the events (and bodies) unfolding. You often feel guilty of stealing a laughter at his state of affairs which has an enormity of its own and you cant but admire the way he wiggles himself out of it in a dazzling finale.

9. Prince Myshkin and Rogozhin: These are actually two different characters from "The Idiot" by Dostoevsky but really they are the two sides of the same coin. Prince is the epitome of innocence, idiocy and genrosity while Rogozhin is a dark, murderous and passionate character. The story starts with both of them on a train to St. Petersburg with almost similar circumstances. Both get an inheritence and fall in love with Nastasya Filippovna. They swear brotherhood to each other and then the same night Rogozhin tries to kill Prince. They meet again where Prince forgives him and even lets him have Nastasya only to be offered Nastasya back again later in the story with an unstated show of murderous intent. Ironically, Nastasya elopes with Rogozhin this time around. The end of this saga sees both of them locked in embrace in a room with Nastasya's murdered beauty, one gone insane and one gone idiot. Us, common people, are just different shades of Prince and Rogozhin, some lighter and some darker. And therein lies the appeal of these characters.

8. Randle Patrick Mcmurphy: A happy-go-lucky hero of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", he walks into the asylum as a potentially easy way to serve out his sentence. There is nothing small about Mcmurphy. He is grand in the way he walks, talks and carries himself around. In the asylum, he comes to see himself as a beacon of hope for the lifeless souls, finds capacity for self-sacrifice and fights the 'Combine' in a hopeless cause which eventually leaves him as a vegetable. An infinitely moving character full of life who meets a superbly ironic end and is rescued only when his fellow mate, 'Chief' decides to snuff him with a pillow and thus allowing him the dignity to go out on his own terms.

7. Meursault: "My mother died yesterday or the day before. I dont really know." That is how the story opens with the hero and the narrator's thoughts. Meursault is the quintessential existential masterpiece. Nothing in this world could ever matter to him except for sensory experiences. He simply exists. He remorselessly smokes in front of his mother's dead body and later in the story, murders an Arab because he was "tired of the argument and the heat of the sun". Although, the Arab is dead, he shoots him four more times for good measure and objectively explains his motive to the judge that the Arab was dead and four more shots did not make him any more dead. He is convicted and sent to the guillotine largely because he is incapable of remorse. In prison, he refuses the opportunity to turn to God and looks at the universe as a "brother" because of its indifference to humankind, an emotion shared by himself. He feels that he was happy again. His last wish was "that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate".

6. Yossarian: He is the anti-hero of the satirical comedy Catch-22. Faced by the dilemma of self-preservation and fighting in the WW-II, he firmly chooses the former. He is described as a comical and anti-hero version of Achilles and you can also see simile with Scott Adams's Wally. Consequently, the parallels in corporate life are boundless. He claims that the world was out there to get him either by bombing his plane or by forcing him to fly missions. A famous quote - "He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive." He employs ingenious ways to avoid having to fly including inventing fake diseases and getting admitted in hospital, poisoning the squadron, ordering harsh evasion when faced with flak etc. In the end, when he deserts, he mentions, "I am not running away from my responsibilities. I am running to them. There's nothing negative about running away to save your life." If there was ever a survivor, he was one. Yossarian lives on.

To be continued...


Annoymously said...

Have forgotten what i'd penned when i'd read your post & this section malfunctioned. However, these are general musings provoked by reading it just now.

Authors delighted in phases, when one hunted down all the books of that author as far as one could - not counting childhood: Christie, Wodehouse, DH Lawrence, Shaw's plays, the leon uris phase, louis lamour cowboy phase, MM Kaye, the Russian novelists phase, even Perry Mason! just to name a few- that's how it usually was for moi.

At this stage of life, find myself avoiding books featuring characters indulging in endless introspection or dark brooding instead of action, and those which are downright depressing (including Chekhov, Dostoevsky here). Hope i won't receive hate mail for saying this ;)

Of your well-compiled list, have read only 3 ever:
- Catch 22, way back in college, to understand why guys were so fascinated by it. :) Liked it.
- Idiot - tried rereading this recently & couldn't bear to. Ran out of patience.
- One Flew Over.. recently reread this and enjoyed the experience. Though i wish he'd lived. :) Going to avoid The Stranger for this reason. Am a sucker for happy endings. What Chief says about humour in his simple way is so true. It's my one filter for judging personalities. Will read Vernon God Little soon. Am currently hounding my lib for a copy of Sea of Poppies which is next on my list.

Compiling a personal top 10 is a tough task. Though your selection of acknowledged literary greats is impeccable.

Looking forward to the top 5.

Has got me thinking about what my list would be. With hundreds of books to choose from, that's a tough task. Will compile a top 10 romantic characters :) Don't need to include the word 'fictional' here coz that would be obvious.

Need to start my own blog for gen stuff. Seem to be treating the comment box as a mini blog!

Annoymously said...

Eek. This is too verbose! Fully expect to be banned from future comments :)

Beta said...

You are definitely more well-read than I am. This is scary to say the least because I dont think I can read any faster than I already am. Phew!

I dig tragedies, especially the self-destructive types. Vernon God Little is a modern favorite. You would like it because all ends well in the end too. I am reading White Tiger now and so far it is promising as hell.

You should definitely start a blog on 'Life and everything like it'. Your comments are welcome as ever.

Annoymously said...

You and most guys who read. I'll never understand this fascination for morbidity. Many's the time have sat next to a passenger lovingly fondling a dog-eared copy of his fave Dostoevsky.

Well, as a fellow blogger all i can offer is, if you ever find yourself standing on a bridge staring at the dark water or thinking lovingly of weaponry, then allow us the chance to talk you out of it. Will do anything to retain my readership no matter what!

Annoymously said...

Oh my secret is am working part time right now, hence have a lot of time during the day to catch up on reading

Annoymously said...

This has to be said. Adiga spent very little of his life in India & his win is largely due to excellent marketing skills than an indepth "knowledge" of what makes the people of India. Very few places in the world don't have their very own gritty underbelly and right now i agree with the school of thought that resents the 'exposé' of what is defined as 'the real india' by someone who simply didn't have to deal with it and who is looking at a one sided, deliberately sensational, acquired view - with an aim of 'winning' a literary award. Ofcourse, am saying all this without having read it. Will TRY keep an open mind until i do.

Beta said...

I finished the book last night and allow me to offer my point of view.

Think Adiga's brilliance is that he is simply telling a story via a narrator; a very believable story, mind you. He doesnt claim that he is describing India, real or otherwise; it is just those critics out there who are describing the book as such. Although, mind you, despite his background, he has done well to describe the underbelly. He has done a one-sided job of it but that is precisely why he uses a first-hand narrator who looks at the world through prejudiced eyes.

Give him a break. Who doesnt write a book with the aim of winning an award? When you work, dont you aim for career growth? And dont you try and market yourself as much as you can? Admittedly, he has sensationalized the story a bit but then its fiction and he lets you make up your mind.

Try it. You might like it afterall.

Annoymously said...

Will get down to reading it eventually.

Giving myself a break from books about Mumbai/India coz am still recovering from having read Sacred Games, Maximum City & Shantaram, one after another.

Need a break from grim realities! :)