Literary Genre 2015 (2012.Q1)


“Authors make use of a variety of techniques to shape memorable characters.” Identify and compare the techniques used to shape one or more memorable characters in at least two texts you have encountered on your comparative course. (70)

Literary genre is a fascinating area of study. It allows us readers to observe the craft of each of these authors as they use a variety of techniques to bring each text to life for us. For me, there is no doubt that one of the most effective ways of achieving good story telling is to create characters that come alive on page, stage or screen. The author’s ability to shape characters that will live long in the mind is at the heart of the three texts that I studied as part of the comparative course.’ The Catcher in the Rye’ (TCITR) by J.D. Sallinger, ‘Blade Runner’ (BR) directed by Ridley Scott and ‘A Doll’s House’ (ADH) by Henrik Ibsen all feature characters that in one way or another illuminate their respective texts.

TCITR features a character that is truly memorable and much of this is down to the narrative perspective that J.D. Sallinger uses to bring him to life on the page. The first-person narrative gives us the incredible voice of Holden Caulfield, a teenager who by his own admission is ‘the most terrific liar you ever seen in your life’.  It means that he is an unreliable but – to me – also a fascinating narrator. Thanks to the perspective of the novel, we are offered a fascinating look inside his complex, idealistic, and at times irrational mind. Holden is convinced that he is ‘surrounded by phonies’ and as his character develops we really start to see how much in conflict he is with the world around him. For me, the greatest advantage of the first-person narrator was that Holden embarked on his various adventures in New York, I really felt like I was there beside him, listening to him ‘chew the fat’ with the various people he met. The result was that I felt great empathy towards him as the narrative progressed. The multiple camera angles available in BR offered a very different narrative style and led to the characterisation evolving in a different – and certainly slower – way. Here the various shots offered a much more objective view than in TCITR but didn’t allow any character to be as well-drawn as Holden was in TCITR. In BR, Ridley Scott used a number of close-up shots of the main characters, allowing us to chart their development as characters. The shots of Roy in particular tracked his development from killer replicant to sympathetic saviour. The close-ups also offered us a chance to see how Deckard’s encounters with Roy, as well as his relationship with Rachael, allowed him to step beyond the character of a one-dimensional killer and become a more rounded, human character. ADH on the other hand – being a drama – offers a different narrative perspective again. Here not only dialogue but stage directions play a significant part in evoking and evolving the characters. Given the falseness of their lives, reading how Nora surreptitiously eats some Macaroons in the opening scene, we immediately get a sense of a central character who is living a highly contained and controlled life. All three authors take advantage of particular narrative perspectives to create striking characters that add greatly to the different texts.

Dialogue is a hugely significant technique utilised by the authors to create memorable characters in all three texts. In TCITR, Holden’s voice is made particularly unique by his habit of using a wide variety of slang in the way he communicates. He talks about ‘going to the can’ and getting ‘the axe’ from the school he’s in. Anything that he really likes ‘kills’ him and almost everyone is referred to as ‘old’ even his little sister – ‘old Phoebe!’ This street slang makes Holden more authentic as a character and highlights how much he wants to be different to his peers and those at the more respectable end of New York society. Holden’s language marks him out as a character who is a rebel and an outcast,  somebody who refuses to accept the norms – and vocabulary – of civilised society. Similarly in BR at times dialogue betrays where characters fit into their society. When Bryant threatens Deckard that ‘if you’re not cop, you’re little people’, he is betraying the expectations of Deckard’s class and position – as well as the contempt that the general public left behind on earth are held in. Dialogue is also used in BR to highlight the development of Roy as a character. When at the end, he utters the eloquent words ‘all those moments will be lost in time – like tears in rain’, I was struck by how far Roy had evolved as a character – how this replicant had learned to cherish life in the end, despite being created to kill. Dialogue also plays an equally significant role in ADH. Here we get to understand Nora as a character and her life by the titles her husband has for her: names like ‘song bird’, ‘lark’ and ‘squirrel’.  It clearly shows the trapped and patronised nature of her existence with little personal freedom or expression available to her. Here again, the characterisation is aided greatly by the effective use of dialogue.

PP#3 Setting influences characterisation

PP#4 Themes influence characterisation

PP#5 Imagery influences characterisation

It is rare that a memorable narrative is created without a memorable character being created and that is certainly the case in all three texts that I studied as part of my comparative course.  The authors excelled in creating diverse and fascinating individuals using a variety of different techniques. I was pleased to get the chance to see up close the craft that goes into good storytelling – and in particular to good character creation. The result is that Holden especially, as well as Roy, Rachael, Nora and all will certainly live long in the memory for me.





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