Breathing Life into a Character

There are plenty of skeptics out there (mainly those who don’t pick up books, because it simply isn’t worth their time) who seem to believe that Characters cannot be seen as real people. But what makes a character in the first place? Is it simply the physical appearance of a human? Yeah, no that’s not it, because if that was the case then we’d be admitting that Donald Trump is in fact human.

Seriously though, the basis of a character is the same basis as a person, their identity. Identity is a recurring theme that young adults are confronted with when they start developing their own values, ideas, and actions. The thing about identity is that people seem to consistently be caught up in this idea that you can never completely know who you are, which is understandable because you haven’t experienced everything in the world. Our actions, our thoughts, our emotions all define us when they are brought forth in different situations that life presents us with, but we can never experience EVERYTHING life has to offer. It’s just not possible, realistic, or something we’d all want to do. If we all wanted to figure out what every detail of who we really was we’d have to put ourselves in every type of situation imaginable, think about that for a second. So why don’t we base who we are today off of the experiences we have had up until this moment in life? Why can’t we accept and understand the person we see in the mirror that has only had the limited amount of experiences? Experiences can change our views, our ideas, our actions, meaning they can change us. So who we are today, isn’t necessarily who we are going to be tomorrow. It’s scary, and hard to process, but I think it’s something valuable to learn and understand.

Now I’ve spent all this time discussing identity, the base of a character and not enough time explaining why this is makes a Character real, but in order to do that I feel it necessary to understand the main character, Infemelu, of the book “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Infemelu is a Nigerian woman who at the age of nineteen immigrates to America for her education, and a new life. She’s in her prime, a young adult who has only ever known her home of Nigeria, and the people that surrounded her. Adichie’s use of Infemelu not only relates to young adult readers but also allows her to develop themes of identity throughout the novel, through Infemelu’s journey.

As Infemelu moves through her life in America it becomes clear that she isn’t quite sure how to balance the values, and ideas that she had believed in back home, versus the ones presented to her in America. At first she questions everything, why did her friend Ginika simply lose weight because America saw being “skinny” as beautiful, when in Nigeria Ginika was seen as the definition of beautiful? However, she also questioned her Aunty Uju, who couldn’t seem to adapt to her new surroundings either, she constantly said “this country…” and would end with something that differed America from Nigeria in a negative aspect. Infemelu’s critique of these two women in her life allows the audience to see the struggle she would similarly face when it came to forming her new values, while holding on to her old ones.

The scenarios that really stick out in the book, and confront Infemelu to grow as a person are her relationships. Through each of her relationships, from Obinze, to Curt, to her neighbor she cheated on curt with, to Blaine, and back to Obinze. It sounds ridiculous how these men actually forced her to realize that who she was shouldn’t be dependent upon them, but it’s true.

Her first relationship with Obinze ended because she had allowed a man to touch her, in a desperate and last resort for earning money. However, the reader can see that there’s more to it then just the horrible situation she was put in. Obinze and Infemelu were inseparable prior to Infemelu’s immigration to America. All she had ever really known about herself from Secondary school and on was being his girlfriend, living with him, loving him, and their thoughts and ideas. Though she may have had her own life, and she came from a different background, a lot of who she was became dependent upon him, and when she finally realized this, she distanced herself to try and figure out just what was happening. She couldn’t quite grasp why she couldn’t confide in her long term boyfriend, was it simply shame or maybe it was because she realized that back home the action she had just committed wasn’t one she would have made, she wouldn’t have needed to? She realized that who she was in Nigeria wasn’t the same girl she was now, and maybe she didn’t quite understand either versions of herself.

The second relationship was a little better, in terms of situation. Infemelu was floating on a cloud living with Curt, and I honestly believe that Adichie created Curt to show just how easy it is to be with someone without being your full self just for the sake of the relationship. For Infemelu the relationship only held one side of her, the one she presented to Americans. Her experiences had shaped who she was in America, but that didn’t automatically mean that the Nigerian side of her died away, but it appeared that way in her relationship with Curt. The reader was only able to see their trips around the world, Curt’s desire for adventure, and his lack of actual interest or knowledge of Infemelu’s culture or background. To be fair though, she didn’t exactly try to introduce him to it. With Curt only one side was brought out of her, and though Curt met her Aunty Uju and was great with Dike, that doesn’t count for understanding Infemelu and her experiences. It doesn’t count for understanding whom she was and what she stood for. Neither of them made the effort, because it was convenient. It was an easy relationship that was up in the air from the start; it was to be seen as long term.

Now, one might argue that Infemelu cheating on Curt was insignificant, but actually it showed quite a bit about her character. It showed that when it came to her happiness, sometimes she could be narrowed minded and only think of herself in a situation. It also kind of foreshadows how she doesn’t see being the other woman in Obinze’s life as a problem, until he is unable to commit to her. She never thought about Curt when she cheated on him, and she didn’t think of Obinze’s wife and daughter and how her actions would affect them. This is a flaw that Adichie uses to make Infemelu human, because if we all were perfect then we’d all be alike.

Finally we come to Blaine, my absolute least favorite man Infemelu dated, why? Because he is literally everything I’d detest in a man. You know those people that enter your life, and you look up to because they seem so…in control, know where they are going, and understand the ways of the world? Okay so that’s Blaine…but add to that the arrogance and belief that all people should think like he does, and suddenly you’ve got a control freak that’s slowly changing the way you talk, write, live and eventually view the world. Yes, there are many people out there like this, some who don’t even realize that that’s what they act like, but it’s a problem. When Infemelu gets into a relationship with Blaine she not only looks up to him because of his knowledge and views, but his acceptance of her culture. With Blaine she can be both American, and Nigerian. She doesn’t have to explain to him the prejudices she has faced in this country regarding the color of her skin, nor does she ignore her culture for him.

That’s all well and good, until she started eating like he does, it’s not a bad idea being healthy, but she loves chocolate bars…I’m just saying that if I dated a guy and he got me into a health kick, there is no way in the world that he is getting me to give up chocolate, no matter how great he is. It’s just not happening. Food was just the beginning, soon it was how she wrote her blogs, he ended up correcting, editing, and changing her voice to seem more of what he deemed “intellectual”, “academic” or “subtle”. Infemelu’s blog was her way of having a place to vocalize her views, observations, and ideas of America, things that she wouldn’t normally be able to say to those around her, and for Blaine to change up how she voiced those opinions truly reflects how much he thought that people should be like him. There’s no problem in harmless editing, but the moment Infemelu realizes that Blaine tried to change how her voice is heard is the moment she began to withdraw. He was changing her, and he thought that what he was passionate about, she should also be passionate about. This is one of the main reasons why he was so upset she didn’t attend his protest, and this is also the main reason she didn’t attend it. He assumed she would understand and believe in the cause like him, and she didn’t. Relationships are between two people, not the same person. Adichie’s use of this relationship brings forth this idea that your identity shouldn’t be compromised for someone else, simply because their views don’t match your own. When she presents Infemelu with this conflict she gradually forces Infemelu and the audience to see that the relationship was unhealthy for both sides.

Where does Obinze finally play into this big picture then? He comes in at the very ending, after the affair the two shared and everything, Infemelu realizes that she needs to reconcile and let the past be the past, while also taking charge of her future. After getting closure with all her two ex-boyfriends, and Obinze comes to see herI think this was Adichie’s way of showing that Infemelu was done with men dictating her life, and who she was. Throughout Infemelu and Obinze’s affair infemelu was dependent upon Obinze and when he could see her, when he could make time for her, when he could sneak away from his life for her. She had no control, she had little respect, she wasn’t able to be with the man she loved because of their situation and it wasn’t one she should have put herself in. Obinze began this process of identification, and ended it. Adichie uses him to push Infemelu to understand that she needs to only learn who she is, and learn to respect the person she has become.

What breathes life into a character? Their complex identity makes them alive, because humans have complex identities that get tangled, and wrapped up in our experiences. Adichie is critical of Infemelu’s growth and understanding of herself throughout her relationship with the men she meets through her journey of discovering herself. Infemelu realizes that in order to take charage of her life, and not have those around her influence her actions and beliefs she herself needs to understand what she believes in, and what she wants from herself. She understands that her identity is the culmination of her experiences and how she used them in her daily life. By coming to this realization she is able to make her own decisions, be her own person, and truly understand who she is and why she should respect herself.

What Makes Racism and Not Equality

This is a post about the work “Letter to my Son” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and it’s relation to the book “Native Son” by Richard Wright.

Overall thoughts:

I think Ta-Nehisi Coates goes into great debts about what it meant to him growing up in a black community and how that was completely different from what it meant to grow up in a white community. The simplest difference was life or death.

Coates uses his own experiences to connect with his son, explain to him how his childhood was about his parents trying to keep him out of trouble, meaning trying to keep people (such as cops) from thinking that he himself was trouble. Coates also details ideas about how when learning about Black History month in school, students were taught about Black leaders and their movements, however he also points out that though those movements accomplished many social and political goals, the didn’t quite achieve the equality of blacks’ and whites’ opportunities.

I really like how he points this out, we study Black History month, the sacrifices and nonviolent movements that led to the end of lawful segregation and move opportunities for black people, however it stopped there. Many races and ethnicities today are confined to different parts of the country, different parts of a city, between different lines. These confining borders only serve to restrict the opportunities and experiences they face. Furthermore, Coates points out how certain communities have to face the “streets”, where drug dealers, gangs, and all forms of violence are prominent. Even if children that grow up in these areas are allowed an opportunity to get out, their community represses them with different forms of violence and death.

One of the main words that struck me was how he wrote “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.” It’s like he is pointing out that before they was no concept of race until slavery and oppression took hold, by white people around the world. It wasn’t until that point that race had been in existence. He goes further to say, that despite separating people, Blacks rose up and were able to display that they weren’t just a race, a category of humans that were inferior, they are a group of people that have their own culture, ideas, and beliefs that make them equal to anyone else.

Coates goes further in depth about the inequality between blacks and whites economically, socially, and politically and how that affects the opportunities and the situations they face in life. He lists series of crimes committed against black people specifically for their race, and how the controversy has struck the nation.

Relating this to “Native Son” by Richard Wright

I think in many ways Coates’ words and ideas relate directly to Wright’s words in the novel. Wright presents a setting of the Black Belt of Chicago in the 1930s and how this setting limits the Black people. Wright describes how Blacks are unable to buy houses anywhere else, because they are not sold to them, in addition to this, the Blacks face higher rent that whites would. Wright speaks out about how this segregation and oppression of blacks has led to them not having a chance to achieve much in their lives, leading them to scour the streets for survival. 

I would say that Wright’s discussion of the conflicts that Black’s faced in the 1930s is what was faced before Coates’ time period right after civil rights. The presentation of how before and after the civil rights movement indicates that though things got better, the specific issue that opportunities were still limited during Coates’ childhood, during the setting of the novel, and even today indicates that this strive for racial equality is not finished. Where Coates presents his childhood to his son, and discusses the tragedies that have struck his race during his son’s childhood, he compares how things were bad during his childhood, things were worse pre-civil rights, but he also shows that things are still not where they need to be today.

When analyzing both “Native Son”, and “Letter to my Son” I think it’s important to look at the the time periods, and conditions presented in both works, and the message of how equality still has yet to be achieved. I also feel it necessary to those in the class that are neither black nor white, to look at the situations presented in both cases and think back to whether in their own history of their country or people, and whether they have faced similar problems. The issues presented by both works only detail issues of equality between Blacks and Whites, but I think in throughout the history of the world, oppression has been a major issue between groups of people, and when looking at these two works though you might not be white or black, being able to relate in another aspect makes the arguments and ideas clearer.

 

 

Conflict ~ The Essence of Plot (in The Road)

The essence of plot is conflict, and a story always has a central conflict, it can be apparent, or it can be hidden under layers of metaphors, and themes. Cormac McCarthy makes the conflict blatant yet with layers of debt to it in the novel, “The Road”. Before I begin describing the conflict and how it develops the plot, let’s take a step back to understand the basic premise of the novel. The storyline takes place in post apocalyptic America, where all living things have died off. It isn’t clear how everything died, but McCarthy hints that there was fire and ash involved in the crumble of American society. When reading this novel, the reader can immediately tell that the main characters, “The Man”, and “The Boy”, are fighting for survival, but it’s what they’re fighting against that is not quite stated. McCarthy presents the four major types of conflict: man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself, man vs. (in this case, lack of) society.

 

Man vs. Nature:

The setting of the novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, where the only living beings are humans. Now, rationally speaking, if there was absolutely nothing alive except for us humans, there’s probably a great chance that we’d eat ourselves out of house and home, quite literally. “The Road” definitely displays this idea, as the Man and The Boy scour the barren land for leftovers of preserved/processed food, which is the only thing that is left for consumption (except for other humans…). This depletion of resources has the man and the boy searching for ways to make it through to the next day, as they ration their food.

In addition to this, the boy and the man face the brutal weather, and conditions that are presented by nature. You’d think that if everything was dead, that Mother Nature would probably let up a bit, the only thing it is torturing are humans, and honestly, they have enough problems as it is in this book. Nevertheless, the man and the boy continuously have to move south (because if climate patterns haven’t changed then why should migration for warmth?) to make it through the harsh winter, with what resources they have, and can find.

 

Man vs. Lack of Society?

The fourth form of conflict is man vs. society, but I think in this case the fact that there is no society is a conflict in itself. The cause of the lack of society is obviously shown through the conflict of nature, but it is the fact that there is no society, no form of regrouping and no way to rebuild that causes this eternal chaos that is presented in the form of thievery and cannibalism. The lack of society promotes natural selection, and pushes this idea that without society man is left to fend for himself.

The lack of society also presents paternal issues between the man and the boy, the man continues to long for the way life was with society. The fact that the boy was born post apocalypse causes the two to have a major cultural barrier between them. Their relationship becomes strained as the novel progresses, as the man tries to show the boy bits and pieces of his old life through objects they find as they scavenge for resources. This cultural barriers puts both boy and man at an emotional distance, as they struggle to find ways to survive, without much comfort

 

Man vs. Man:

Now, there are probably a lot of people out there cringing and being disgusted by the idea of cannibalism, some may even believe that it’s only a theory and not an actual practice done since the beginning of humans. Is it horrible? Yes. Immoral? Possibly. But is it completely possible that when there is nothing left to eat, and there is no hope for man kind, would people actually turn to this practice? The answer is yes. There are many arguments as to why and why not people would and should not become cannibals, but the fact of the matter is that in the book McCarthy shows that people can sometimes be desperate to survive, even though death is an impending doom. As the Man and the boy move towards the south they encounter multiple bands of cannibals, and they’re are labeled as evil by the man and the boy. McCarthy presents Darwin’s law of natural selection, and it is completely applicable to this novel, as both the man and the boy struggle to not be hunted down by the cannibals, while finding ways to survive on their own without eating human flesh. It’s killed or be killed in this novel, and the man makes difficult decisions regarding his and the boy’s safety when they face these people.

 

Man vs. Self

This last form of conflict is shown in multiple ways through the characterization of the man. The man’s main goal is to make sure the boy survives, it’s the only thing that is driving him to keep going. However, there are moments in the novel where the man has to make some tough decisions, sometimes they go unapproved by the boy such as stealing from other people, and killing those out to kill them or harm them.

But though these actions may sometimes weigh on his or the boy’s conscious, McCarthy presents another form of internal conflict, that has the reader questioning whether surviving is living, and whether one can live where there is no hope and no motivation. A flash is shown back of the man and his wife, just after the apocalypse. The boy had been born, and the wife is telling the man how he should have just put them all out of their misery with the bullets in their lone pistol. This pivotal moment causes the audience to realize that the man has another decision other than to survive. We see the man wrestle with this idea, especially during moments when it looks like either the man or the boy are close to death. The man always wonders whether it is better for them to be dead than have their lives at the hands of others. It’s a battle for control over one’s life, in a setting where there is no more control. As the story progresses, McCarthy prompts the reader to question whether the man is simply surviving, and question whether there is anything left to live for in a barren world.

 

Tying in of Climax, and Resolution with Conflict

The conflict never really dies out in the novel, the climax can be argued takes place when the man dies, leaving the boy to fend for himself, no longer having someone to look after him, and guide him, but having the option to think for himself. However, this does not change the fact that the conflict of survival still remains, until the resolution where the boy meets a family who ask him to come with them, to somehow survive together. The ending is ambiguous, the song still remains the same, the essence of survival is still embedded within the open ending.

Dystopian Novels: Divergent by Veronica Roth

 

Entry 1: Describe a novel, TV show, video game, or movie that fits into the categories Post Apocalyptic and/or Dystopian

There are a lot of contemporary novels out there that fit into the dystopian genre, however my favorite would be Divergent by Veronica Roth. Divergent explores a society based upon categorizing people into different factions by their aptitudes for certain personalities. It takes place in a future realm of Chicago. The five factions of the society are Abnegation, the selfless people, Candor, the people that never lie, Amity, the ones who are always kind, Erudite, the people who crave knowledge, and the Dauntless, the brave ones. The books explores ideas of what it would be like to have a society that is built off of dividing up people by their personalities and how that would fail, since people are not just one type of personality but made up of different things.
At the age of sixteen, kids are administered an aptitude test, where they are placed in different virtual scenarios and make decisions on what to do. The test determines which faction they are most suited for. The main character, Tris, is Divergent, meaning her results for the aptitude test is not just one faction. She is immediately labeled as an outsider, she thinks differently. She isn’t just brave, but selfless, and smart, something that she has to conceal to avoid execution. When Tris switches from Abnegation to Dauntless at the age of sixteen she faces initiation into the Dauntless faction, where she has to prove that she is only ever Brave, nothing more. Her instructor for initiation is another Divergent, Four. Roth uses Four’s character to illustrate why people cannot be categorized. Four tells Trist about the tattoos that run his back, each or a symbol of the five factions. He tells her that he doesn’t and can’t just be brave, that people are made of a little bit of everything. This future Chicago society works to categorize people in an effort to create order, however Roth uses her Divergent characters of Tris and Four to show that this simplification cannot apply to humans because they are so complex.

Another aspect of dystopia that Roth uses is the implementing of “Fear Landscapes”, Roth was a psychology major and today to help people get over fears, patients go through virtual simulations to overcome their fears. When Tris switches her faction from Abnegation to Dauntless, she has to go through a series of trials to prove that she is Dauntless. The last task in her initiation is facing the “Fear Landscape”, where she faces her fears. The number of fears she has and how she overcomes them is what determines her stay in the Dauntless Faction. Roth uses the technology that is being built today and implements it into her story to create the dystopian setting where technology can determine categorize people.
Divergent is the perfect example of a dystopian book, where today we try to categorize people through technology, label them, and try to simplify them in order to have some sort of order. This can be seen with how people try and identify themselves with certain groups, be it through personality, looks, beliefs, and other ideas. Roth just shows one aspect of how categorization can be detrimental society, even though it appears helpful. Her use of “Fear landscapes” also shows how technology works in categories, numbers, and theories, which cannot fully understand the complexities of people.