My Most Unforgettable Literary Characters

Character development is one of the fundamentals of good writing. Characters are more than just players in the authors’ mental theater. Readers relate to books because the protagonists reflect foibles that are universal, like love, fear, sorrow, doubt and everything else in the whole spectrum of human emotion. Most people have encountered characters in books who have shown them new ways of looking at things and thus, enriched their lives and hopefully, made them better persons. Allow me to share with you some interesting fellows I’ve met along the way. CRISOSTOMO IBARRA He is the epitome of an educated man: discreet, tactful, introspective, respectful, socially aware, compassionate, intelligent, patriotic and courageous beyond words. Both a man of thought and a man of action, Jose Rizal’s hero in Noli Me Tangere is everything a gentleman should be. HOLGRAVE Nathaniel Hawthorne paints this boarder at The House Of Seven Gables as thus: “It was a pleasant sight to behold this young man, with so much faith in himself, and so fair an appearance of admirable powers, so little harmed too, by the many tests that had tried his mettle.” This young adventurer had been a voyager, writer, photographer, teacher, editor, salesman, but despite his many assumed identities, “Putting off one exterior and snatching up another, to be soon shifted to a third, he had never violated the innermost man.” Fiercely independent, he wants to live on his own terms, by his own rules, unshackled by the chains of tradition: “Shall we never, never get rid of this Past? It lies upon the Present like a giant’s dead body!” And when you really think about it, it’s the only way to live. IVAN KARAMAZOV This non-conformist young Russian is the most intellectual, the most incisive and the most interesting in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s gallery of rogues. His conversion with his younger brother Alyosha reveals stunning insights on the complexities of the human condition: “I could never understand how one can love one’s neighbors. It’s just one’s neighbors, to my mind, that one can’t love.” One of the most celebrated chapters in literature is found in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ It is a poem written by Ivan about Christ’s unscheduled arrival in Moscow. It goes beyond being a mere chapter in a novel. It presents stunning new vistas of philosophy and history. An equally unforgettable scene is Ivan’s encounter with the Devil. The Satanic verses alone is worth the years reading this classic. MR. GESSLER He is a gruff but endearing German shoemaker in John Galsworthy’s classic short story “Quality.” He is the ultimate man of character. He would not pander to people but his creations are a testament to his unmatched skills and deep devotion to his craft. In his own guttural words: “Dey get id all. Dey get id by advertisement, nod by work.” He personified substance over form. After his death, the young man who took over his shop told the narrator, “Slow starvation, the doctors called it. You see, he went to work in such a way!...Wouldn’t have a soul touch his boots except himself. When he got an order, it took him such a time. People won’t wait…And there he’d sit, goin’ on and on – I will say this for him – not a man in London made a better boot!” DON JUAN MATUS In Carlos Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan, this Yacqui Indian sorcerer is shown to be a man of contradictions. There are certain episodes where you love to hate him, but at the same time – and when all is said and done – he’s one of the best teachers anyone can ever have. Following his footsteps means moving on to a higher level of existence and achieving a deeper understanding of the mysterious forces in the universe: Assume responsibility for your actions, Treat Death as an Advisor, Erase personal history and Live the life of a Warrior – tapping the world ever so slightly, then leaving without a trace. BATMAN Batman? Yes, Batman. Created by Bob Kane (sounds like Bruce Wayne), The Caped Crusader started his career in comics. Comics is a form of literature, more visual but just as valid and in many ways more immediate. What makes a guy richer than Lucio Tan to disguise himself like a flying rodent and act like Charles Bronson? But he doesn’t kill, there’s the rub! His desperate need to avenge his parents’ murder drove him to fight crime in the abyss of the enemies’ lair: the dark, merciless city streets. But it also gave him a preternatural obsession for the sanctity of life. This inner conflict made him what he is: A super-hero – and a real human being.
THE LITTLE PRINCE Everybody loves Antoine St. Exupery’s fox-taming, volcano-cleaning (“coz y’never know”), rose-growing little squirt. That “What is essential is invisible to the eye” altered the attitudes of a lot of people -- and he made the stars laugh too! JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL
He’s more than a bird. And of all the novels in the galaxy, may I humbly recommend Richard Bach’s immortal classic for those who haven’t read it yet. It will change your life – or at the very least make you want to soar higher. In time you will realize a profound truth: That the only thing holding you back – is you. “Okay, let’s try level flight!”
ATTICUS FINCH He is Jem and Scout’s father in To Kill A Mockingbird and the man who shows us what true heroism really is: standing for your convictions even if you have to stand alone. “If this thing’s hushed up, it’ll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I’ve tried to raise him,” Atticus tell Sheriff Heck Tate, in one of the most moving scenes. “Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got. Before Jem looks at anyone else, he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him…if I connive at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that, I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got.” Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama about bigotry and racial prejudice in 1935 Alabama is more than a novel – it is one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time.
This story originally appeared in Philippine Panorama, January 16, 2005. Photo courtesy of The 2Rivers Movie of the Month for May 2009 is "To Kill A Mockingbird" starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch