21 February 2010
Books with Character(s)
I suppose the reason that we are reading The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner at the same time is that we will eventually compare the two novels. I certainly hope that is the plan because I really hate As I Lay Dying. Fitzgerald’s classic novel, on a different note, is turning out to be one of my favorite novels of all time.
You can’t help but notice and appreciate the way Fitzgerald develops his characters, an interesting aspect of his novel that we haven’t really analyzed directly. I must admit that we have analyzed character developments on our own. The character lists we have completed, though painful and not anything near enjoyable, really are helpful. I would not have truly analyzed the different ways that Fitzgerald and Faulkner develop their characters without being forced to.
With those things being said, I will now take the character lists a step further by vaguely discussing the ways characters are developed in these two classic novels. Both authors utilize the method of taking a character frame and adding more and more depth to it. Fitzgerald takes a more direct approach by helping the reader out with more detailed and straightforward physical and characteristic descriptions, however. Once Fitzgerald introduces a character, we as the readers have a strong concept of who the character is and why that character is important to the novel or scene.
As Fitzgerald has ingeniously showed us as the readers, to have a solid understanding of a character, and that character’s role, is not necessarily to know very much about the character at all. George Wilson, as a prime example, has made only one appearance so far in our reading. Already, however, it is clear that he is intimidated by Tom Buchanan and completely oblivious to Buchanan’s affair with Wilson’s wife.
With Faulkner’s novel, I feel like I am constantly in the shadow of important information I have no access to. I also feel like this important information is essentially what is keeping me from not just understanding it but appreciating its depth and method. I can say that I have a general understanding of what is going on in As I Lay Dying, but, given one of Mr. Glenn’s infamous pop quizzes, I would probably fail. I can understand the general idea of Faulkner but cannot grasp the small details and nuances that make great American literature so great.
The Great Gatsby, in comparison, is a challenging but infinitely more rewarding read. I have to take time to truly read the novel for Mr. Glenn-level depth, but I at least am able to achieve that depth with The Great Gatsby. I really can’t say the same for As I Lay Dying.
I also like the characters in The Great Gatsby a lot more than in Faulkner’s novel. I actually get the impression, and probably correctly so, that all of Faulkner’s characters are rednecks. Fitzgerald’s characters seem to be a bit brighter. I do still have some hope for As I Lay Dying. I keep telling myself that it is probably one of those novels you only enjoy once you are done reading it.