Monday, May 28, 2012

Great characters

by Austin Mora, guest blogger

 A little while back I asked my mom which character (among the many in the multitude of books she has read) would she identify as her favorite.  We skimmed over a few of her favorite books in search of someone outstanding, but in the end she could really only describe the stories that had affected her, and that the characters she had encountered merely played into the stories that surrounded them.

And that got me thinking about what separates the story from the character.  I mean, in what sense does the story have an obligation to accept the character and surround the character with a place to breathe and exist.  In what sense must the character be willing to submit to destiny as the plot unfolds?  I wanted to think about some of the greatest characters ever created, perhaps only to attempt to figure out what made them great.  

Hamlet, Odysseus, Don Quixote, Gatsby, Oedipus, all incredibly influential characters in the annals of literature and vivacious people who came through to us because of what happened to them and what they did in response.  In the grand scheme, they were characters defined by the stories that surrounded them and whose actions, when the time came for them to act, made them particularly human.  

Oedipus’s brilliance and strength is undermined by his ill-fated existence; his connection to humanity lies in his futile attempt to right the wrong and the realization that sometimes destiny is too powerful.  Odysseus uses his unparalleled cunning and innate sense of survival for the journey home, but it leaves him broken, alone, but nevertheless persistent in his quest for home.  Hamlet’s inability to act, even against the murder of his father and the unrelenting deceit that follows him in a rotten Denmark.  

In all of these characters, there is nothing supernatural, nor even anything exceptionally implausible (discounting encounters of mythical creatures).  But what makes them great is the reader’s ability to relate to the character, that what they do we might all do, or at least wish to if we had the chance.  The characters only exist to bring us together, to recognize that some part of us is in them and always will be.

Austin Mora is a sophomore in the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California, minoring in English. He writes short stories and screenplays.


  1. Great job, Austin! Are you sure you don't want to major in English?

  2. I think you're right--what makes characters great in our minds is that they might do astounding things--but they COULD have been any of us.

  3. Thanks to both of you! Kim- I'm resisting so far, but we'll see how long I can hold out until I switch...

  4. "The characters only exist to bring us together, to recognize that some part of us is in them and always will be." So true! The fanfic scene stands as a testament to the validity of that. Writers (and readers) crave interaction with their favorite characters. A piece of us yearns to be in "communication" with them.

    Excellent post, Austin. Good luck at USC. (If you are hesitant about switching to English as your major, why not double major?)

  5. Anonymous29 May, 2012

    Thanks Heather! I can think of a few I'd like to talk to. I'll give the double major some thought...



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