Character: Defined

Just what is a character?

Are you one?

Are you also a hero?

A person?

An individual?

What about a self?

A soul?

Are you a soul? Or do you HAVE a soul?

What about the person sitting next to you?

What about Pollyanna? Is she a character? A person? I think she’s an example of one of the intermediate forms known as a FIGURE.















A FIGURE is a “character” meant to emulated. Pollyanna is disgustingly optimistic in cases, but if we look beyond the surface, her father had taught her how to do this. Her optimism was not presented as “natural.”

Yesterday, Karen Bota, founder of the Mid-Michigan Word Gatherers, organized a FREE writing conference. I had offered to share my gleanings from my recent readings inspired by Amelie O. Rorty’s article “A Literary Postscript: Characters, Selves, Persons, and Individuals” in the academic philosophy conference proceedings she edited.

If you would like a copy of my slide show, please download it by clicking on this link.


After the writing conference yesterday, a few of us went to hear / see Bob Dylan. Why do people go to rock / folk concerts anyway? For most people it’s to have a more vivid experience of the songs we love than can be obtained through a recording. Bob Dylan doesn’t really care about that. He’s going to put on the show he wants to, how he wants to, and decades of fan disapproval (documented if you look around) aren’t going to pressure him into “pandering to his audience” and playing even a single song from his early career in the way we listened to it then.

One of the articles I found about one of the songs he played said that Bob Dylan is the last word in the artistic Modernist movement. After contemplating this, I see that modernism carries with it the idea of the character, which is much more modern than a hero. Characters have more choice of action, even if they obviously don’t have total free will, than heroes. Even as Joseph Campbell notoriously told us that “We are all the heroes of our own lives,” I have never liked the idea that humans NEED heroes. Why can’t we agree to build a society where superhuman features are not a necessary prerequisite for getting a reasonably happy and productive life?

Another aspect of the Modernist movement is that endings are ambiguous. That is a reflection of life in modern times. In the old days, every story of every person didn’t have a neat, tidy end. But the stories that were thought to be worthwhile to preserve were those which did. This morning, I see that the ambiguous story ending is simply another aspect of intellectual honesty, which allows the stories of everyone to be told, up to the present moment, whether it feeds our need for certainty (usually not) or helps us to gain maturity by learning to tolerate ambiguity.

The way we tell our stories influences how we see ourselves as humans, and the way we see ourselves as humans influences how we tell our stories.

Over time, this self-reflection from story to person and back again morphs, and morphs again. We are able to see new possibilities of how to approach our own lives.

The stories we told ourselves in prehistoric and early historic times tended to have a clean ending with a lesson that most listeners would agree on. People lived in the collective consciousness and didn’t see themselves and each other as individuals whose lives were influenced by decisions they made. People saw themselves as stepping into pre-made roles in their groups, and doing what was to be done.