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January 19, 2014

The importance of likeability in characterisation

As I read The BostoniansI felt somewhat guilty, not to mention conscious of the fact that I liked Basil Ransom more than Olive Chancellor: from the first page Basil is presented to us as a man away from home in poor circumstances, seeking to create a better life in New York, his wit, humour and sardonic insight made apparent in the narrative. Olive, on the other hand, is presented to us "tragically shy" and subject to Basil's subtle ridicule for being inflexible and rigid by nature: "the simplest division it is possible to make of the human race is into the people who take things hard and the people who takes them easy. He perceived very quickly that Miss Chancellor belonged to the former class." Crucially this dynamic between the reader and the two characters become paramount as we watch, in parallel, Verena's internal struggle over who has the hold over her heart as Olive's nerves overwhelm her characterisation while Basil turns from the kinsman of a friend to lover in romantic conquest.

This element of likeability - who we as readers prefer, sympathise and gravitate towards - show that more often than not, one's stance is simply not enough to win people over in any sort of campaign for sociopolitical change. We see this in people's gravitation towards Verena as opposed to Olive, in spite of the fact that both women share the same views with regards to feminism and female emancipation. More tellingly is Basil's position as a seducer, and how potentially destructive and easy it is to fall into the traps of oppositional politics: like Verena's father, Basil assumes his position by physically having his hands on her as he drags her out of the music hall and away from her lecturing career.


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