Rita Writes

January 12, 2010

A dark character and how he becomes so

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rita @ 10:38 pm

Benjamin Bernstein, American

To say Benjamin Bernstein is a troubled soul is akin to saying cows moo.  He saw little if any kindness in his early life and he, like so many Jewish immigrants of his day, was witness to horrors over which he had no control and which resonate for his lifetime. Pogroms and murderous dismissal of Jews in his native Poland are the backdrop for his leave-taking and a lifetime of feelings of powerlessness and paranoia.

Ben becomes a violent, silent man whose affect on other people completely escapes him, not that he cares. He has survived with an intense isolation that leaves him taciturn and watchful.  He is the vehicle for a story about the true beginnings of the American dream and the impact immigrants had on forming our culture.  It is  a story about America’s love story with automobiles and in many cases, the self loathing that left many always wanting more.

With fists flying and cheeks aglow with barely submerged anger, Ben walks the reader through the Polio Epidemic of 1915 and Pershing’s efforts to push Pancho Villa back into Mexico.  He shows us how an uneducated boy  becomes a man who provides for a family, owns a decent home, religiously replaces his car every three years and becomes part of what will be called, the “American Dream.”

How does the writer make such a character sympathetic.  When we see Steinbeck’s Lenny commit murder, do we hate him?  No.  Why?  Because we understand what makes him kill.

Will this same device, knowledge of how Ben became the man he is, give the reader the compassion necessary to keep reading as Ben grows up, falls in love and has a family whom he brutalizes but never understands?  I have to believe this to be true in order to continue work on the manuscript.

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1 Comment »

  1. To me, if a reader is to be sympathetic to a character, all that’s required is for them to see that character suffer worse than those their maladaptions are causing them to torment. The sympathy will be proportional to the difference in degree/duration of the suffering. Good luck if he’s a wife or child abuser! Those we love have far more power to hurt than those we don’t (pogroms, etc.)

    Comment by Nathan carriker — January 12, 2010 @ 11:10 pm | Reply


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