Today's post touches upon the subject of insecurity since today's post is my contribution to Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group. All of us have our moments of insecurity because life itself is never totally predictable and none of us knows what the future holds for us. We have good reasons to be insecure every once in a while at least.
With that thought in mind, it makes sense that fictional characters often struggle with self-doubt and some level of apprehension about the world around them and the future they face. Conflict often is related to feelings of insecurity. An insecure character can be interesting to follow as we watch them deal with life's turmoil and hopefully experience growth as a result of coming through that turmoil. My three most recent reads provide good examples of insecure main characters.
The Catcher In The Rye had been hiding amongst my books for quite some time before I finally found it. This highly lauded book had been on my list of must reads for the past forty-some years. When my lost paperback copy reappeared I decided that I must read it before it disappeared again.
The story's main character Holden Caulfield seems about as insecure as one can get. He's an adolescent dealing with the same struggles that boys his age have probably always dealt with and in that respect this book retains its relevance. The novel follows Holden's wayward adventures over a week-end after he has been kicked out of school.
My opinion is that this book is highly over-rated. Perhaps it was a bit radical for its time and came to portend some of the changes that occurred in the three decades following its release, but now the book seems rather quaint, almost like a black and white film from the fifties. Holden Caulfield may represent a certain element of dissatisfied, aimless over-privileged youth who might be interesting to look at but not to emulate. This guy is no hero and not particularly admirable. Sure, we see glimpses of goodness, but he's got a bad attitude for the most part. This may be a result of his upbringing and the surroundings in which he lives, but still I found it difficult to root for this guy.
The book is a decent read and thankfully short. I can see why controversy has been generated by Catcher, but by today's standards of what young people are exposed to in modern entertainments this book is pretty mild stuff. As a study in the insecurity of adolescence and the transition into young adulthood, Salinger has done a pretty good job. I tend to think that this was the author's intent. However, many readers have apparently likened Caulfield to their own lives and have sadly set him up as a sort of role model.
The insecurity brought on by an oppressive society and an uncertain future is the theme of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel A Handmaid's Tale. The main character of Atwood's cautionary tale lives in a world where trust in others and confidence in any hope for the future is a thing of the past. What we learn about the young woman who is the focus of the story suggests that she was probably dealing with insecurity throughout her life which perhaps makes it easier for her to accept the gloomy circumstance in which she finds herself when we meet her. There is very little in her life to offer a promise of hope or happiness. Her daily existence is a rote pattern of mere survival.
Atwood effectively creates a believable world of dysfunction and paranoia, but an agenda comes across in her story-telling. The author has an obvious distaste for religion and traditional conservative values which for me detracted from my enjoyment of this novel. Though the nature of the story calls for a feeling of detachment, the approach caused me to care little about any of the characters and the reading experience became more of an analytical exercise.
The Handmaid's Tale is proficiently written and the story is interesting, but it still felt somewhat ponderous to read. My biggest objection to the book is the tacked on ending. Using the gimmick of purporting the story to be a found record by scholars in the future, the speech at the end came across as rather silly to me and diminished the power of the real story presented in the novel. The book would have worked better for me without the added ending.
I recently won a copy of L .J. Sellers' The Arranger and read it during my recent trip to Tennessee. This is dystopian novel which I found to be more believable than Atwood's tale. Sellers creates a world twelve years in the future that is familiar, yet logically has diverged into a society plagued with homelessness and lack of jobs. As I read this I couldn't help but accept that the author had come to some astute conclusions of where we might be heading.
The characters in this novel display insecurities that are in part a result of the societal decay which looms over them, as well as their own personal flaws and concerns. Ex-cop Lara Evans has doubts about her age, physical stature, and past mistakes as she participates in a national endurance competition called The Gauntlet. Paul Madsen is a dull government worker whose insecurity about his appearance and status causes him to turn to devious illegalities in hopes of eventually winning over the woman of his dreams.
The paths of these two characters weave their ways to a denouement that, though somewhat contrived, is satisfying and entertaining. The characters are well-drawn albeit somewhat stereotypical, but it worked for me in the capacity of this novel. The Arranger is pure entertainment, fun and riveting, and left me feeling psyched like a good action film.
Since writers often channel themselves into their characters, it makes sense that insecurity would show up in those characters. If a work of fiction is going to come across as realistic then insecurity must be an essential part of the formula. After all, a perfect and totally secure character would probably be pretty boring in the end and rather annoying as well.
Do you have any favorite insecure characters? How do you think an insecure character might reflect the insecurity of that character's creator?