As many writers know, minor characters can play a very important role in the narrative development of a text. This is the case for many reasons, including the fact that minor characters can reveal character flaws or personality traits about the major characters or protagonist. Because this is the case, writers should pay careful attention to the way they construct their minor characters.
Although there are many examples of writers who have constructed their minor characters in notably brilliant ways, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find contains a particularly good case in point. In the story, one of the minor characters-The Misfit-works to unveil several character flaws of the grandmother. As the story’s protagonist, the reader is constantly exposed to various attributes she possesses, including her proclivity to be religious and adopt a domineering attitude towards others. Yet as the story goes on, the reader is exposed to the fact that the grandmother’s ability to operate in this fashion can be thwarted by other people. Let’s take a deeper look at the Misfit and the grandmother so we can fully understand the role that the story’s minor character plays in affecting the representation of the major character.
Minor/Major Characters: How The Misfit Affects The Grandmother
In short, the Misfit is a fugitive who kills individuals for fun and sport. A cursory glance at his speech and behavior might lead one to believe that he is the villain of the story. This is the case. Despite the Misfit’s depravity however, his actions work to unveil the deficiencies of the grandmother. After asking why he doesn’t pray and receive help from Jesus upon recognizing that he is systematically killing her family members, the grandmother-once the story’s most prevalent and powerful figure-begins to cry as she realizes that her life may soon be over. Here, the reader learns that her formerly dictatorial demeanor has given way to a vulnerability revealing that she is weak, powerless.
Another Way The Misfit Affects The Grandmother
After the reader becomes aware that The Misfit is capable of reducing the grandmother to tears, he submits some speculations regarding whether or not Jesus raised the dead. As if an attempt to save her own life by agreeing with his seemingly sacrilegious worldview, the grandmother responds that perhaps he didn’t raise the dead. Here, the reader learns that she is willing to abandon her own system of faith in an attempt to escape death. Ultimately, the religiosity seen earlier-in which she urges The Misfit to pray and calls on the name of Jesus as if for salvation from the current predicament-did not reveal itself to be real faith. Thus in addition to unveiling the fact that the grandmother is not as powerful as the reader originally thought, the Misfit’s presence in her life works to demonstrate that her faith is not really sincere, strong. This is the sort of power that carefully constructing a minor character can have in the narrative development of a short story. Without The Misfit’s existence within the text as a fugitive who has no respect for human life, the complexity (and duality) of the grandmother’s personhood would not become plain.
When one considers my references to the role that The Misfit played in O’Connor’s important short story A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the importance of paying careful attention to the way a minor character is put together becomes plain. In essence, minor characters work to reveal the multi-faceted nature of the protagonists and/or major characters, making the narrative more intriguing and complex. This complexity will likely intrigue one’s readers, and that is why minor characters should play a major role in the thought process of writers as they put their fictional stories together.
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