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What Literary Characters Can You Most Relate To?

May 26, 2010

Weekly Geeks is a wonderful blog devoted to us nerds who love nothing more than reading and writing. Each week, this blog asks bloggers to respond to the subject at hand. This week’s topic: What literary characters can you most relate to; are opposite of; or admire. I can think of two characters that could not be more different, yet both of whom I can relate to and admire.

Let’s start with a literary heroine for so many women and writers. That is Jo March, one of the Little Women in Louisa May Alcott’s treasured novel. How I LOVE Little Women. I have such fond memories of watching the 1949 movie version with my mom when I was a little girl. Since then I’ve read the novel at least twice and I can’t wait to read it aloud to my daughter when she’s older. I own – and watch religiously each holiday season – the 1994 movie re-make. Like Jo, I have three sisters as well; although I’m the oldest of my three sisters, and Jo is the second oldest. And whether it’s in print or on the screen, I’ve always related to and envied Jo March.

Such a strong female character was rare for a novel of 1868. She left her family home to start a new life for herself. I envy Jo’s strength as she made that decision. Even as I cried when she turned down poor Laurie as he professed his love to her, I could not help but think Jo was doing the right thing by not settling and instead taking the unknown path. Jo “marched” to her own drum and never let anyone or anything get in her way.

Oh, how I admire Jo! She had such courage. Jo always knew she wanted to be writer and never gave up on that dream. Like Jo, I’ve recently learned for myself that the best writing comes from the heart.

While I can certainly relate to the sensibility of the eldest Meg; find Amy to be funny; and Beth sympathetic; Jo is the March sister that I most admire and in which I see myself.

Then there is Esteben in Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I read this book many years ago, as a freshman in high school. The basic premise of the book is a Peruvian bridge collapses with five people atop it and all are killed. The book tells the stories of those five characters and what was significant about their lives before they set foot on the bridge.

I don’t remember any characters in this book except Esteben. And it was not until recently that I realized why Esteben resonates with me to this day. Esteben is the shyer of his twin brother. He followed his brother everywhere and did everything that his twin brother did. But after his brother died, Esteben was so distraught that he didn’t know if he could go on by himself. He finally decides to make a trip outside his small town. And of course, he sets off for his destination on the Bridge of San Luis Rey just as the bridge collapses.

I remember my ninth grade English teacher asking, “What was significant about Esteben and his decision?” All that night I wracked my brain trying to come up with the answer. I even asked my parents if they knew the secret (which they did not). I couldn’t wait to get to class the next day so I could find out about Esteben.

What was significant? It was the fact that he took the step onto the bridge. He finally – and for the first time in his life – took a chance and stepped beyond his comfort zone. That was what he needed to do in his lifetime; and he did it.

I finally figured out why this resonates with me. And it’s because I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that I’ve always taken the safe route in life. I’ve shied away from risks for fear of the unknown and lack of control. I’m sure I must have felt this way at age 14 when I read this story for the first time, and throughout my life since as I’ve thought of Esteben from time to time.

And as I’m now facing new challenges in my current life and looking beyond my comfort zone, I finally understand why Esteben has always stayed with me. Now hopefully I won’t fall off a bridge as I continue my path of exploration.

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