Is it just me or are most books’ main characters talented in a literary way? What I mean is, if you consider the main characters of novels they are often an avid reader, a talented writer, overcome an illiterate or poor background to become, thankfully, a fully literate person. Before their eyes were opened to the world of words, they were only part formed, on a journey, and like a caterpillar they only began to grow as they consumed literature; their first book, the inspiring teacher etc.
Then they finally emerge butterfly-like in the “proper” form. Think of Great Expectations and Pip, an orphan who becomes a gentleman and outgrows the world he grew up in and those that loved him.
Isn’t this a bit snobbish and patronising? I know that education is a key to advancement in this world, which is why it is so highly valued in developing countries; where teenage children love their ill equipped, poorly funded schools as opposed to many teenagers in the UK who barely tolerate or respect school because the difference it makes to their lives is not apparent to them. I love books and reading and would not change that. But I also know plenty of people who I respect who never read a book, I know others that only scraped through secondary education. They are now happy. They didn’t have a hidden literary talent which was needed to be brought out in them,
I know it’s not snobbishness really, it’s inevitable, as who writes books? Bookish people, who like me, value and love literature. Therefore, if you assume that authors put some of themselves into their books, especially their main characters, then it’s obvious that they are likely to be saved from mediocracy by literacy.
I think there are plenty of secondary characters that do not fit this pattern. They are the diamonds in the rough, the tart with a heart, the surprise element that shows the beauty and strength of humanity.
This reminded me of Educating Rita in which a working class woman ends up with a degree and her professor is saddened by the changes in her, for he thinks she has been diminished and become one of the shallow people he despises as opposed to the “old” Rita, who was alive with natural intelligence and character. The play ends with them both considering what they have gained and lost.
The world isn’t populated with amazingly literate people, you’ve only got to see the incorrect use of apostrophes everywhere to tell you that (sorry I do it too sometimes). So are our libraries missing some heroes? Normally literate people who are not interested in books but life.
I’d love to hear of some examples of main characters who fit this description in a book you’d recommend, or if you are an author have you written a story like that? Could you?