Monday, September 2, 2013

Stomp the Butterfly

Over the years as an English major, teacher, and volunteer usher for the local theater, I’ve seen and read more than my share of Tennessee Williams’ plays.  I’m not a big fan of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  The play is about a fragile and delusional woman who is destroyed when those delusions are crushed, and she is raped by her brutal brother in law.

My primary dislike of the play is that Williams writes what I call a butterfly character.  Blanche DuBois flutters about the stage like a fragile and damaged butterfly through most of the play until brother-in-law Stanley squashes her.  She has no strength of character, no chance to win any victory against the destructive forces against her, and she puts up no real fight.  Just flutter, flutter, smash.  The end.  

This kind of character is as prevalent in novels.  I just finished a dark fantasy which had a woman who had genuine potential as a strong character and had a viewpoint, but she ended up as the squashed butterfly when the monster destroyed her.  Flutter, flutter, smash.  All that lost potential and a flat ending for her that only offered a brief moment of horror for the reader but little else.  

Even if a viewpoint character stands no chance against what she faces, she should at least try to survive or offer some struggle.  Otherwise, that character might as well be a nameless extra shrieking and running away from Godzilla.  

A passive viewpoint character is as bad for a book as passive writing.

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