Friends for Eternity
I believe that the characters in literature are real. I don’t believe that they have a life beyond the plot of the literature they inhabit—with lovers, pets, and pastimes that go unmentioned but are still true—but rather that their stories are so palpable, so resonant, that they give those characters shape, blood, purpose, and soul. And so they reside close to me, providing a dialogue that enriches my life.
There are the characters whom I love, who are friends to me and sometimes more. My heart leaps up whenever I encounter them. Take, for example, Holden Caulfield. With him I have shared great joy, difficult times, and the excessive idealism that quickly makes one a cynic. I empathize with the colossal mistakes he makes, though I suspect he would judge mine harshly. Nevertheless, he possesses an admirable devotion to his kid sister Phoebe, and to all children, whom he wishes to protect from the harshness of reality.
Then there are the characters whom I despise. Curly from Of Mice and Men, that self-centered punk, is, in my estimation, to blame for far more tragedies than those that happen in that poignant little novella. The way he provokes Lennie to fight him, vain enough to think he is picking on someone lesser than he, is the catalyst for the ultimate death of both Lennie and of his own wife. Though I try not to give Curly the time of day, he lurks around my life, a frightening reminder (that plays itself out again and again) of how a small mind can create great sorrow.
I am not worthy to call characters like Aureliano Buendia from One Hundred Years of Solitude or Andrei Bolkonsky from War and Peace my friends. I am simply blessed to have those larger-than-life characters nearby. They brood and suffer epic pain, but most of all they love purely. Perhaps you might say that Aureliano should get over Remedios, or Andrei should forgive Natasha, but the fact that neither does, that both cling to their principles, is, to me, awe-inspiring.
Good or evil, complicated or simple, these characters populate my world and make it pulse with their comic antics, their baroque visions, and the aching language that accompanies them. In my darkest hours, when I feel no one can understand or help me, they are there.
Every human lives his or her life in tandem with others but also alone. Since I was a young girl, I filled that empty space with books, accumulating character after character into my pantheon of life-long friends. I began with Fern in Charlotte’s Web, and have just recently included Oscar de Leon from Junot Diaz’s fantastic book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
As long as I keep reading, I am always bringing these rarified people into my life. And whenever I reread, which I love to do, I renew relationships that in some cases began long ago. These characters are as dear to me as any living human being. Oh, they might not come to my funeral, but I believe they will be with me for eternity.
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