Introducing a Character: “Beyond the Bayou“, “La Belle Zoraide“, “The Lilies“, “The Lilacs“, and “Dead Men’s Shoes” by Kate Chopin/ “Introducing a Character” chapter, The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Part of the intrigue in reading a story is getting to know the characters and watching them grow throughout the climax of a story. There are many ways authors introduce characters that are more subtle and realistic. As readers, we follow the development of characters and track their motives, actions, choices, and consequences. Specifically in character-driven plots, the characters are the heart of a story.
Statements in bold font are points made by Lodge.
There are ‘many different types of character’ and ‘many different ways of representing them’
Lodge points out that there are different types of characters. This can extend to be inclusive of characters that symbolize themes being explored in the short stories.
‘major characters and minor characters, flat characters and round characters, characters rendered from inside their
minds…and characters viewed from outside by others.’
Chopin does use a variety of characters in her short stories. Some characters are insignificant to the plot but help set the mood for the story and example of this is the man in the boat who is singing at night. This has no real significance to the plot, however, his character allowed us a visual representation as readers in terms of setting and mood, his singing also triggered nostalgic memories that inspired the story that Mana-Loulou decides to share.
“traditional way to introduce character (p.11) ‘give a physical description and a biographical study’ Times have changed: we are less leisurely and patient. Modern authors also prefer facts about the character to emerge gradually.
Kate Chopin does use the traditional way to introduce characters. This method is most effective in story frames. Lodge explains that modern authors prefer that details and facts about characters emerge gradually however authors don’t have the luxury of developing very character slowly through experiences and encounters given these are short stories. Chopin resorts to the traditional method of character introduction and usually just lists information pertaining to the characters physical appearance. It is also advantageous that the stories are written in the third person hence, the narrator of each story gives descriptions of characters without seeming impatient. For example in Beyond The Bayou, Jacqueline character is briefly described at the beginning of the story in terms of physical appearance and we are even introduced to her nickname, La Folle, which is what everyone in the story calls her which in French refers to a madwoman. I also think that Chopins choice of nickname was very much thought out and, in this case, foreshadows character development. La Folles description is continued and we then learn that her “only mania” is that she will not cross an imaginary line beyond which are regions unknown to her. In Beyond the Bayou, we learn about many of the characters from their French names that when translated tell us about the character. P’tit Maître is french for little master as she is the owner of the Bellissime plantation where La Folle lives. As a child, P’tit Maître “black with powder and crimson with blood” had come to La Folle’s mother’s cabin to escape pursuers. As readers, we are also given insight into the relationship P’tit Maître has with her 10-year-old son whom she calls Cheri which means darling or beloved in french. Doctor Bonfils, when translated, means good son gives off some characteristics solely from his name. we also learn the relationship between characters by paying attention to the pronouns used by others when addressing them. Tante Lizette is a friend of La Folles who also resides at Bellissime. Tante is french for aunt.
Chopin uses the modern way of introducing characters that is by gradually giving off details throughout the course in the beginning of short story “La Belle Zoraide“, she begins by introducing Manna-Loulou who is as “black as night” and then goes on to describe actions that are all in service to Madame Delise whom she gives a physical description of through the actions of Manna-Loulou. There is a narrative frame in this short story where Manna-Loulou tells the madame a story and the main character, La Belle Zoraide, is introduced through the traditional method and even from her name which encompasses the word beautiful in french, we are given insight to the character that would be the main focus of the story.
We learn about character, class and lifestyle (p.11) Through clothes, speech and behavior.
The dialogue in the short stories differs from one character to the next. As readers, we are able to identify the nature of specific characters just by the way they converse. Speech can also be a determinant of class in these short stories. Chopin elevates the language of those characters who are of high status, for example, the plantation owners speak in a different manner than the plantation workers. The dialogue between the slaves and former slaves and the masters also tells as about the lifestyle they live. We are also given an insight into a character’s lifestyle by the actions and behavior they exhibit. For example, we can automatically assume that Madame Delisle leads a lavish lifestyle and is waited on her every move as she is fanned and her hair is brushed for her and is even expectant of a bedtime story every night.