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Uncle Daniel and Lester Ballard
Proper characterization is one of the greatest skills that a writer possesses because often times poor development of characters or their inapt portrayal can completely destroy even the most perfect of stories. It has been noticed that while most writers pay close attention to evolution of their characters, they do tend to go overboard with negative or positive characterization on some occasions. Despite their good intentions, they get carried away with a desire to create unusual characters that cannot be related to easily. A writer's ability to develop realistic characters tend to add to the overall impact and popularity of their works and similarly a poorly developed or unrealistic character can destroy an otherwise good plot. However in some rare cases, even a seemingly unreal character manages to leave a lasting impact because of the sheer creative genius of the authors. This is exactly what happens with the protagonists of the two novels that we shall be discussing in this paper. The first character comes from the novel, The Ponder Heart, written by Eudora Welty. And the other is that of Lester Ballard who plays the lead role in Cormac McCarthy's Child of God.
The reason why we find a comparison between these two characters interesting is because they fall at the two extreme ends of characterization spectrum. On the one end, we find Uncle Daniel who is a little too good to be true while at the other extreme is Lester Ballard, a despicable character who leaves a huge negative impact on the mind. While Uncle Daniel's character lacks strength, realism and may not leave you any wiser, he is nonetheless an unusually funny and eccentric person whose very presence puts a smile on your face. His complete inability to understand the world as it is and see things in correct perspective gives birth to irrational decisions and actions that are meant to generate spontaneous laughter. The author's has maintained a lighthearted comic style throughout the novel, which befits the perfectly comical character of Daniel.
Uncle Daniel is shown as a highly eccentric character that has one major flaw. While he is a perfectly generous soul with little IQ and is an heir to massive fortune, he is determined to distribute his assets on a whim. If he were happy to meet someone, he would give him a large chunk of the fortune without even realizing the consequences of his actions. Daniel appears to believe that all the money he has is not of any real value to him, so why not give it away to those who might actually need it. On one occasion, he comes across a motorcycle stunt rider who impresses him so much that he decides to allot an entire service station to her.
The opening page highlights the important attributes of Daniel's character in these words:
My uncle Daniel is jut like your uncle, if you've got one-only he has one weakness. He loves society and he gets carried away... he liable to give you a little hug and start trying to give you something. Don't do you any good to be bashful. He won't let you refuse. All he might do is forget tomorrow what he gave you today and give it to you all over again. Sweetest disposition in the world." (Pg. 4)
The narrator, Edna Earle is not at all amused by what she sees and thus together with her grandfather, decides to send Daniel to an asylum for the insane. However at the institution, older Ponder is mistaken for Daniel and admitted to the asylum much to the chagrin of the two chief 'conspirators'. It is important to mention here that while it is Daniel who is shown to be the most eccentric person in Southern town of Clay, all other supporting characters also add to the comic style of the novel. It is their rather unusual style of perceiving reality that makes Daniel's character even more interesting. However Daniel's character lacks depth, whatever excitement it creates is due to its weird actions and its inability to view things in the same light as others do.
Daniel's story is seen and studied from the eyes of Edna who simply cannot comprehend why her uncle cannot behave properly. She knows that the man possess unusually generous heart but wonders if this generosity may somehow be connected with insanity. For example who would give away everything they own, even the cemetery lot that was meant for them. (Welty, 8) Daniel doesn't intend to be funny but somehow whatever he does, appears so removed from norms and conventions that readers cannot help being amused. Critically speaking however such a perfectly innocent and 'too good' a character is quite unrealistic and thus cannot be identified with. But the fact that the story did not mean to convey any moral messages and neither did it have a special purpose to serve, we can forgive the author for her unusual characterization skills. This book and its leading character should be enjoyed only for their own sake, because neither the story nor the main character is thought provoking in nature.
With humorous anecdotes interspersed through the book, Daniel's character appears even funnier than it would have in an otherwise serious story. Not only Daniel but everyone surrounding him also behaves in a fashion that appears slightly unusual thus adding more flavor and color to the protagonist's portrayal. For example when Bonny Dee runs away, Edna decides to publish a poem in Memphis newspaper to call her back. Her poem is so casually funny that without much effort from the author, she manages to put a genuine smile on her readers' face:
COME BACK TO CLAY
Bonnie Dee Ponder, come back to Clay.
Many are tired of you being away.
Now listen to me, Bonnie Dee Ponder,
Come back to Clay, or husband will wonder.
Please to no more wander.
As of even date, all is forgiven." (59)
Whether you like the story or not, you cannot help falling in love with its unreal protagonist who is just too eccentric to do anything conventional. From the time the book opens, Daniel is shown performing one silly antic after another. His actions are the real source of humor in this book along with comedic style of the narrator and general humor-filled air of the story. Eudora Welty didn't want you to find the character real or believable, she just aimed at creating a humorous figure that everyone would like unconditionally and this is precisely what she managed to achieve without much effort. Her protagonist is so deliciously naive and unassuming that his every action appears out of sync with reality and conventions. Take for example, his wedding scene where he appears at the church with a young 17-year-old bride, without even giving second thought to the fact that there was already a bride waiting for him at the altar. The author gives no reason for why Daniel does what he does and much is left up to the reader to decide.
Daniel's character is certainly not very real but than it wasn't even meant to be. The author's creative genius emerges from the fact that she has developed such a perfectly humorous and innocent character that readers feel drawn to him naturally. This completely far-fetched character makes us want to be a little like him so we could throw caution and worries to air from time to time, just to see what really goes on in the world of Daniel Ponder.
But while an unreal character that is positive in nature doesn't bother readers too much, a far-fetched negative character can completely ruin the reader's mood and his interest in the book. This is what we notice when we come across the protagonist of City of God, Lester Ballard, a man who is so horribly despicable that we wonder why did the author even create such a character. He was created in the image of a monster whose necrophilic attributes make the reader shirk away in pure disgust and horror. Ballard's character was created to test our limits in probing the dark, the sinister and the negative. It appears that by repeatedly throwing the readers into the midst of Lester's horrible antics, McCarthy wanted to see how much can we really put up with. Does the world really know the extent to which the darkness can penetrate our community and society? Well if not, then McCarthy shows us through his protagonist who is as negative as it comes. John Lang in his book Sacred Violence notes, "[McCarthy's] novel thus tests both our willingness to confront the darker reaches of human nature and our capacity to extend compassion to even so desolate and misguided a Child of God as Lester Ballard" (Sacred Violence, 94).
Everything from Lester's relationship with women to his interaction with the community reflects the sickness of a necrophilic mind. His inability to form normal relationships with woman result in Lester falling…[continue]
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