Creating a Genuine Rogue: Successful Narrative Techniques For Exploring The Difference Between Dishonesty And Morality In An Unreliable Narrator
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CitationKravitz, Alan. 2014. Creating a Genuine Rogue: Successful Narrative Techniques For Exploring The Difference Between Dishonesty And Morality In An Unreliable Narrator. Master's thesis, Harvard University, Extension School.
This essay explores the techniques that contemporary authors use in order to make dishonest or unlikeable characters--often known as tricksters--compelling and believable. Many of fiction's most memorable characters have been tricksters. By examining novels by three contemporary authors--Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, and Zadie Smith's On Beauty--we find that specific literary tools must be employed by the author in order to make these characters understandable, and even identifiable, to the reader. Authors who use these techniques can successfully create what Chabon himself calls a "genuine rogue." These rogues often lie, cheat, and make life difficult for other main characters in the novel. Still, they go on to expose deep truths about the people and worlds they inhabit.
The characters examined in this essay are Grady Tripp from Wonder Boys, Howard Belsey from On Beauty, and Richard Katz from Freedom. In looking closely at these characters, we find that Chabon, Smith, and Franzen employ a variety of tools in order to make these characters multi-dimensional and even relatable. In Wonder Boys, Chabon relies heavily on metaphor. When Grady talks about August Van Zorn, his first major literary hero, we discover that August's misfortunes mirror Grady's. In On Beauty, Smith makes effective use of dialogue to show how Howard's actions affect the lives of those around him. In Freedom, Franzen gives Richard the pivotal act of exposing a private diary--an act that leads to the breakup of the novel's lead characters. In using these techniques successfully, Chabon, Smith, and Franzen have created characters who audaciously expose important truths, even if they have to lie and cheat in the process.
These techniques are of major interest to me, because the protagonist in my novel (which accompanies this essay), could very well be classified as a "genuine rogue." Andy lies and cheats constantly. He hurts the people in his life, yet he also makes them see things about themselves that they might never have seen otherwise. He does bad things to people, but he is not a villain. As a writer, I am using the techniques employed so successfully by Chabon, Smith, and Franzen in the hope that readers will at least understand Andy--and quite possibly relate to him in ways that will make him a compelling protagonist to follow.
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