Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Moving Volition

volition--a character facing a decision and making a choice; the acts performed or not performed by a character in service of an agenda; a necessary quality of determination and purpose resident in a character; the inertial guidance system of a front rank character.

Integral to any understanding of character and the subsequent empathy for or antagonism to that character, volition is the analog of the purring engine, already converting fuel to energy, ready to move forth with elan. Volition is the engine of personality for a character, the defining set of impressions that determine how the character will behave in a given situation. Will that character elect, as Melville's iconic Bartleby did, to prefer not to? Perhaps the character is more of a mindset with Shakespeare's version of Henry V, invoking his troops to follow him into battle against the French at Agincourt, "...cry 'God for Harry, England and St. George!'" Of course girl and women characters bring an equally nuanced set of volition to the text. Look at Scout,the six-year-old narrator of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, who had to make some tough choices about the small Alabama town in which she was raised. Not to forget Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. It is highly probable that her early independence and strong-willed nature led her to the rebellious affair that resulted in Pearl, a child born out of wedlock. Although the narrator appears to disapprove of her behavior, his increasing sense of admiration becomes apparent as she, subject to the humiliation and alienation inflicted on her, becomes contemplative as she develops into a more dimensional character than any other in the novel.

For the writer, learning who the character is becomes the first step in a triad of priority. Now the writer must intuit what the character wants, at which point the character is ready to leap from no or a single dimension into the realm of nuance. Will the character make that leap? Now comes volition: What is the character willing to do to accomplish the goal? With that awareness radiating within the character and suspected all along by the reader, what explosive results will come forth? With persistence and honesty, the writer is drawn into the equation with the discovery of the depths to which the character will go. Did, for instance, Melville know how far Bartleby was willing to go to make his statement? Did Melville have any sense that Bartleby's position of preferring not to do what was asked of him become the instrument of his death? Perhaps it was the added element that often attaches itself to the accelerated atoms of volition--perhaps it was surprise.

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