Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shouting? Of course I'm shouting.

Anger is such a lovely emotion for introduction into a dramatic narrative. As persons in real life have discovered, anger may be expressed in any number of ways. These ways not only help define the character who is behaving in anger, the ways also help determine the nature and outcome of a story.


A bright star in the constellation of Western literature, The Iliad literally begins with someone being pissed off. "The wrath of Achilles..." and we are off and running because of the politics behind why Achilles was angered, what he did in response, and the consequences, ending with the fall of Troy and enough clanking of swords, fiery oaths, visitations from the gods to have emblazoned an unforgettable image into our mind. But some years later, along comes another writer, David Malouf, of whom we are arguably more certain than we are of the supposed author of The Iliad. Mr. Malouf has taken us more or less behind the scenes, caused Achilles' anger to stand before us once again in a way that helps us experience it more deeply yet. In a real sense, Malouf has tied the consequences of Achilles' grief and anger to the axle of a chariot, much as he so purposefully tied the body of the recently killed Hector. Then he has shown us the effects on Hector's parents, King Priam and Queen Hecuba, leading to the moment when Priam tells Hecuba of his plan for allowing their son to be given a proper burial. No really new plot twists here at all, so why the fuss? The fuss is because in Malouf's latest novel, Ransom, he has demonstrated not only Achilles' anger, as well his grief and the downstream grief of Hector's parents, his wife and son; he has shown the gods and goddesses in play to the point where we can understand on a visceral level what it was like in and about Troy during those days of the siege and fall. We even come away with an enhanced understanding of what chance is, what it means to characters, and what it means to the gods and goddesses.

A little anger goes a long way, thus it needn't be piled on needlessly, even when its intent is to build a grudge of epic proportions. One of the mischievous joys of anger allowed to run rampant in Huckleberry Finn is made manifest when Huck bumbles by chance into the Shepherdson-Grangeford feud, the precise crux of which no one can remember.

In real life as in Huck Finn, sometimes the parties involved in a display of anger cannot recall the precipitating factor, the very inability possibly arousing yet another wave of anger. It is good to have at the ready a personal anger index which we can from time to time consult, putting such infractions as the person who cuts in front of us on the freeway a one, someone who betrays us an eight or nine, someone who betrays us and taunts about it a ten.

Once not too long ago, during an acting workshop, your response to a situation was to demonstrate a good deal of anger, which you did by sending a chair into a long parabolic arc. Later, in discussing the scene, someone asked if you had perhaps overdone, overreacted. Oh, no, you reassured. That character had a great deal of pent-up anger.

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