Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Social Contract: Real Persons, Student, and Characters

Until you spent some time thinking the matter through, your position regarding actual persons and characters you create would allow you to allow your biases, prejudices, and aversions toward actual individuals to reflect in the way you treat and regard your characters.  

This works in principal, all the way through the first draft, where your prejudices become so apparent that you know more thought and an intensified philosophy are required.Nor does it hurt to remind yourself that your students are actual individuals, each with an agenda as volatile as microwaved popcorn.

Your study of despicable characters, say some of Faulkners characters such as Mink and Flem Snopes, or even the somewhat more admirable Jason Compson, convinces you of the need for the writer to at least respect if not admire his or her characters.  To respect them is to see them in dire conditions where the door to hope somehow remains open, however scant the crack.  With hope as a possibility, change is a potential.  

Some characters, such as Inspector Jaivert in Les Miserables, are hide bound against change, would (and did) rather die than change, but these are in the minority of those who condemn themselves to an actual death, or the continuous suffering of a state of remaining among the living as though dead.

This was brought home to you in a practical way when you developed a character who was based on a living person for whom you have no respect, even to the point of that being an understatement.  

From the moment he appeared on stage, he began behaving in a despicable manner, even more despicable than his real life role model.  He seemingly took every opportunity to in some way humiliate, pressure, or dominate nearly everyone with whom he came in contact.In comparison with Jason Compson, this character would appear bordering on altruistic.

When you first saw this tendency, you were pleased, of course for all the wrong reasons. Now, you had to devise a way out of this dilemma or a character who, by your leave, indulged in the near equivalent of evil for evil's sake. There surely are real individuals and characters who behave in this manner, but when they enter your turf, the line has to be drawn.

Not even the death of the real life individual let you off the hook of the dilemma into which you'd written yourself.  You had to give this character some redeeming potential or you would be stuck with the cliche of evil for evil's sake. Somewhere along the way, you found the trigger:  He has fallen in unselfish love with one of the women he most exploited.  

The chances of her ever trusting the quality of his love is remote.  He understands this and understands why. He has come to an understanding about reparations, about abuse of power, about selfishness.He has changed.  Now what?  Now this, you are off the hook.

There are now and have been students you did not like, often for reasons you could not/cannot articulate. At least not until they are no longer your students must they be unaware of your dislike; that is another social contract matter you feel bound to observe. It is their right and privilege not to like you, even to the point of giving negative evaluations on you, calling you out on your views and method.  

There are cases where you must remind yourself, but remind yourself, you do:  They are entitled to your respect and that significant step beyond your best effort to convey to them the things you wish all your students to get, which is that glorious conspiracy of self-discovery.

Student or character, if they don't have your respect, you need to find a way right now to make sure they get it and are aware of it.

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