Must characters in a novel “grow”? The Guardian has an article about John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in which the article’s author, Sam Jordison, explores this question. In doing so he cites the “lives” of characters created by Charles Dickens and P. G. Wodehouse as well as those created by Toole. Once you’ve read the article, consider this: Do adults – I mean real people, not fictional characters – grow over the years? My belief is that some do and some don’t. But fundamentally, I think that change is difficult once we have become mature adults. What do you think?
A Confederacy of Dunces was The Guardian’s reading group pick for June 2017. You can find more articles about this book and many other reading group picks here.
Shortly after writing the above, I saw something that relates to it. It was a segment that NBC did about the upcoming 100th birthday of Boys Town on December 12th. Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, began working with homeless men in Omaha, Nebraska in 1916, but quickly realized that the men would never change. He interviewed about 2,000 of them to find out what made them the way they were, and found that most had been on their own as children. There was no one to guide them, no one to set boundaries. That’s when he realized that he had to work with children rather than adults. And that was the beginning of a program that has changed the lives of thousands of boys.
In 1938 a wonderful movie was made about Father Flanagan and his struggle to found Boys Town outside Omaha. Spencer Tracy portrayed Father Flanagan and won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role as a result. Mickey Rooney did a great job playing the trouble Whitey Marsh, but the kid who will steal your heart is Pee Wee played by Bobs Watson.
It’s a great movie, and it will renew your faith in humanity – should you need it.