In Lee Smith’s novel “Oral History,” the character development of Almarine Cantrell plays a large role. It is a dynamic character since the main difference between a dynamic character and a static one is a change in the structure of thought and feeling within a literary work in one or more directions. In this novel, Lee Smith shows how repeated legends and the reproduction of fabulous, mystical statements enter the life of a family and affect the formation of the character himself. The keywords for understanding this thesis are Aldous’s line: “Everybody knows it, you’re right. But somebody could have started up a tale about her? this is the point? only she started up a tale about Almarine instead. And once it starts, it just goes on by itself, it takes on a life of its own no matter who may be hurt in the process” (Smith 186-87).
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Almarine Cantrell inherited his father’s estate in the late 1800s and subsequently fell in love with a local Red Emmy girl. However, he subsequently abandons her and chooses to marry Pricey Jane. Almarine blames Red Emmy for her further death and kills her in a rage. In order to understand the origins of this tragedy, it is necessary to be aware of the influence of rumors and legends in the family.
Through another character, Granny Younger, the belief that Red Emmy bewitched Almarine Cantrell was introduced into the folklore heritage of the community. She says: “the point is Almarine was bewitched and weren’t none of us could holp him” (Smith 41). This is important because it is through her character that the point of view of the community is presented, which subsequently influences the perception of oneself and events by its members.
She imparts to them her knowledge that Almarine has fallen under the spell of “a witch and regular gal both” (Smith 39). Despite the fact that Granny did not directly influence the life and actions of Almarine, it is she, as the center of collection and analysis of other people’s lives through the prism of mystical beliefs, as well as their subsequent broadcast from the standpoint of authority in the community, is the main link in shaping changes in Almarine’s perception the world and his life. Previously passionately and deeply in love with Emmy, he allows beliefs to shatter his beliefs about his past love and overwhelm his mind with the conviction of her demonic power. He shifts into this paradigm, and himself becomes a demon, killing a person.
Vivian Batiste, in Ernest Gaines’s “A Lesson Before Dying,” on the contrary, is an example of a static character. Vivian Baptist is the girlfriend of Grant Wiggins. She has children and continues to be married to a different man; however, the divorce is in the process. She differs from Miss Emma and Tant Lou for the reason that she is not as outspoken and overbearing as their characters. However, Vivian is unquestionably a powerful mixed-race woman. Often, she is a source of Grant’s character exposure to the reader since her strength highlights Grant’s weakness. She defied her family by marrying a Black, although her family ostracized her due to her actions. Disregarding her love for Grant, she indicates his pitfalls and failings, yet she does so carefully without humiliating his male-ego side.
Vivian is also a static character for the reason that she stands in her position all the way through the story. She is confident that she will not let Grant benefit from her. Although she is caring, and the scene of her helping him after a fight in a bar supports this statement, she is still straightforward and peremptory as she gives an ultimatum. The main quote showing her attitude can be considered her words to Grant: “You would hate me for letting you make this decision, or I would hate you for doing it” (Gaines 141). Despite the fact that Vivian is a complex and versatile character, she does not change as a person throughout the story. Her main focus and core in life is commitment. The fact that she teaches French also shows the reader that she values knowledge and culture but also hopes that her students will transcend her environment and take it to the next level.
Vivian is a static character insofar as such a type of character is characterized by the fact that their inherent unconscious contradiction is not resolved in the novel, and the structure of their thoughts and feelings does not change within the plot. The function of a static character is that they serve as a background against which changes in the structure of thought and feelings of the dynamic character are realized. In “A Lesson before Dying,” Vivian appears as an auxiliary element for the disclosure and transformation of Grant’s character. Unlike Almarine Cantrell Sr. in “Oral History,” Vivian in “A Lesson Before Dying” does not change her inner qualities and beliefs under the pressure of plot development and conflicts within the narrative.
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Smith, Lee. Oral History. New York: Ballantine, 1983.
Gaines, Ernest J. A Lesson before Dying. Serpent’s Tail, 2015.