The Main Character that Slapped Me in the Face When it’s the Last Thing He Would Ever Do
Currently reading Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, I am shocked by the passiveness of the main character, Jim Wormold. He is a push over, letting his friends, 16-year-old daughter and even a stranger bully him into doing whatever they want.
The opening line of the novel is Wormold’s friend comparing him to a “Negro blind in one eye and one leg shorter than the other.” Clearly an insult, Wormold is confused by the suggestion and his friend eventually twists his original comment into an attempted compliment. His 16-year-old daughter bullies him into buying her a horse when they cannot afford it. In chapter three, Wormold meets an eccentric stranger who pressures him to do strange things. Wormold goes along with it all, putting up little resistance to any of it. The only actions we see him take are his typical daily routines and things that are asked of him.
Less than 50 pages into the novel, I am simply shocked by this character. He is indecisive, a slow thinker and has extremely low self-esteem. Greene is setting up a character who has let the world write his life script for him and I am very interested to see if that changes throughout the novel; to see if Wormold ever takes charge of anything.
My reaction to this character opened my eyes to the typical brave, action-driven character we are custom to seeing today. Think Harry Potter, he is always breaking rules and sneaking out at night to take action. My last book review on Stephen King’s 11/22/63 focused on a man who chose to go back in time and takes action to change the entire world. As a society, we praise doers and the characters in books and movies are only reflections of those in real life. We cherish hundreds of stories where someone took charge of their life and got a better job, lost a lot of weight, met the person of their dreams. We praise people like Steve Jobs who start with a simple idea and take action to build their own success. Therefore, it is no surprise that today’s novel and movies reflect that type of character.
Is there something wrong with praising the doer? I don’t think so. I strongly believe that if you want something, you have to go out and make it happen. But this unresisting, self-doubting, soft man has got me hooked. Less than 50 pages in, I am deeply invested in this novel. The uniqueness of this character has me wanting more and more.