Fiction has a way of getting through to us with a potency that other means of delivery often struggle to measure up to. Whether it is through subtle thematic shading or a character more explicitly voicing something, embedding a message within a narrative can be the human version of stuffing the dog’s medicine pill into a hunk of meat: It’ll go down real smooth, have the intended effect, and sometimes we won’t even know it was there.
Whether it is the author’s intent or not, narratives—and the characters that inhabit them—can be a powerful means of value inculcation. It’s why there are so many variations of the saying that a culture is defined by the stories it tells to and of itself. Reddit pondered the character-specific side of this last week when it asked the question: ‘What did a fictional character say that stuck with you?’
Two answers immediately popped to my mind when I saw the question. The first was Céline from Before Sunrise:
I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.
And it’s been so many years since I’ve read it that I can’t remember which character actually says it, but despite that this one from Dostoyevsky’s ‘Demons’ has stuck with me ever since for its brutal simplicity (and, I mean, I’m a Marxist so I put a lot of stock in structural analysis of systems of oppression that often far outweigh any individual, personal obstacles so there’s always that pinch of salt to add to this kind of ‘inspirational’ dish but still):
If you want to overcome the whole world, overcome yourself.
Oh, and one of the top answers on Reddit was one that really got me when I was a kid. I disagree with it a fair bit now—it’s a bit autocratic, and while mob mentality is most definitely something to be afraid of, this line of reasoning can be deleteriously individualistic and short-sighted, but:
You can check out the full Reddit thread here, but below are some highlights:
And obviously, the most profound slab of rumham of wisdom from the great philosppher of our time:
Header Image Source: Buena Vista Pictures