The death, yesterday, of J.D. Salinger shook a lot of emotion out of me. It’s not really that I felt particularly sad about the passing of a cantankerous old coot shuttered up in no-man’s land. I’ve never felt any emotional connection to Salinger, nor can I really pretend that his passing meant a lot to me. The loss of David Foster Wallace was far more affecting, though that probably had as much to do with his age and the manner in which he left us than anything else.
It’s Catcher in the Rye that I feel that connection to, or more specifically, its anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, and thanks to modern advances like the printing press and ink, Holden is someone that will never pass away. He’ll always live on the page, decrying phoniness and going on like a goddamn mad man about all that David Copperfield crap.
Anyway, that got me to thinking: Who are the most indelible fictional characters of the last 100 years? The characters that stick with you long after you’ve put the book down? Characters whose names you actually remember. There are hundreds of books I’ve fallen in love with, but few characters so richly drawn, so original, or vile, or memorable, or so deep rooted, that it’s often the character name I remember before even the author’s name, or even the novel’s title.
It can’t help but to be a subjective list — certain characters speak to certain people. No character is likely to leave the same sort of impression with everyone; the relationship of Holden Caulfield to this site’s readership is proof of that. I’d be a fool to contend that these ten characters are the most indelible of the last 100 years, but they are to me. Others, I would hope, would actually have a woman on their list — I feel bad about the lack on mine, but only Anna Karenina, perhaps, could compete with any of the characters on my top ten.
But, instead of quibbling, bitching, or railing against my ignorance for failing to consider Morrie Schwartz or Robert Langdon, I encourage you to compile your own list of the most indelible characters to you.
10. Piggy — Lord of the Flies, William Golding,
9. Alexander Portnoy, — Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
8. Billy Pilgrim — Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
7. Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom — Rabbit Run, John Updike.
6. Arthur Dent — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Jay Gatsby — The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Rob Fleming — High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
3. Humbert Humbert — Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
2. John Yossarian — Catch-22, Joseph Heller
1. Holden Caulfield — Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger