Literary Genre - The Artist, A Doll's House and Death and Nightingales for Leaving Cert English #625Lab

"The creation of memorable characters is part of the art of good story telling".

Write an essay comparing the ways in which memorable characters were created and contributed to your enjoyment of the stories in the texts you have studied for your comparative course. It will be sufficient to refer to the creation of one character from each of your chosen texts. (Literary Genre)

#625Lab. Excellent, rigorous, well-structured exploration of Literary Genre that really addresses the question. The bits I highlighted in navy are especially engaging and relevant. You may also like: Complete Guide to Leaving Cert English (€). 

Throughout my comparative studies I have acquainted myself with three very memorable characters: Nora Helmer from "A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen, George Valintin from "The Artist" directed by Michele Hazanavicius and Beth Winters from "Death and Nightingales" by Eugene McCabe. Each author artfully creates their characters by using a variety of characterisation techniques such as how the characters communicate with others and express themselves, the various narrative techniques used that were sometimes specific to the form of the text, and the use of symbolism and imagery. These techniques were skilfully used in the creation of Nora, George and Beth and serve to contribute to my enjoyment and understanding of the texts. 

Each of my protagonists communicate their feelings and needs very differently. George in "The Artist" is a reticent character, "The Artist" being a silent film, the actor must focus on body language and facial expressions and gestures to portray George's state of mind. The style of acting is paying homage to that of the 1920's, where facial expressions and gestures were exaggerated. The most memorable moment of facial acting being the scream during the dream sequence (a visual reference to "the Scream" by Munch). George conveys his depression with long faces and slow tired body language. Not only is George expressing this to his world but to the audience. Beth differs in her way of expressing her feelings: she does not express them to her world by dialogue but rather only to us by internal monologue. When Beth decides not to post the letter to Liam Ward explaining why she cannot meet him, she does not express her reservations to anyone but the reader through stream of consciousness and in the epistolary form of the letter. Beth reveals much to us about her relationship with Billy through her dreams. The novel begins with a Beth dreaming of poisoning Billy. This reveals the difficult relationship and Beth's emotional complexity. "The Artist" makes similar use of dreams. The wonderfully shot dream sequence reveals George's anxieties and fears about his status. Here Hazanavicius experiments with many cinematic techniques, the first use of diegetic sound confuses the audience as well as George and we enter the surreal landscape of dreams. "A Doll's House" is unlike the other texts in how Nora's emotions are portrayed. Nora expresses what we initially think are her true feelings verbally in dialogue. She frivolously asks Torvald for money to buy dresses and often speaks of her contentment. As the play progresses we realise Nora's words are masking her true feelings of anxiety and fear over her debt to Krogstad. We realise that the polite reserved dialogue was simply Nora playing her role. Ibsen makes wonderful use of the naturalistic language, but I found sometimes he broke the fourth wall when using the aside stage direction where Nora would say aloud her inner thoughts for the audience. "Death and Nightingales" and "The Artist" did not break the storytelling when revealing the true thoughts and feelings of their characters. 

Ibsen, Hazanvicius and McCabe all employ various narrative techniques to create the memorable characters of their texts. Techniques such as perspective, setting and structure all contribute to character creation. Both "The Artist" and "A Doll's House" were similar in having a third-person narrative point of view, while "Death and Nightingales" is slightly more complicated. Omniscient narration is used, however the perspective is always shifting between different characters. This style of narration is somewhat more biased than that of "The Artist" and "A Doll's House" where the audience can interpret character's feelings as they chose, whereas "Death and Nightingales" is more explicit. The setting in "Death and Nightingales" aids characterisation greatly. Beth's character is reflected by Corvey Island, an idyllic island that belongs to her and her mother. Beth describes it as "paradise". Beth feels content here and experiences a moment of complete joy on the island, the only moment of its kind in the novel. (...and what exactly does that mean about the character? Always look back at the question when you are writing.) Ibsen takes a similar approach to setting in "A Doll's House". The play takes place in one room, the living room. Characters come and go from the room, except for Nora. The room reflects Nora's entrapment within her role as a "doll-wife" and creates quite a claustrophobic atmosphere. Quite unlike the play, the film "The Artist" has a wide range of settings that aid characterisation. Public settings at the beginning reveal George as a proud, charismatic and arrogant superstar. Private settings such as his mansion reveal his charming traits. However, as the plot progresses and George descends into depression, he reveals a much more subdued and emotional side whilst still maintaining a public image at the premiere of his failed silent film. Towards the end of the film George's public person vanishes as he walks the streets of Hollywood shabbily dressed, compared to his earlier tuxedo. Regarding structure as a narrative technique, both "A Doll's House" and "The Artist" have linear plot structures. They differ slightly as "A Doll's House" takes place over the course of a few days whereas "The Artist" takes place over the course of a few years. "Death and Nightingales" is completely different as it contains a non-linear timeline. This narrative device greatly contributed to the creation of Beth for me. In Chapter 1, the Beth we meet has already been changed by events that we have yet to read about (the flashback to meeting Ward). This created a slight enigma and suspense regarding her character, but, as I came to read about her past and see a much happier Beth, I saw a completely different side to her. The earlier flashbacks to her childhood also strengthened my understanding of her relationship with her mother who is dead in the present thread of narrative. 

Each of my texts used imagery and symbolism to enrich the protagonist's character. In both "The Artist" and "A Doll's House", costume is hugely symbolic. It does not hold the same symbolic significance in "Death and Nightingales" largely due to it being a non-visual text. In "A Doll's House" outwear is symbolic of autonomy. Male characters and Mrs. Linde are in their outerwear, Nora is not until the ending when she leaves for good. The Neapolitan fisher girl outfit Torvald asks her to wear epitomizes her social role as a wife. Costume in "The Artist" holds a different symbolic importance. Rather than conveying George's entrapment in a role, it symbolises his status and fame. When Peppy is embracing the tuxedo, we wonder if she's falling in love with George or George's image. When George sells his tuxedo, it symbolically conveys his resignations from fame. "The Artist" used images of George as a symbolic device. At the beginning we see images of him on film, in newspapers and in portraits. The convey his success and hubris. As they decline, the images become distorted, his wife doodles on his photos, newspapers are stepped on and he pours whiskey over his reflection. This use of symbolism strengthened my appreciation of the character of George. In "A Doll's House", Nora uses the "doll wife" metaphor to describe how she sees herself and her role to Torvald. It is an incredibly strong metaphor as it explores the central themes and ideas of the play. (Link word missing.) The symbolism in "Death and Nightingales" is based on that of the natural world. McCabe includes much stunning, rich description of the natural landscape. This is not seen in "A Doll's House" and "The Artist" as they have urban settings. There is a multitude of animal imagery in "Death and Nightingales". Much of this imagery serves as foreshadowing of events and also aids characterisation. The bloated cow at the beginning reveals Beth as a capable and caring woman. Later, when Beth and Liam fail to save the cow, it forebodes the bad relationship and suggests Liam as an evil presence. McCabe uses the predatory image of the owl snatching the innocent rabbit which foreshadows the approaching tragedy. There is also a recurring burial motif that foreshadows the digging of Beth's grave. There is her mother's grave, the buried cow and the bog butter which represented the buried past. The other texts do not use as much foreshadowing although "A Doll's House" shows small telling details that suggest that Nora's seemingly happy marriage is faulted. Details such as the macaroons and Nora's desire to say "bloody hell" reveal this. The author's use of imagery and symbolism contribute and strengthen my interpretations of the characters. 

Nora, George and Beth are three very individual characters who will remain with me long after I have completed my studies of them.  The authors crafted them with care, precision and attention to detail. I have come to love the protagonists of my texts and have given me a great love for "A Doll's House", "The Artist" and "Death and Nightingales".

Literary Genre - The Artist, A Doll's House and Death and Nightingales for Leaving Cert English
Image via The Guardian

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