One of the greatest aspects of Classic literature is the characters. These works of art were created at a time when readers weren't so rushed and inattentive, when books could be longer and pacing could be slower, leaving time for the characters to develop. Nowadays, it can be difficult to find good examples of the meticulous characterization of eras long gone. What was so great about this lost style of writing was not that the characters advanced the plot. Instead, it was that they seemed real, that they showed us things about ourselves we didn't know existed. These characters are immortalized, and we can learn something from all of them.
1. Melanie Wilkes, Gone With the Wind
Melanie looks for the best in everyone and, though timid, endures the discomforts of poverty and fear without complaint or self-pity. For her, the true meaning of life is in brightening the lives of those around her. She stands by her friends even when they’re wrong, and she honestly believes in the promise of a new day. Although she would never classify herself as strong, she is one of the most indomitable female characters in Classic literature, a reminder that the best leaders don’t always stand center stage.
2. Dean Moriarty, On the Road
I’m not suggesting anyone emulate Dean’s life full-throttle. After all, Neal Cassady, the real Dean, died when he was only forty-one. However, a little adventure can go a long way. Above all, Dean values freedom, and, though characteristically reckless and irresponsible, he welcomes the uncertainty of the future with a smile, never ceasing to see the beauty in life. Don’t hitchhike across the country or commit a multitude of petty crimes along the way, but remember his adventurous, optimistic attitude and move forward happily, ready to experience whatever comes next.
3. Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
This one probably goes without saying. Atticus is one of the most notable characters in literature, a beacon of truth and courage against the backdrop of an unjust world. He willingly stands up for what he believes in, even when it’s very evident he’s standing alone. For Atticus, doing the right thing is the only way to live.
4. John Yossarian, Catch 22
Like Dean Moriarty, Yossarian isn’t one we should strive to emulate entirely. An unlikely hero, he is believed to be on the brink of madness in a world where soldiers are asked to die for reasons that are often illogical. Yossarian is so fed up with the bureaucracy of the war and so inclined not to die that he simultaneously seems to be the most mad and the most logical character in the book. If we can learn anything from Yossarian, it’s to be rational in irrational situations, to use all our resources to find a creative way out of difficult situations.
5. Francie Nolan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Francie is one of the most resilient, unbreakable characters in Classic literature. She grows up in poverty in the early 1900s, forced to work hard for everything in life. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, she refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a writer and does everything in her power to make something of herself. From Francie we can learn ambition, passion, and perseverance, which are some of the most valuable lessons in existence.