Perhaps we remember the great romances more, but literature’s great friendships also provide us with many pleasurable reading experiences.
Fictional friendships — which are often more enduring than romances — can teach us, touch us, blunt our cynicism, and remind us of our own longtime pals. And if some of literature’s buddies have a falling out, the silver lining for readers is plenty of dramatic tension.
I love friendships of all types in literature, but my favorites are the ones that cross the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Those different-background relationships can be tricky in real life, so it’s especially nice to see them succeed in fiction.
One obvious multicultural pairing is Mark Twain’s Huck and Jim — a white boy and a slavery-escaping black man who gradually become close. Heck, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could have been called The Friendship of Huckleberry Finn — and we’re not talking about Huck’s interactions with the annoying Tom Sawyer!
There are also the unshakable comrades Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s five absorbing “Leatherstocking” novels. The final The Last of the Mohicans scene between the Native-American chief and the white hunter (aka Hawkeye, Deerslayer, Pathfinder, etc.) is one of the most touching depictions of friendship in literature.
Or how about Uncle Tom and young Eva in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Two admirable people who become interracial and intergenerational friends before circumstances turn tragic for each.
Another great example of friendship across age and class lines — this time with both characters white — is that of the working-class Mary and the older, more-moneyed Elizabeth in Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Remarkable Creatures. Fossil hunting brings them together.
Mixed-gender friends? They include Jim and Antonia in Willa Cather’s excellent My Antonia, and none other than Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling’s mega-popular series.
Of course, many pals are the same gender and socioeconomically similar. One of the most memorable friendships in literature is between Jane Eyre and the sickly, religious, warmhearted Helen Burns (when both are kids) in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel.
There’s also the prison friendship of Edmond Dantes and Abbe Farina in Alexandre Dumas’ rousing The Count of Monte Cristo, with the latter character doubling as a mentor; and the relationship between Dmitri and destined-for-prison Raskolnikov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment — though Dmitri does most of the heavy lifting after the initial stages of that friendship.
Or how about “kindred spirits” Anne and Diana in L.M. Montgomery’s marvelous Anne of Green Gables?
In novels of more recent vintage, Terry McMillan’s appealing Waiting to Exhale features four friends (Savannah, Bernadine, Robin, and Gloria); John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany depicts a fascinating friendship between John and the very original Owen; Margaret Atwood’s terrific The Robber Bride chronicles the many-year relationship between Roz, Charis, and Tony, all three of whom share an enemy; and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior includes the fun, satisfying friendship between Dellarobia and Dovey.
I haven’t even gotten into friendships between humans and animals in novels such as Jack London’s riveting The Call of the Wild and White Fang, Albert Payson Terhune’s poignant His Dog, and William H. Armstrong’s also-poignant Sounder.
Who are your favorite friends in literature?
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