Literature is full of professions such as doctors and lawyers and teachers, but some protagonists have more unusual jobs. What are some examples of that?
Well, Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, and priests Lankester Merrin and Damien Karras of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist double as exorcist guys (the priests between oceans…of pea soup).
Of course, fictional characters’ unusual jobs are only a small part of what makes a fascinating novel fascinating, but they do add some…fascination. Heck, readers are curious about the logistics of jobs they never or rarely run across in real life. And of course what protagonists do for a living sheds some light (not just from a lighthouse) on their personalities and needs. For instance, Sherbourne at first welcomes the isolated nature of the lighthouse-keeper position after being traumatized by his war experiences.
Another isolated and relatively rare profession is held by Jean in Morag Joss’ Half-Broken Things. She’s a long-term house sitter — who’s not alone for long in her managed mansion of the moment.
The job of park ranger is not super rare, but it’s certainly not as plentiful a profession as many others. One memorable person holding that position is Deanna Wolfe in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.
Then there’s Robert Paterson’s job (actually, more a hobby) that takes him to cemeteries rather than parks to re-engrave the tombstones of Covenanter martyrs. Based on a real-life person, Paterson appears in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality.
There are also fictional professions in fiction. Ephraim Gursky is basically a Jewish Eskimo (if one can call that a profession!) for a while in Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here. His mom might have plaintively asked, “Ephie, you couldn’t have been a doctor or lawyer?”
Or how about the “fireman” in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? Nope, not the kind of firefighter who puts out blazes, but the kind who torches books — as Guy Montag does in the novel until he questions his role in obliterating literature and other accumulated knowledge.
Another fictional (in more ways than one) profession is that of “literary detective” Thursday Next in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. Ms. Next even pursues a criminal into the pages of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre by traveling through “The Prose Portal.”
In sci-fi and speculative fiction, professions can get real interesting. Crake of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a geneticist — a normal-enough job — but he’s actually more of a mad scientist who practically wipes out the human race while creating a new race of beings called the Crakers.
There are also jobs that are not so unusual, but only occasionally found in works of fiction. For instance, Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe includes an exterminator — who’s so averse to killing living things that he quits after arriving at the house of protagonist Mattie. Daniel basically ends up working as a handyman after that.
And there are jobs that now seem unusual but weren’t so offbeat back in the day. An example of that would be Queequeg as a harpoonist in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Or how about jobs that were formerly almost always held by men and thus catch our attention when held by women — as was the case with circa-World War II characters who ran a filling station in Fannie Flagg’s appropriately titled The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. (Well, a better title would have had “Woman” in it rather than “Girl.”)
What are some unusual jobs you remember from your fiction reading?
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