After right-wing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died this month, Republicans proved once again that they’re obsessed with obstructing Barack Obama at every turn. Refusing to consider ANY Scalia replacement nominee from the Democratic, biracial president with almost a year left in the White House? How partisan — and, yes, racist — of the GOP. Sure, Obama’s pick would change the ideological bent of the Supreme Court, but them’s the breaks.
Since I’m a literature blogger, I also started thinking of obsessed fictional characters — both negative (like the Republicans in their vicious hatred of the more-centrist-than-liberal Obama) and positive. Whether the single-mindedness is political, romantic, or otherwise, it can be riveting in a protagonist.
For instance, there are the rulers obsessed with control of the populace in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the hyper-ambitious, Huey Long-like Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.
Or how about the fanatical police inspector Javert, who focuses to the nth degree on trying to capture Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? And the escaped prisoner Edmond Dantes, who devotes his life to revenge against the men who framed him in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. And the guilt-ridden lovers Therese and Laurent, who are hyper-focused on the memory of the man they killed in Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin. Heck, those three examples are just from 19th-century French literature alone.
Also obsessed is the man (Nathanael) who becomes infatuated with a (robot?) woman in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Sandman,” the woman (Katerina) who stays intensely/criminally attached to the no-good Sergei in Nikolai Leskov’s “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” and various Edgar Allan Poe protagonists — including the murderers in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” and the love-struck young man in the partly comedic “The Spectacles.”
Then there’s the title character in Toni Morrison’s Sula who’s obsessed with being independent, unconventional, and not bound by gender norms.
A torrid affair begets homicide in Therese Raquin, but romantic obsession has different results in other novels such as W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. In the first book, would-be doctor Philip Carey becomes totally fixated on a waitress (Mildred Rogers) who holds him in contempt until… In Garcia Marquez’s novel, Florentino Ariza carries a torch for Fermina Daza over many decades until…
Theo Decker carries something else — a painting — out of a museum after a terrorist attack in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and remains obsessed for years with Carel Fabritius’ famous bird portrait — partly because of its association with Theo’s beloved mother, who died in the attack.
Another creature filling the mind of a protagonist is the huge marlin relentlessly reeled in by Santiago the fisherman as he tries to defy bad luck and aging in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and Sea.
Still another creature is the fixation of Captain Ahab, who, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, angrily pursues the huge white whale that bit off part of his leg. (Some latte-drinking readers might also be obsessed with the novel’s Starbuck character and how his name was appropriated by a certain coffee chain. 🙂 )
Speaking of 20th-century/19th-century connections, Octavia Butler’s Kindred novel sends Dana Franklin back in time to America’s slave-holding South. As the black character navigates that horrid world, her obsession is making sure her ancestor is born so that she (Dana) can exist 150 years later.
Many Americans are also known for single-mindedly climbing the corporate or social ladder, and an example of someone who ascends the latter ladder is Undine Spragg of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. It’s not a coincidence that her initials are U.S.
The title character’s initials in Martin Eden represent Jack London’s semi-autobiographical “me” — a self-educated, working-class protagonist hell-bent on becoming a successful writer.
Also obsessed with having a writing career is Jo March, the Little Women character partly based on the author herself — Louisa May Alcott.
Last but not least, we have Lord Voldemort’s obsession with killing Harry Potter. I’d compare the GOP’s many obstructionist politicians to Voldemort, but that would be an insult to J.K. Rowling’s gruesomely evil creation. 🙂
Who are your favorite fixated fictional fellows and women? (Also welcome are any thoughts on the late Harper Lee, who died Feb. 19 following decades of being obsessed with maintaining her privacy after the great To Kill a Mockingbird rocketed her to fame.)
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I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.