Characters Who Are Not What They Seem

Impersonations. Dual identities. Switched identities. Hidden Identities. Etc. Literature has many of them, and discussion of all that will be unmasked…now.

Characters not being what they seem can help make books interesting, compelling, and dramatic. Those elements of mystery (for lack of a better word) can be puzzles to solve for other characters and for us, the readers.

This topic came to mind when I recently read Isak Dinesen’s 79-page short story “The Deluge at Norderney.” Various things happen in that striking tale of four people stranded in a house as floodwaters rise, but the biggest shocker is when we learn one of the characters isn’t who he claimed to be.

A number of famous novels also contain identity twists. For instance, we as readers know that the titular character in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is Edmond Dantes, but the people the Count is wreaking revenge on (for his false imprisonment) do not know until the last minute that this charismatic rich guy is the man they framed.

Mark Twain wrote two memorable “swap” novels: The Prince and the Pauper (a rich kid and a poor kid change places) and Pudd’nhead Wilson (a white baby born to the master of the house and a white-looking but partly black baby born into slavery are switched in infancy and grow into each other’s station in life — making for a strong commentary on race, class, upbringing, and genetics).

Also from the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the idea of dual personalities, good and evil. And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre includes the memorable scene of Rochester disguising himself as a gypsy to try to learn what Jane’s feelings might be for him. Later, Jane adopts the name Jane Elliott when she flees and doesn’t want to be traced — similar to when Helen Huntingdon becomes Helen Graham when escaping an abusive marriage in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Moving to the 20th century, L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle has Valancy Stirling’s love interest hide his identity as both a rich heir and famous author of books written under a different name.

Then, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, there’s the servant to Lord Voldemort known as Peter Pettigrew, Wormtail, and (in rat disguise) Scabbers. An identity trifecta!

Of course, there are various comic-book superheroes (Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, etc.) with both human identities and costumed identities. Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay includes a cartoon character’s creation/exploitation that kind of mirrors the story of Superman’s creation/exploitation.

What are some of your favorite fictional works (those I mentioned or didn’t mention) containing characters who fit the topic of this blog post?

And here are two songs: Renaissance’s “Jekyll and Hyde” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise.”

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

 

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece, about everything from Trumpcare to kneeling during the national anthem, is here.

47 thoughts on “Characters Who Are Not What They Seem

  1. Dave, Characters Who Are Not What They Seem , brings me back to Atticus again from TKA Mockingbird, and not long ago ” Go Set a Watchman ” was published. Which was her first book and as the whole World knows Ms. Harper Lee set that manuscript aside and wrote TKAM.
    We all fell in love with Atticus and then Gregory Peck played the role and became Atticus. When GSAW the controversial book was published we could not recognize Atticus that we all loved.
    That Atticus would fit in Donald`s World which has become a Country that we do not recognize.

    Our computer gone kaput a few days ago, this is a new one and I am trying to navigate 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a GREAT example, bebe! Thank you!

      From what I’ve heard from you and others who read “Go Set a Watchman,” the admirable justice-seeker Atticus of “To Kill a Mockingbird” turned into pretty much a racist in “GSAW.”

      Sorry about your computer dying. The best of luck with the new one!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I finished the book eventually ” The Windfall”, it was a good summer read. She is no Jhumpa Lahiri but still it will tell you that rich folks could be shallow everywhere in the World, always concerned about who is buying more expensive cars that them and so on. Bit there are some characters I did like like Mrs. Jha and Mrs. Roy, the book also covers east and west.
        I still want you to read the book if you find it in the library Dave..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Appearance versus reality! When I was taking a Shakespeare class in college, that was my professor’s big take on The Bard.

    Nearly all detective fiction works on this theme. Otherwise, each book would be a but a broadsheet:

    Detective One:
    “He’s dead. And that dagger poking out of his back is Sicilian, 17th century.”

    Detective Two:
    “Look! Over there! A swarthy little man with in tights and a doublet with blood on his hands is trying to sneak away!”

    Both: “Got him!

    Murderer: “You caught me. I did it.”

    Detective One: Glad that was cleared up. But it doesn’t explain why a 17th century Sicilian came here to kill the postman!”

    Murderer: “Hey! This is a simple murder mystery. Period. Any admission of time travel on my part is going to cost extra, which you don’t got. Why, this thing could go to two pages, and blow the publisher’s budget completely!”

    In order to make a proper detective story of several hundred pages, out of the above, the murderer would have to be the second detective’s evil twin, with help from a vengeful house pet just trying to get back at the deliverer of all those rectangles slipping daily through the slot in the front door. But not before a bit of European time travel and a new Sicilian girlfriend who just happens to make replica stilettos for Dan Brown. The mystery to solve in this one: How Dan Brown sold so damn many books! .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hilarious, jhNY, and an excellent point! Detective fiction needs all kinds of misdirection and the like for things to be spun out for several hundred pages.

      Yet we always know that “the butler did it,” even when there’s no butler to do anything… 🙂

      Like

  3. Hi Dave,

    I think the ultimate hidden identity would have to be the Count, and I wasn’t surprised to see him mentioned so early in your blog.

    In the world of “Harry Potter”, I think even Harry himself wasn’t quite who he thought he was. It was such fun to see him going from the poor little orphan boy, to Hogwarts wizard, and Gryffindor seeker.

    Speaking of poor little orphan boys, Charles Dickens is quite good at making us think that we’re looking at something, when we’re actually looking at something else…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Sue! Thank you!

      Yes, The Count is way up there in the hidden-identity department. Heck, even the woman (Mercedes) he was engaged to before he was framed didn’t initially recognize him, post-prison, though she eventually caught on.

      And you’re right that Harry didn’t know he was a wizard until Hagrid told him, even as Potter of course experienced some magical “episodes” pre-Hogwarts. Definitely quite an arc to his character development!

      Finally, I totally agree about Dickens.

      Like

  4. I would have to say one of my favorite “hidden character” moments is Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. When his purpose is revealed in the seventh book, it blew my mind. I always knew there was something more going on with him, and that it tied all the way back to the first book was amazing. Also I have to mention one of my favorite novel characters – Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. His introvert attitude paints him as a stuck up rich snob, and Elizabeth immediately writes him off as such. Then, after he writes the letter, we get closer looks at the real Mr. Darcy, kind and caring (and oh-so-handsome!) 🙂 Through that letter, both characters stop judging each other and turn inward to fix their own flaws. I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that great example, M.B.! Snape is definitely a double agent type, and you’re right that J.K. Rowling handled that masterfully — dropping clues along the way yet surprising the heck out of readers in the final book.

      And, yes, as in the case of Mr. Darcy, how a person is perceived can be quite different than how a person really is. (But either version of the person can wear an attractive ruffly white shirt… 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Word Press, this is a new comment!

    Dave, before I comment, I’d like to express my shock over what happened in Las Vegas last night. It made me think of your column last week, “I See Dead People.” I’ve been seeing in my mind those 50+ people who died, as well as those injured, and I can’t seem to find any solace in literature or anything I’ve ever read, including the Bible or other religious works.

    On to my comment. Because we talked about Sherlock Holmes last week, he’s been in my head. So I remember stories and novels about his ability to don disguises, e.g., “The Empty House,” when he returns from the dead, and “A Scandal in Bohemia” when he met THE woman, Irene Adler. However, the first that popped into my brain was “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” one of my favorites of all his many stories or novels. Miss Stapleton was first presented as a sister of Jack Stapleton, then turned out to be his quite rightly terrified wife.

    On a happier note, I loved the movie “The Parent Trap,” in which two separated twins meet up at a summer camp, then switch identities so they go meet the parent they had never known existed. Aside from the fact that was an incredibly cruel thing to do, the movie was very funny and I was a huge fan of Hayley Mills back in those days, not to mention Maureen O’Hara. I even liked the version starring Lindsay Lohan (back when she was a cute kid), but mostly because of Natasha Richardson, who tragically died in a “minor” skiing fall, at a much too young age.

    OK, so now I’m feeling sad again, so I’ll sign off for now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lib, for your great and sobering comment.

      The Las Vegas massacre last night was absolutely horrendous. But I’m totally pessimistic about it changing anything. If the massacre of elementary-school kids in Connecticut five years ago didn’t change anything, what better result can we expect now? The disgusting NRA’s grip on right-wing politicians is just too strong. Lots of money to be made by selling guns to everyone — including white-male terrorists. I agree about there not being any solace.

      Glad you mentioned Sherlock Holmes and “The Parent Trap” movies. I also liked both the ’60s and ’90s films. And, yes, Natasha Richardson died way too young. 😦

      Like

      • I despair of the USA coming to grips with the fact of mass killings. How did one guy get multiple guns/rifles into his room without anyone noticing? As far as I know now, no one even knows his motives. It doesn’t sound like a terrorist attack to me, and even our POTUS seems to call him an evil person. This is a sobering thought, so why do we continue to put guns into the hands of anyone, regardless of whom they seem to be? I remember going to the University of Texas years ago, and seeing the bullet holes that were still there from the tower shooting before I even transferred there. I didn’t understand when that happened and I still don’t today!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kat Lib, I guess I define a terrorist act kind of widely — if someone kills that many people, I consider him a terrorist, even if there’s no obvious ideological/political motive. (Of course, such a motive might be revealed later.) It’s also a way for me to compensate for Trump and other far-right people considering virtually every mass killing by a person of color, a Muslim, etc., an act of terrorism, while white mass murderers are almost never called terrorists — just mentally ill or weird loner types or whatever.

          It IS mind-boggling how that guy managed to get so many guns into his room without someone noticing — and how he obtained the guns in the first place. Then again, given how easy it is to buy guns in the U.S., not so mind-boggling.

          Like

          • I just watched a clip of Trump speaking after landing in Puerto Rico, and he made the case that PR had “thrown our budget out of whack,” and extolling the fact that only (!) 16 people had died as opposed to Katrina that killed thousands, as somehow what happened is PR’s fault, whose people are somewhere in his mind as lazy and ingrates. So I nominate DJT as a real-life character who is not who many of those who voted for him thought he was, or I hope that someday will realize that he is someone who is only out for himself (see his tax reform bill that mainly helps the wealthy and not the middle class or those living in poverty). I saw his Treasury Secretary (Mnuchin) state that those people will be so happy to get an extra $1,000 so they can go out and get a kitchen renovation or a new car! He is delusional if he thinks $1,000 will give anyone anything that he suggested. This from a guy who requested getting a taxpayer-funded air travel for his honeymoon and did get free travel to Ft. Knox for him and his wife to view the solar eclipse!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well said and depressingly said, Kat Lib.

              Trump is definitely “the worst person in the world,” followed closely by most members of his greedy/greedy/greedy administration. “Draining the swamp” must be the most ridiculous campaign promise ever made; the White House is now so swampy that the Oval Office should be renamed Alligator Alley.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The worst person in the world is actually everybody who behaves as if having an addled madman in charge is going to work out fine. It can’t. And it won’t.

                The system coughed up a hairball right when we needed a president. The system, therefore, failed, and failed us. System worship won’t fix it. The populace, worldwide, needs saving from the failure of our system.

                Waiting to see what happens is a smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud. The ‘smoking gun’ is a metaphor. No metaphor: the mushroom cloud.

                What is to be done?

                Liked by 1 person

              • That brings me back to TN and their Republican Senetor Bob Corker. We lived in Nashville when the gentleman ran for Senate but I voted for Harold Ford who lost the seat. Now Mr. Corker have severe dispute with that disgusting DT and have decided not the run for the seat.
                So as usual DT decided to insult him with his lies..because…

                The rumor mill says Mr. Corker has other designs like impeachment of..DT…

                Senator Bob Corker ✔@SenBobCorker
                It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.
                10:13 AM – Oct 8, 2017
                17,199 17,199 Replies 81,939 81,939 Retweets 214,980 214,980 likes

                Preet Bharara ✔@PreetBharara
                An adult day care center whose chief resident can’t count to 51… https://twitter.com/senbobcorker/status/917045348820049920
                10:23 AM – Oct 8, 2017
                272 272 Replies 3,782 3,782 Retweets 14,025 14,025 likes

                Liked by 1 person

                • bebe, that “adult day care center” quip was a classic!!!

                  Of course, Corker waited until after he decided not to run for reelection to really sock it to Trump (partly in response to Trump socking it to Corker), but Corker certainly is better than many Republicans in Washington. Which is a pretty low bar…

                  Liked by 1 person

            • You’re conflating two awful fellows: Gary Cohen and Steve Mnuchin– Cohen said that wacky bs about the thousand dollars; Mnuchin is the guy who wanted a honeymoon on the people’s dime. I like your understanding better though, as there are half as many awful fellows in it.

              Liked by 1 person

        • The second amendment was designed by the Founders because they feared 1) a standing army, having lately had to put up in their own houses English troops during the revolution 2) Indian attack 3) slave uprising.

          Thank goodness as the curve of time (over the centuries since the Constitution was written) bends ever so slightly toward justice, we have rid ourselves of 2/3 of these fears, although to be fair, there is not much genetic distinction between Mexicans and American Indians, except insofar as each had more or less to do, willingly or otherwise, with the respective newcomers who thrust themselves in their midst.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are some of your favorite fictional works (those I mentioned or didn’t mention) containing characters who fit the topic of this blog post? —

    There are many such impersonations I like, but the first handful of switcheroos that popped into my head — Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! — were those in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Double,” with Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin Sr./Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin Jr.; Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,” with Miss Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy; Homer’s “The Odyssey” (via Robert Fitzgerald), with the Trojan Horse/Greek commandos; William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth-Night: Or, What You Will,” with Viola/Cesario; and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, with Strider/Aragorn II.

    (Meanwhile: Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!)

    J.J.

    Liked by 2 people

    • J.J., you reminded me of seeing the Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde, which was terrific. The main character had one side of his body, face and hair as Jekyll, and the other as Hyde. It must have been a gruel for any actor to move from side to side, even during one song. Also, when you put “Bruce!, Bruce! Bruce!, at the end of your comment, were you trying to tell us you have tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway? If so, I’m quite jealous, as will be my girlfriend who’s coming up next Thursday. She’s a huge fan and seen many concerts through the years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy, Kat Lib!

        — J.J., you reminded me of seeing the Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde, which was terrific. —

        Although I have caught a lot of shows during my years of living down the street from the Great White Way — the “Marvin’s Room” revival most recently — I missed “Jekyll & Hyde” over the musical’s long run around the turn of the century, despite my love of its source material (i.e., Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”).

        — The main character had one side of his body, face and hair as Jekyll, and the other as Hyde. It must have been a gruel for any actor to move from side to side, even during one song. —

        Maybe so, but there appears to be no dearth of two-faced performers in the entertainment business, especially on the reality-television side, who could play the role with the greatest of ease. For example: Pomaranczowa Panda.

        — Also, when you put “Bruce!, Bruce! Bruce!, at the end of your comment, were you trying to tell us you have tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway? —

        I wish! Actually, I was alluding to the drunken lout in the audience of every one of The Boss’ concerts since time immemorial who so declaims — mainly because that was me, that was I, about 44 years ago at Fat City in Seaside Heights on the Jersey Shore. (Meanwhile, you mentioned Yoko Ono in a blog-post comment last week, which reminds me Elephant’s Memory was on the same bill. Synchronicity!)

        J.J.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, J.J., I had to look up Elephant’s Memory on-line, because I had no idea that they were associated in any way with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Very fascinating, as usual! Although I can’t comment on Pomaranczowa Panda. 🙂 My girlfriend is totally in love with Bruce, but I must admit that while I’m a huge fan, I love Patti Scialfia’s music and singing even more!

          Liked by 1 person

          • — Well, J.J., I had to look up Elephant’s Memory on-line, because I had no idea that they were associated in any way with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Very fascinating, as usual! —

            And pretty tight, too:

            — Although I can’t comment on Pomaranczowa Panda. —

            How I wish that this were true of everybody!

            — My girlfriend is totally in love with Bruce —

            Bruce and I attended the same junior college. He dropped out; I was graduated with honors. Look at us today.

            — but I must admit that while I’m a huge fan, I love Patti Scialfia’s music and singing even more! —

            Well, it took him a couple of attempts, but, hey, he got it right . . .

            Liked by 1 person

    • First of all — I love the video, J.J.! (Where can I get one of those massive harmonicas? 🙂 )

      You listed several great examples of impersonations and the like, from some pretty incredible writers! Your mention of Tolkien reminded me that there’s a female “Lord of the Rings” character who dresses as a man when going into battle. Her name escapes me at the moment…

      Like

      • — I love the video, J.J.! (Where can I get one of those massive harmonicas? —

        Bob Dylan’s Big & Tall?

        — Your mention of Tolkien reminded me that there’s a female “Lord of the Rings” character who dresses as a man when going into battle. Her name escapes me at the moment… —

        It’s Eowyn, most likely my favorite female character in the trilogy. If Strider/Aragorn II had a brain in his head, then he would have married her instead of Arwen!

        Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t know what happened but the first time I saw this video I remember seeing a large harmonica, but on re-watching it several times I now no longer see it. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the opening to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I only watch the monologue the next day as with all of the late night comedic satirists, because they are unceasing in their digs at Trump. John Batiste, the band leader for Colbert’s show is a pianist, but for the opening show music, he plays an instrument I’ve never seen before, but which Colbert calls a “face-piano” with him blowing in one end of it while playing notes on the fairly small keyboard.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Kat Lib, the giant harmonica was in the Men at Work video; maybe you were re-watching the John Lennon video? My only theory for the missing giant harmonica. 🙂

              I’ve never seen “The Late Show” opening; like you, I see Stephen Colbert in YouTube clips. That “face-piano” sounds interesting!

              Like

            • — I don’t know what happened but the first time I saw this video I remember seeing a large harmonica, but on re-watching it several times I now no longer see it. —

              Please be advised Dave’s mutant harmonica appears circa the 0:15 mark of the “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive” video.

              — [T]he band leader for [Stephen] Colbert’s show is a pianist, but for the opening show music, he plays an instrument I’ve never seen before —

              Please note a surprisingly affordable Hohner Melodica similar to the one frequently employed by Stay Human’s Jon Batiste is being marketed by Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/2xPzpyO), the same retailer offering the surprisingly affordable “Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia” authored by one Dave Astor.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Thank you very much for the book mention, J.J.! 🙂

                (If “Fascinating Facts…” were authored by two Dave Astors rather than “one Dave Astor,” there’d be another dual-identity issue…)

                Like

    • oh my…that brings me back to Mr. Jack Palance in the title role of Dr. J and Mr. H, watched the movie in PBS sometimes in the 70`s and I could not sleep for nights his transformed face chocking this woman in front of the mirror I could not forget.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Howdy, bebe!

        — oh my…that brings me back to Mr. Jack Palance in the title role of Dr. J and Mr. H, watched the movie in PBS sometimes in the 70`s and I could not sleep for nights —

        The embodiment of menace even without makeup or prostheses or special effects, Jack Palance appeared to be more impeccably cast in the 1968 television film “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” than Spencer Tracy seemed to be in the 1941 Hollywood movie “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” (But, of course, my affection for the source material is such that I like most of the cinematic productions derived therefrom.)

        J.J.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a fascinating topic, Dave. One of my favourite books is The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier. It’s about two men who look almost identical. They meet each other, quite by chance, in a hotel and one of them disappears, leaving the other to take his place. Needless to say, it’s not a straightforward transition. I love that book! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, ellem63, for mentioning “The Scapegoat” and describing it so well! Anyone would want to read it after seeing your comment. 🙂

      bebe and some other posters here have also mentioned that novel in the past, but my local library didn’t have it at the time. Will look again in a week or two!

      Du Maurier is a fascinating author; I’ve enjoyed her compelling/mysterious “My Cousin Rachel” and her spooky/haunting time-travel novel “The House on the Strand,” among her other works.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s