Readers Are Lucky When They Find Characters Who Are Plucky

Today’s topic is plucky protagonists — characters who, despite difficulties, remain mostly resilient and optimistic and good-natured until they sometimes (not always) achieve success.

My inspiration for this piece was my 11-year-old daughter Maria and her softball teammates, who had been overwhelmed this spring — losing their first four games 16-8, 22-4, 20-2, and 16-6. This is Maria’s fourth year of rec softball (she was previously on third-to-fifth-grade squads that won quite a few games), but a number of her current teammates had little or no experience with the sport. Plus they’ve been mostly playing teams from towns with much stronger softball programs.

But Maria (shown speeding to third base yesterday in the above photo) and her fellow Wildcats were still having fun, trying hard, displaying a good attitude, and not blaming each other for fielding mistakes, striking out, and so on. They were doing the best they could, and sometimes made great plays and sometimes hit the ball hard.

Then came yesterday’s fifth game of the season, which…well, I’ll wait till the end of this blog post to give you the results.

Plucky fictional characters who come to mind include those in the two novels I most recently read.

One of the books is Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, which is among the 14 seriocomic Dorothy Gilman novels starring an older woman who does freelance spy work for the CIA. Mrs. Pollifax faces obstacles because of her age, gender, lack of spy training when younger, etc. But she’s very smart, congenial, cool under pressure, usually makes good decisions, and doesn’t let mistakes get her down too much.

The other book is Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, which stars child of privilege Juan “Johnnie” Rico. He decides to enlist in a futuristic army, and fouls up several times during training and early missions, but generally maintains an excellent attitude and eventually meets with great success. A plucky guy.

Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich’s many mystery novels also finds it tough going at first as she tries to learn the ropes of bounty hunting. But she sticks to it with plenty of courage and humor.

Plucky characters are of course easy to root for, even in cases when they’re not doing totally admirable things. For instance, Heinlein’s sci-fi novel can be disturbingly militaristic.

And I should note that the term “plucky” can be seen as patronizing, but I think it’s a more positive word than that. For instance, the title character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is smart, stoic, independent, and more — but I would also praise her with the “plucky” adjective.

Penelope Keeling of Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers is plucky as well — going on with her life, with mostly an upbeat attitude, despite experiencing tragedy as a young woman and health issues in the novel’s present.

Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings deserves the “p” word, too, as does his traveling comrade Samwise Gamgee. That has something to do with their size — they’re both short-in-height hobbits — but has more to do with their bravery as they do their part to try to save Middle-earth amid friends and enemies who are usually bigger, stronger, and in some cases have special powers.

Size is also an element of pluckiness for Amy Dorrit, the titular character of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Plus she makes the best of a bad situation (her father is in debtors’ prison for a long time) — managing to earn crucial money and helping to keep the Dorrit family together.

Your favorite characters who fit this topic?

Oh, my daughter Maria’s team — in their fifth game yesterday — finally won for the first time this season, 14-11. One player hit a grand slam, and Maria got the save — coming in as a relief pitcher with the bases loaded and one out to throw out a runner at the plate and then strike out the final batter.

My 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 teachers without a new contract, a history-wrecking decision, and more — is here.

83 thoughts on “Readers Are Lucky When They Find Characters Who Are Plucky

  1. Reminds me of Bela,, in The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.

    For all of her childhood and much of her adult life, ignorant of the truth of her parentage. Bela became politically-minded, socially conscious, and fiercely independent—She is also deeply scarred by her mother’s abandonment when Bela was only 5.
    But, Bela reminds Subhash that it is he who is her true father, displaying the loyalty and gratitude she has felt toward him all along .

    Later when Gouri visited her she finally got a chance to set the woman straight and let her go away from her life whom she does not need anymore.

    She has her father Subhash.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! Bela is definitely a plucky character — she had to deal with a lot, including, as you said, her mother abandoning her, but developed into a smart and admirable adult. Her adoptive father Subhash was indeed a big help.

      The late-in-novel scene between Bela and her mother was intense and so well written.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great job Maria , and hope she had a fabulous Mother`s day together with Misty ❤
    I am sure she is a constant inspiration to all her teammates.
    Wish the adults players of today would be more like Maria, to remain positive and try harder to achieve their goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, I just wanted to say how great my visit was with my girlfriends from grade school/high school up here at my home for our latest mini-reunion. It was something special I can remember forever, or at least until our next one, hopefully in West Chester, PA, where we all went to school for at least a time. I think I told you we had a great potluck dinner Wednesday night, then a very nice brunch Thursday morning, then yesterday my friend Melrose (the artist of the group) treated me to a lovely lunch. Did you see the photos of us at the restaurant from Thursday on Facebook? Such a great group of friends, so much fun, as well as quite intelligent and creative.

    In the meantime, while being rather tired after their visit, I found a treasure trove of videos on You Tube of The Carol Burnett Show, with Harvey Korman, Vikki Lawrence and especially Tim Conway, who just died at age 85. Conway is one of the best comedians ever, maybe only after Robin Williams, and he plays off the others so well, especially Korman. They spend so much trying to crack each other up, that’s just so hilarious. My favorites are Conway’s The Oldest Man skits, as well as the Dentist skit and his Elephant Story. What a comic genius! I would be laughing so hard that Bill would come in and ask me if I was enjoying myself. Of course I was, and it was more poignant because of Conway’s recent death.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the report, Kat Lit, and so glad your reunion went well! You and your friends certainly kept busy! I just looked at the photos on Facebook after reading your comment — very nice. 🙂 It’s wonderful that you and the friends you knew in school have stayed in touch, or gotten back in touch.

      I didn’t follow Tim Conway that much during his career, but did watch the dentist skit with him and Harvey Korman a couple of days ago. Absolutely hilarious!!!

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      • Yes, I just rewatched for the first time their skit on “Went With the Wind,” which is one thing I remember as one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Starlet O’Hara (Carol) comes down the stairs at Terra to meet Ratt Butler in the drapes she made and has the curtain rods in her costume, which I’ve found hilarious through the years. When I moved in here, I had these funky green velvet curtains, and they always reminded me of those curtain rod curtains. I’d laugh everytime I worked into my bedroom!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pluckiest of the plucksters are liable to be the mostly interchangeable main characters in Horatio Alger books, who rise through thrift and industry and good character to higher social position, often by being recognized for their applied virtues by wealthy employers, and occasionally, by the daughters of such employers, who themselves are lovely in every way.

    Somewhere around this ramshackle Aladdin’s cave of what-nots I call my apartment is a very very cheap production of an Alger novel, put out in the late 1890’s in pasteboard covers. I’d imagine such an edition was the form in which these stories were read by the generations susceptible to their themes and scenes.

    Nathaniel West in “A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin” (1934) provided a dark, even sick take on the works and messages of Alger and his ilk, which in its best moments cause moral degenerates such as myself to laugh out loud, if cynically. The title is more or less literal; by book’s end, Pitkin is dead, yet still in harness posthumously to the uses of political operatives and other scoundrels. If, as a reader, you are on the lookout for sunny and constant optimism, run like hell.

    Nathaniel West is mostly, and justly famous for his novels “Day of the Locusts” and “Miss Lonelyhearts”, and both are well worth searching out. But the savage humor in “A Cool Million” touched my young heart when I read it, already an old soul in my twenties, and it remains my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! I’ve never read any of the Horatio Alger stories, but I’ve certainly heard of them. They do seem to deserve your funny description of having characters who are the “pluckiest of the plucksters.” 🙂 Nice that you have an 1890s edition!!!

      “A Cool Million: The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin” sounds depressingly fascinating. (I read “Day of the Locusts” and “Miss Lonelyhearts,” and found them compelling for the way they were written and their dim view of humanity.)

      Like

  5. Hooray! Hurrah! Maria greater wins are in store. Plucky characters are a gem. They have a bunch of beautiful surprises, a good to have in any book.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane Eyre was rife with pluck, I’d say, even to the point of overabundance where learning language was concerned. On the other hand, I suppose one never knows when a familiarity with Hindustani will come in handy, but it’s a safe bet it won’t be in Thornfield Hall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I guess St. John Rivers was persuasive — to a point. Plucky of Jane to finally resist a missionary life she didn’t want, with a man she admired (to an extent) but didn’t love.

      Like

  7. Softball!

    In my waning years, as I try to winkle out whatever impressive there might be in what’s left of the ole personal history, I recall a game in Central Park where I, as pitcher (slow-pitch), managed to keep Michael Keaton from reaching first base over 3 at-bats. Turns out the actor was a pal of a guy in our makeshift league…

    On a more serious note:

    Congratulations to your daughter and her team!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your castaways, such as Robinson Crusoe or members of the Swiss Family Robinson, must rise to the top swimmingly of those one might consider plucky in literature. Although it must be said that Friday, having entered into a sort of genial servitude, made the living easy, or easier at least, after some years for Mr. Crusoe, who no longer had to hold up his end of the parasol. And it must also be said that the dimensions of the storage holds in the wrecked ship the Robinsons came in on resemble those of the spacially fungible Tardis. By the time that thing finally foundered and was lost beneath, the Robinsons had extracted from it nearly everything they could have dreamed of, much less required.

    More recently, Gabriel G. Marquez wrote “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, which concerns a member of the Colombian Navy washed overboard in an attempt to lash down kitchen appliances, destined, illegally for elites in his home country. Plucky to the enth degree, he ate raw fish he caught in his fingers and drank rain water caught in the fold of his makeshift sail until he washed ashore 10 days later, having landed unknowingly, in Colombia!

    The sailor was one of several who had been swept overboard, but he was the only one to make it out alive, and onto a raft flung after them. The incident is hardly fiction, based on interviews Marquez, while working as a reporter, did with the sailor, who, until he told the truth of his fall into the sea, had been hailed as a hero by the government. Both sailor and reporter suffered the Colombian government’s unhappiness following publication. Marquez turned his genius to matters more strictly fictional afterwards, and eventually made it to the Nobel Prize safe and dry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY, for the interesting and cleverly written comment! Totally agree that castaways make for a group of very plucky characters — by nature and/or necessity. The protagonist in Andy Weir’s “The Martian” would also fit this category, albeit stranded alone on Mars rather than on a remote island on Earth.

      Fascinating story behind “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”! Yes, the more fictional the work, the safer it usually is for the author.

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      • Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the general who ruled Colombia when the incident of the shipwrecked sailor occurred, sponsored the brutal suppression of a student protest in Bogota I happened to be caught in– twixt soldiers and students– before I was plucked up and whisked away at the tender age of nearly 3 by my mother, who ran us most of the way home. I remember being most concerned that, in the heat of the moment, popcorn was repeatedly jostled out of my bag.

        Later that day, one of the protesting students, and a friend of the family, came to stay overnight in our apartment, fearful he might be arrested if he attempted to get to his rooms at the university. He slept under our dining room table.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Molly, for the congratulations!

      And Stephanie Plum’s grandmother is a great addition to this discussion. She’s SUCH a fun, gutsy, quirky, eccentric character! With an affinity for attending funeral services… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Dave,

    This topic perfectly fits the book I’m currently reading, as well as one I recently finished.

    Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is about plucky 15-year old Christopher who suffers from Asperger’s. The book opens with the Incident, and plucky Christopher is determined to solve the mystery, despite being constantly overwhelmed by everything around him. I found it to be a remarkable book, because while Christopher is solving the dog incident, he stumbles on a lot of other things that he doesn’t really understand, however Haddon makes it very clear to the reader that there is tragedy happening, even though it’s a first person book and always in Christopher’s voice. Oh, my heart broke for that boy.

    I’m also about three quarters of the way through “Boy Swallows Universe”, the debut novel by Trent Dalton. I’m LOVING it. Another teenage boy, more overwhelming situations that a child just shouldn’t have to deal with, but plucky Eli is determined to solve some mysteries, and keep his family safe. It has touches of magical realism in it, which I wasn’t expecting, but I think it’s really enhancing the story which I’m completely engrossed in and can’t wait to find out what happens next…

    Much like your teaser about your daughter’s game. Surely I’m not the only person who had to jump to the bottom of the page to make sure she won? Congrats to Maria and her team. Sounds like a very deserved win!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue, for those two excellent and well-described examples of plucky characters! Being young can certainly be an important element of pluckiness, as can being young AND dealing with major challenges — such as having Asperger’s, being in danger, and so on.

      Thanks, also, for your paragraph about Maria! Teasers can be fun. 🙂 Unfortunately, no games since Saturday — rainout Monday and the coach couldn’t make it last night. Tomorrow night…

      Like

  10. Kya,the main character in an engrossing,beautiful novel I just finished yesterday called, “Where The Crawdads Sing.” She is left to her own devices at a young age,living off Outer Banks pristine marshland in North Carolina. She is isolated,yet extremely resilient and smart. She finds ways to sustain herself through the flora, fauna,birds,seashells and her imagination. She must find ways of barter for food, learning how to navigate inlets,sandbars,so much trial and error. This book, Dave,is one of the best I have ever read, I recommend it to the highest degree to you and those who read your blogs. You will get lost in Kya’s world world and won’t want to be found.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Way to go, Maria! That’s just fantastic, and I love how positive her team is with each other, that is awesome. I know this person is not fictional, but I must say Maria Von Trapp seems quite plucky in both her fictional portrayal in the Sound of Music, and in her own words via her memoir that I recently read! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B., for the kind words about Maria and her team!

      I haven’t read the memoir, but did see “The Sound of Music” movie, and Maria von Trapp indeed appeared to be quite plucky. It helps to be played by Julie Andrews. 🙂

      I remember your great blog post about the von Trapp family!

      Liked by 1 person

          • I read on some blog post that Christopher Plummer didn’t like Julie Andrews at all, which not sure if it’s true but made me rather sad. Which also led me to think about other on-line stuff that I read but have no idea if it’s true (and does it matter at all anyway?).

            Speaking of celebrities, I was very sad to hear about the deaths this weekend of both Peggy Lipton and especially Doris Day, who I loved not just for her film/TV/singing career, but her work with animal foundations.

            Liked by 1 person

              • Kat Lit, I would also consider Doris Day “plucky” in many of her screen roles. Of course, from everything I’ve read, she was a more complicated and impressive person in real life — but that’s Hollywood. I also loved that she was such a friend of and advocate for dogs.

                Also sad about Peggy Lipton’s death at a not super old age (72).

                Yes, who knows what’s true in terms of actors and actresses who reportedly didn’t/don’t like each other. Interesting in a way, but who cares in a way. My heroines and heroes are people like public-school teachers.

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                • I do agree with you, Dave. Today’s the day my girlfriends from grade school and beyond are set to arrive. I’m bummed that my best friend had to bail out because her hot water heater bailed out on her! Anyway, we often talk about teachers we had many years ago, whether negatively (not often) or positively (quite often). I can say this as someone who was almost always teacher’s pet — is that still a phrase today? Part of that had to do with that was that some of them had my older sisters and brothers in their classes previously, and my family was nothing but quite well-behaved, and dare I say, smart?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Exciting that your reunion is finally happening, Kat Lit! But sorry your best friend will miss it. 😦 Water heater problems are no fun; that happened in my mother’s condo last summer after her death, and what a disaster it was — flooding, etc.

                    Most of the public school teachers my daughters have had were/are wonderful. I admire people so much who go into that profession — it’s hard work, with not enough pay, and many conservatives (such as Trump’s despicable Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) demonizing them for no good reason.

                    No surprise that teachers love smart, well-behaved students. 🙂

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                    • I had a fabulous night with my girlfriends last night, and I would consider them all as plucky characters as well. Most of them graduated at the first or so of their classes, another one is a very impressive artist, and another was recruited out of high school into the CIA or FBI. There are also quite funny and we laughed a lot! We got a call from my best friend and put her on speakerphone so she was able to join us for a short while as well. I love these girls and we’re going to meet for brunch this morning before they all head back! Melrose, my artistic soul, will hang about around a little bit longer, which will be nice!

                      Liked by 1 person

                • From what I’ve picked up over the years, Doris Day was more or less a natural performer, having little training to augment what she appears to have been born with. She’s really one of the best pop vocalists ever, at least to my ear– to say nothing of her acting and dancing, both of which were first-rate.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • From what I’ve also read/seen/heard, I agree with you, jhNY. A LOT of varied talent in one person. And she also had the “talent” of being a real friend of animals.

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  12. Hooray for Maria and her team!
    Another very enjoyable post, Dave. It seems to be a popular theme for children’s books and fairy tales. I was thinking of Roald Dahl’s Mathilda and Harry Potter, of course!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dave we lived in Ovetrland Park , KS for 30 years, and K.C. Royals were great during the leadership of Dick Howse guiding them to the franchise’s first World Series title in 1985 . They even won with George Brett and Dan Quisenberry
    Yes they could use maria now, also I think KS is turning a bit blue .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bebe! I remember that year when the Royals finally broke through after some close playoff series losses to the Yankees in previous seasons. Yes, George Brett and Dan Quisenberry waited a long time before winning a World Series. And Dick Howser was a great manager (after being a “plucky” ballplayer) who died too young.

      Any red state turning blue or at least purple is fine with me. (Even as the Republican Party works harder to suppress Democratic votes in those states. 😦 )

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Way to go, Maria!

    I think one of my favorite plucky heroines has to be LM Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, and then her daughter Rilla. Both of them overcome setbacks and heartbreak and keep going—and laughing—even when things are very bleak.

    And Laura Ingalls Wilder isn’t a fictional character, but she’s still incredibly plucky!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Elena! I can’t believe I forgot to mention Anne Shirley! “Plucky” is almost her middle name, along with resilient, brainy, admirable, etc. Rilla is also a character who’s easy to root for — “Rilla of Ingleside” is one of my favorite “Anne of Green Gables” sequels.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Good for Maria for sticking with something even when they are not winning, but glad they finally won a game, especially since she did a lot to “save” it. My friend Bill had a saying back when I used to work for him years ago –DIWONAA — Do It Well Or Not At All, meaning you didn’t have to be perfect or the best or always win, but to try as best you can.

    As far as plucky I’d have to name Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride & Prejudice” who was able to stand up to Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (I think I spelled that right). Even her own father was doubtful about her marrying Darcy, but she knew what she wanted and stuck with that. The triplets in “Three Wishes” by Liane Moriarity are each plucky in their own rights. I’m sure there are many more I can come up with, but I’ll sign out for now!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for mentioning Mrs. Polifax again. I still remember her standing on her balcony and thinking about jumping off, when she decides to be a CIA agent, and what an intelligent and resourceful one she became!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Kat Lit! And very good advice from Bill!

        I was starting to think Maria’s team was like the 1962 New York Mets — often considered the worst team in Major League history, but lovable. 🙂

        Mrs. Pollifax IS such a great character, and you’re absolutely right about her being intelligent and resourceful — as well as fun.

        And I totally agree that Elizabeth Bennet of “Pride and Prejudice” is plucky, among her various other positive qualities. Glad you mentioned her!

        Like

        • Sorry that I keep misspelling Mrs. Pollifax’s name. I hate when I do that! But she got me through a very tough time 30 years ago (medically) and I’ll always love her for that.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill! The Royals definitely have a payroll disadvantage, whereas in Maria’s league all the players are paid the same — zero. 🙂

      And I totally agree about Huck Finn — heck, his first (nick)name even rhymes with pluck!

      “I’d vote for him once or twain” — ha. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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