In Marx Brothers movies, we have the talkative Groucho and Chico and the mute Harpo. “So it goes” with novels — there are some loquacious characters as well those who say little or nothing, though of course most are somewhere in between on the speaking scale.
When I think of chatty characters, the first one who comes to mind is the young Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Her long, brainy, funny, descriptive, free-associative monologues are very endearing and memorable. Interestingly, Anne becomes less talkative as she grows older in that novel and in the various sequels; part of the reason is that she gains some confidence and is less insecure.
Also quite talkative is another young protagonist, Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, though I would not call him endearing. Rather annoying, actually.
Some of literature’s loquacious adult characters?
In Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, there’s the rarely-stops-talking Mrs. Nickleby — a well-meaning but silly person said to be partly based on the author’s mother. Also, Theo’s charismatic/kind-of-dangerous friend Boris in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the loyal/admirable Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the “religious” titular character in Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry (con men are usually big talkers). Many others, too.
Quieter characters? Among them are Matthew Cuthbert of the aforementioned Anne of Green Gables (making for quite a contrast between him and adopted daughter Anne) and the titular orphan character of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (though the oft-beleaguered Jane can definitely say her piece at times, showing that shy characters are not always shy). Also, the gentle Beth March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the reclusive Boo Radley of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the at first socially awkward Ireland-to-U.S. immigrant Eilis Lacey of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, to name just a few more.
Then there are characters who are nearly or completely mute, usually after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. For instance, the boy Ricky in John Grisham’s The Client becomes catatonic after seeing a suicide, and the boy Bernardo in Isabel Allende’s Zorro stops talking after witnessing his mother’s rape and murder. Also, in Maya Angelou’s novel-like autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she becomes mostly mute after being raped as a girl. Those kinds of characters clearly draw our sympathy for what they’ve been through.
Your favorite talkative or not-talkative people in fiction?
Here’s a clip with Groucho, Chico, and Harpo from the 1932 movie Horse Feathers. (A screen shot I took from the clip is above this blog post.)
I’ll be skipping a post next Sunday, November 24. Back on December 1!
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
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