My daughter Maria pitching a no-hitter on April 11. (Photo by my wife, Laurel Cummins.)
As is the case with people in real life, a fictional character often experiences intense happiness and deep sadness in one novel — or even in just a few pages of one novel. Certainly no surprise there — life always has its peaks and valleys — but the roller-coaster ride can make for interesting reading as the character’s emotions, and readers’ emotions, get whipsawed.
An admittedly rather trivial real-life example of the above is my teen daughter Maria’s recent softball experience, which went from a losing-filled Spring 2021 travel season to a so-far-undefeated Spring 2022 high school season that included her pitching a no-hitter last week.
Examples in fiction? A countless number; I’ll discuss a few that came to mind.
One is the Joad family’s experiences in California after having to leave their Oklahoma farm in The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck’s characters mostly fared miserably on the West Coast, but there was that brief positive interlude of them making some decent money and living in a humane government camp.
Also in California, the title character in Jack London’s Martin Eden goes through lengthy lows as a struggling writer, followed by the brief highs of publishing success, and then…
Love affairs — whether in or out of marriage — can be euphoric, yet the joy might not last as things gradually or quickly go south. The title of Erich Maria Remarque’s wartime romance A Time to Love and a Time to Die telegraphs that, and there are also various ups and downs for the relationships in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Emile Zola’s The Beast in Man, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and numerous other novels.
Silas Marner? Life is mostly good for George Eliot’s protagonist before a grave betrayal sends him into solitude and depression. After which…
In Morgan’s Run by Colleen McCullough, things are also going well for 18th-century Englishman Richard Morgan before he’s unjustly imprisoned and shipped to a penal colony to Australia, where he faces daunting hardships while managing to carve out some contentment.
Preteens and teens can certainly have major swings of happiness and sadness. Think orphan Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables — who, in addition to experiencing major life events such as finding a home — navigates the tricky situations of friendship, school, and more faced by most young people. Or the title character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, who engages in some enjoyable kid hi-jinks while also facing a scary situation later in Mark Twain’s novel.
Any examples you’d like to offer that fit this theme?
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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about a problematic approach to potential overdevelopment near one of my town’s six train stations — is here.