I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my grade 10 classes right now and I’ve overheard and read some pretty great conversations these teens have had about the characters who show up in Maycomb. They are curious about Dolphus Raymond. Who is Mr. Avery? Why is Miss Maudie so nice? What gives Miss Stephanie Crawford the authority to hit her students? I love these conversations. Yes, Jem, Scout, Tom Robinson, Atticus, Mrs. Dubose, and Calpurnia are essential to the story, but what about those characters who intrigue us and make us wonder. What is their story?
I am on the waiting list at the library for Longbourn by Jo Baker, the book about the servants in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There is something to be said about reading a story and for some reason, getting stuck and fixated on one of the minor characters.
Over the years, I have wondered about the stories behind some of these minor characters and wished that they had appeared more or had a say. Here are a list of some interesting B-list characters.
1.) Uncle Jack, To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee).
Uncle Jack gets schooled on how to parent by Scout. Uncle Jack is such an interesting character. He is obviously a favourite of Scout and Jem, yet what is his story? Why is he still single? Is he seeing anyone? Clearly he wants a family of his own. I like that he was the sibling smart enough to move away from the negative vortex that is Maycomb. Uncle Jack moves to the big city and makes it as a doctor. Unlike Atticus, he knew he needed to move away from the hate and the stubborn traditions of Maycomb. I love when he comes to visit and I wish that he had stayed longer. I’m sure that Scout and Jem and even Atticus felt the exact same way!
2.) Colonel Fitzwilliam, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen).
In the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, I always swoon when Fitzwilliam is in the house. What a great guy! Intelligent, witty, sarcastic, attentive, caring, honest, and handsome. Who ends up with Fitzwilliam? He deserves an amazing woman for having to put up with Lady de Bourgh’s antics.
3.) Professor McGonagall, Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling).
It’s been a few years since I read this series, but I remember Professor McGonagall being my favourite character. Well, her and Sirus Black. Professor McGonagall was fair yet strict. You knew her boundaries, and you also knew you could count on her if you were in a tough situation. She was compassionate and believed in justice. Yet I can’t help but wonder, what is her story? Where did she grow up? How did she become a professor? What lead her to stay at Hogwarts? So many questions. I’ll have to go back and reread the series again because the movies do not do her justice!
4.) Bard, The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien).
While reading The Hobbit with my gr 7 class, they were enraged that a seeming no-name was the one to kill Smaug. After Bilbo’s amazing adventure and transformation, they felt cheated that Bard was the one to save the day. Who is this Bard character and where did he come from? What was Tolkein’s inspiration and how did Bard fit into the world of The Lord of the Rings?
5.) Sandy, The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton).
Oh Sandy. She broke the heart-breaker’s heart. Soda and Sandy. While Ponyboy is dealing with some heavy things, Soda is having relationship issues with Sandy. He writes her letters. He wants to marry her. Yes, she is pregnant with someone else’s baby, but Soda’s love is true. Ahhh. But what is Sandy’s story? Who are her parents? How does she interact with the boys? What happened to her and her baby?
6.) Donalbain, Macbeth (William Shakespeare).
Off to Ireland will I. But, what happens in Ireland? At the beginning of Macbeth the Irish are attacking Scotland, so how does Donalbain fair on the Emerald Isle? Is he hanging out with Fleance? Does he come back once his brother is King? What role does he take on? Why is he even included??
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6)
“Respect your characters, even the minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story; it is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s.” (Sarah Waters)