I Have a Theory and I Want to Know Yours!

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I miss reading modern books.  I must admit, I was upset over the Editorial assignment for this class because I haven't read anything newer than Paradise Lost all semester.  I used to read for fun all the time, but now I am basically only reading to keep up with classes. I don't feel up to par in the modern literature world or how authors are doing things differently than they did in the past.  

The Quick and the Dead was out of the ordinary for me because Williams brought in so many characters that sometimes only scarcely crossed each other's paths in order to make a point on the theme of death.  I took a special interest in Ray's character because I felt like he would have a bigger role in the book and would eventually become one of the main characters.  I just assumed that every character who was given more than a chapter would play a major role in the outcome of the story.  Well, Ray wasn't exactly a main character.  He was short lived --literally.  The girls killed him by tying him up in the desert to teach him a lesson about..actually, I don't think they even knew why they tied him up.  I felt like Ray's character could have played a much larger role in the story, but I suppose Williams felt that he served his purpose.  

I feel the same way about Benny, the hotel owner.  I took a special interest in Benny because my family owns a small 1940s motel on the lincoln highway.  It hasn't always been the most successful business, so I can certainly understand exactly what Benny is describing, 

"Benny and Josie had spent the better part of a month getting their humble in up to muster.  They repainted the rooms and defrosted the workhorse half-fridges, opened up a case of sanitized glasses and deposited vials of miracle shampoo-conditioner on the shower ledges.  It was time of woe for mildew.  He and Josie laid new carpet, they went down on their knees and into the silverfish" (32).

I especially enjoyed the section about Josie making up ghosts and adding a little extra in order to call rooms honeymoon suits.  Benny and Josie may as well be Bobby and Debbie, my parents.  They work hard, but hotels are a difficult small business to run.  Every single grain of sand that haphazardly gets rubbed into the carpet by guests rubs me the wrong way because I know that I'll be the one cleaning it up.  I have waited in the office for reservations, hoping they'll show because dad just bought new heaters for the rooms or laid down new carpet.  Hunting season and Fall Foliage Festival are the only two weekends that the Lincoln Motor Court are guaranteed to be booked solid.

I have a theory that newer authors are filling in the "scenery" sections with side characters.  Modern readers get frustrated with too much setting.  Twenty pages describing the West Virginian countryside just won't keep most readers hooked like it did before cable TV.  People and emotions are more interesting.  Instead of describing the remote, privately owned hotel, Whitehead described the owners, particularly Benny. The information interests the readers more than a vivid description of J checking in at the front desk, and it introduces the reader to a local's perspective of the John Henry Days.

Is this a trend?  Are more authors adding character to their books who barely play a role because their personalities can basically be in place of scenery?  Benny's life reveals that the hotel is small, the locals are friendly but economically unsuccessful, and the town basically died after the railroad work was over.  The only thing the town clings to is it's history.

If anyone has an opinion on this theory, please comment!  Maybe you have read more modern authors than I have and you've noticed a trend?  Perhaps the "Ray and Benny" chapters are just fillers?  Scenery?  Some kind of literary technique of which I'm unaware?

In case you're interested in visiting the real John Henry Festival --



That's really interesting! I think you have a very valid point here. The minor characters in modern books really do seem to be serving the role of setting rather than character. Benny is the motel, he's not the owner. It is a part of him and he and his wife seem to take care of it as if it is one of them.

It's like a conceit of some kind. Benny is the motel, and the motel is Benny. Whitehead keeps this going for a while. Excellent observation!

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