Supporting Sinners: Rooting for Flawed Protagonist

It has come to my attention that throughout our readings, we often find ourselves supporting characters that harbor a dark past or some egregious flaw. Be it Frank Money and his quest to find his sister or Elias Doyle and the struggle to maintain his increasingly tenuous humanity, readers find themselves sympathetic for men who have done terrible things. Franks crime is hidden from readers until the end of the novel where he finally admits, almost to himself, “I shot the Korean girls in the face. I am the one she touched. I am the one who saw her smile. I am the one she said “Yum-yum” to. I am the one she aroused.” (Morrison, 133) Despite this revelation, Many readers like myself find it hard to condemn a man who, having suffered so much both at home and abroad, just wants to put the past behind him and find his sister, the one woman he could never abandon. Likewise, Elias, known as Eli to most, admits to infecting innocence with a deadly disease only leads to two outcomes: painful death or a dangerous half-life where superhuman attributes are gained at the desire to infect others and reproduce, willing or otherwise. In essence, this disease makes rapist and monsters out of mankind; a fate of death would be preferable. Even so, Eli is am object of pity for readers for despite his evil actions; he is being compelled by forces outside of his control. He cannot physically refrain from touching other people for long, let alone muster the willpower to end his own life.  He struggles to limit himself and his “family” by only infecting a few at a time to satisfy the urge instead of ending the human race as they know it. One of his partners, Medea, says as much while talking with the newly-infected physician, Blake Maslin: “He helps us hold on even if all were holding on to is an illusion. Take away that illusion and what’s left is something you wouldn’t want to deal with.” (Butler,497)

As I look up from our readings and see the world around me, I can see the same trend: the support and often admiration for flawed, imperfect people. Of course, this has been and always will be our reality. As long as human beings are flawed (and we all are) we will always admired people who, like us, are imperfect. This will only continue to occur as the definition of what constitutes ethical behavior changes. If men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were alive today and advocated for a return to slavery and the abolishment of women’s right to vote, they would be made pariahs in modern society. These men were a product of their time and helped lay the foundation for the country we call home. Their faults, though many, are accepted as anachronistic behavior systemic of their era, entitling them to forgiveness now. However, in the here and now I can see the glorification of perverse individuals. The election of our buffoonish president serves as one such example, as one doesn’t have to look far in America to see a cult of personality forming around him. Reality TV shows exist solely for the point of glorifying bad behavior and the rise of men like Hugh Hefner lends further credibility to my argument.

Like the men in our readings, however, more complicated examples of moral ambiguity exist. Chris Kyle, the author and titular character of the book American Sniper, generated controversy both before and after his death. Some looked upon him as a hero who served his country well, saved the lives of his fellow soldiers, and endured PTSD with grace all the way to the end. Others look upon him as a violent man who tried to cash in on a story that served to encourage an all too familiar sense of Jingoism in a country with a history of intervening in foreign affairs through the barrel of a gun. Chief Petty Officer Kyle serves as a real world example of complicated individuals who is singularly praised and condemned by those who, as Chimamanda Adichie warns us, have fallen prey to a single story. I believe we must avoid that same temptation when reading about the imperfect protagonist in our novels, lest we make them into two-dimensional characters lacking in human complexity. For those readers interested about my feelings on Chris Kyle, I’ll end with this. He was man who had suffered much on behalf of a cause he was willing to risk his life for and in doing so saved many American lives. Although I may not agree with everything he has said, I lack the strength, skill, or courage to stand in his position and as such will not judge him. I only wish for his family to be well and for his soul to find the peace in the next life it never had on earth.

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