Congruity of Minor Characters

8-17-10 Wakeboarding on Lake Coeur d'Alene, ID 017This is from The Hunger Games, by Collins:

“What use is that? How many times have you seen someone wrestle someone to death?” says Peeta in disgust.

“There’s always hand-to-hand combat. All you need is to come up with a knife, and you’ll at least stand a chance. If I get jumped, I’m dead!” I can hear my voice rising in anger.

“But you won’t! You’ll be living up in some tree eating raw squirrels and picking off people with arrows. You know what my mother said to me when she came to say good-bye, as if to cheer me up, she says maybe District Twelve will finally have a winner. Then I realized, she didn’t mean me, she meant you!” bursts out Peeta.

“Oh, she meant you,” I say with a wave of dismissal.

“She said, ‘She’s a survivor, that one.’ She is,” says Peeta.

That pulls me up short. Did his mother really say that about me? Did she rate me over her son? I see the pain in Peeta’s eyes and know he isn’t lying.

The first time I read this I didn’t believe it. I projected my own experience upon the story and couldn’t see how a mother would send her son off to certain death and leave him with the cold assessment that he would die for sure, but there was a chance for Katniss to survive.

Then I thought about it from my own mother-pampered context again, and  found a way to make some sense out of it, maybe. I thought that his mom probably knew of his one-sided love for Katniss, and knew the nature of real love, and knew that it would bring him comfort to know that the one he loved had a chance. That sort of worked. I can maybe fit that into the context of all the loving mothers I’ve witnessed in my life.  But then…

Then I remembered how cold his mother had treated him in the brief passages that mentioned her. She hit little Peeta brutally in the head when he burned a loaf of bread (that he gave to Katniss and thus saved her family from starving). A few other little passages had her sounding like a hateful sociopath type. For instance she was heartless toward Katniss as a little girl looking into their trashcan for food.

After taking time to recall the careful foreshadowing of Peeta’s mother’s character, I finally read this part (for the umpteenth time) and made perfect sense of it. This is what went through my head…

First I’m reading Katniss inner dialogue:

I see the pain in Peeta’s eyes and know he isn’t lying.

Then I literally added my own inner dialogue: “And I know he’s not lying because of the character of his mother.”

It was an epiphany for me, but like I say, I’m not a very good reader. You probably got it the first time you read it.

OK, I need to get back to writing my own story now. I always (try to) read a bit of a popular novel before I begin writing. And often there’s an “aha” deal that hits me. Like this one that has postponed my writing for about an hour now.

For a character to say something unbelievably cruel at an important moment, you have to make it believable by putting some almost-unbelievable cruelty into the character before you get there.

I guess that’s common sense, but hey. If common sense were actually common, you wouldn’t be quite so unique.

M. Talmage Moorehead

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