The Humanity of the Protagonist - Why People Relate to the "Common Man"
When crafting a story, many authors create protagonists that their readers can identify with. For this reason, main characters are often flawed: they may be strong and honest, but they also endure hardships and suffering. Characters like Manuel O'Kelly, Samuel Vimes, and Guy Montag epitomize the fallible protagonist because they are ordinary men with greatness thrust upon them.
In Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Manuel O'Kelly Davis writes from the perspective of an ordinary man swept up into extraordinary events. Mannie is no "no lost-cause martyr" (Heinlein 80), but joins the revolution against Terra because the Loonies have a 1 in 7 chance of succeeding. His reasoning is simple - most Loonies have no sense of patriotism, but they can't resist a good bet. Unlike Professor De La Paz and Wyoming Knott, who are firebrand activists, Mannie is quiet and resourceful. It's easy to like humble Mannie who says that he "was not gung-ho computerman" and that higher maths are beyond [him]" (Heinlein 14) despite his work with advanced machinery like Mike. He is simple and honest to a fault - indeed there are times in Heinlein's novel where Mannie is taken advantage of by Professor De La Paz to advance some hidden agenda. When Luna's revolution succeeds, Mannie becomes "Minister of Defense," but he doesn't relish the title. Mannie is not a power-hungry individual, so when Stu suggests that he become "His Royal Highness Prince Manuel de la Paz, Duke of Luna City, Admiral General of the Armed Forces and Protector of the Weak," (Heinlein 304) Mannie is revolted. Mannie's honesty is genuine and sincere, and it resonates with Heinlein's readers.
The troubles of Samuel Vimes in Terry Pratchett's Jingo, are easy to empathize with. Vimes, the Commander of the Watch, is often overwhelmed with the hardships of his job. He is disorganized - his desk is overrun by piles of paperwork that forms a "dense compacted layer that was now turning into something like peat" (Pratchett 62), and he doesn't know how to use his demonic organizer. Despite his important position, Vimes prefers catching criminals to "eating very small sandwiches and making even smaller talk" (Pratchett 68) with politicians and other important figures. Because of this, he is often at odds with Ankh-Morpork's ruling authorities, as well as Sybil, his wife. Yet Vimes' devotion to his job despite its difficulty makes him more human - literally - than some of the other characters in Pratchett's work. While characters like Detritus and Shoe poke fun at the myriad number of races in Fantasy novels, they don't possess the depth of character that Vimes does. Even human characters like Colon and Nobby come across as caricatures with their simple minds rather than characters with intriguing personalities. As a leader, Vimes must make choices that could affect the fate of Ankh-Morpork. Readers appreciate Vimes' decision to chase after Angua, while risking war with Klatch. Pratchett's use of an alternate Vimes making a different decision provides a "what could have been" moment for the reader, who understands that Vimes has to stick with his choice until the end. Despite his cynicism, the world-weary Vimes is easy to relate to, and his presence adds a dimension of seriousness to Pratchett's otherwise humorous novel.
In the film version of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag's struggle to find the truth is familiar to the audience. When Montag first appears onscreen, he handles the flamethrower adeptly, making sure that the books are charred beyond recognition. Montag proudly states that, "We burn them to ashes and then burn the ashes. That's our official motto." Despite his grim profession, one can appreciate Montag's dedication to his work, and understand Montag's joy when he learns he is to be promoted. Montag considers his job "just like any other." He explains to Clarisse that it is "good work with lots of variety." But Montag becomes conflicted when he becomes curious about what the content of the books he burns. He breaks protocol by reading one of the forbidden books, and damns himself as a criminal. But Montag soon realizes that books are not evil like the fire chief says. Montag explains that he reads the books because "Behind each of these books, there's a man. That's what interests me." By reading, Montag discovers the truth - that people are not supposed to be mindless zombies like his wife, Linda. People are emotional, and the books bring about these suppressed emotions. Montag's discovery changes his view about the world and encourages the audience to always look past the surface for a deeper truth.
The "common man" is also the common protagonist. It is easier to relate to characters that have depth and substance rather than those with extravagant powers. Mannie O'Kelly Davis, Samuel Vimes, and Guy Montag, must all struggle against some greater force - but their actions result in a greatness that none of them knew existed within them. Most authors use the common man as the protagonist because they understand a fundamental truth - when ordinary people are thrust into life-changing situations, they rise to the occasion.
844 words, 3 pages