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Slocums

Ville Kokko

Posted on March 31, 2019 16:40

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I want to coin a term for a type of character in fiction, though I'm not quite sure what I think about them.

I want to introduce a term I've devised in my head for a kind of character in fiction. A slocum is a character – maybe I should say protagonist – who doesn't meaningfully care about anything and achieves nothing. They lack any real drive or higher principles, and during the course of the story, they go from nowhere to nowhere much. They may have strong feelings about some things, but those things are trivial, and thus, the feelings pretty meaningless.

The concept is named after Bob Slocum from the misleadingly named novel Something Happened by Joseph Heller. This original Slocum drifts around in his life doing meaningless and often objectionable things, never happy with anything but never really doing anything about anything. He's afraid of just about everything, but since it's everything, nothing really stands out.

I was also somewhat tempted to name the concept after Mersault from Albert Camus' L'Estranger. However, "slocum" sounds just perfect for this purpose. (Apologies to anyone who happens to be called that.)

Mersault is shown as someone who doesn't really care about much of anything. His arc goes from behaving inappropriately indifferently at his mother's funeral to shooting someone for not much of any reason.

David Lurie in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee is a college professor who doesn't get around to much besides questionable, meaningless affairs with women. He's identified with Byron's Lucifer, who doesn't care about good or evil, just follows his impulses. He may get some kind of development by the end, but I found it hard to get a grip on it.

Jane Gray in The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble is a case I'm not so sure about. Back when I read it, I thought of her as being a complete slocum. She gets powerfully anxious over little things, is extremely ineffectual, and has nothing going on but an affair that's allegedly very important to her but seemed meaningless and devoid of content to me as a reader.

However, I've wondered afterwards whether Gray isn't simply a portrait of a person suffering from anxiety and depression.

In One Hundreds Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the story follows the generations of a family who have strong slocum tendencies as a whole. The family's tragedy is supposed to be that they are unable to love. I think the real tragedy is that the relationship of the final couple who are supposed to be in real love comes across as just as meaningless as everything before it.

I'm not sure what I think about this trope, and I wouldn't have space to say it anyway if I did know. I'll just say that what literary fiction I've read has leaned uncomfortably towards it, even when not going all the way, far too often for my tastes. There's nothing wrong with slocums done intentionally, but if a protagonist ends up like that accidentally, you're in for an extremely dreary read.

Ville Kokko

Posted on March 31, 2019 16:40

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Source: HuffPost

Required-reading lists have been under fire recently , with the Common Core diminishing classroom emphasis on literature...

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