Friday, October 14, 2016

Is a writer responsible for their characters actions?

I read J.M Coeztee's book "Disgrace" this semester for university. It's about racism in South Africa. Its main character is David Lurie, an old entitled white man who was once distinguished and powerful, but is now just a second rate lecturer at a university that is a shadow of its former glorious self. Lurie is old fashioned and very unlikable. He is a racist but doesn't come out and admit it. He is a product of the era that he was raised in. I've met a lot of people like Lurie. Older people mostly who make comments about immigrants and how things were so much better when they were younger and how much they dislike the way things are now. I've been doing some reading about Disgrace because I have to write an essay about it. Apparently the book caused a bit of a stir in South Africa with a lot of people calling it racist and the author racist and wanting it banned. A lot of people thought that Lurie - a white man - had to be based off the author J.M Coeztee and his own political thoughts and opinions.

Writers are often judged for the actions and opinions and beliefs of their characters because people think that we - writers - are using our characters as a way to express ourselves. And that might be true for some writers. A lot of writers use their stories as a bit of a soap box for them to preach about something that they are passionate about. But for many others what their characters might be the polar opposite of them. I've always felt that writers should have the freedom to write about whomever and whatever they want to write about. We should not be censored and we should not be held accountable for the actions of our characters. When I write a story I cease to be myself and I become my character. I am whoever they need to be. I breathe life into them and I make them come alive. The character lives and breathes through me. But we are still separate beings. If my character does or says something rude or inappropriate I am only doing that for the sake of the story their actions should not be a reflection on me and my own opinions not unless I specifically say that it is supposed to be.

It's unfair to call Coeztee a racist just because his character David Lurie has a hard time adapting to the political changes that sweep through South Africa. It's like calling the author of American Psycho a psychopath just because his main character is one. Coeztee wrote a story that was unpleasant to read about but was something that needed to be shared. You shouldn't try to ban things just because they pull back the curtain on a truth you do not want to face. Disgrace is fiction. We need to remember that there is a line between fiction and reality. Instead of pointing fingers at Coeztee and calling him a racist what people should be doing is discussing Disgrace and the important questions it raises about race relations and politics in South Africa.

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