The Role of the Writer

In titling the post as such, I am not talking about the writer’s responsibility to society, et cetera, as I have done before.  Rather, I’m talking about the character of the writer in various works of fiction and media.  It might be someone like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, Paul Varjak in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Harriet in the children’s classic Harriet the Spy, W. Somerset Maugham himself in The Razor’s Edge, and even Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, who is a painter, but like the other writers, a cool observer of a class other than his own. Purists might scoff at the mention of another fictional writer in the recent past on a globally popular TV series, Sex and the City, but the role of Carrie Bradshaw is completely in the same vein.

This writer figure is usually classless or middle-class, inevitably neutral, unassuming, a friend to everyone and yet somewhat cynical about human nature, and a boundary-crosser who mixes with many different people who are not of his or her kind.  The neutrality of the writer lends him or her much credibility, for the reader is willing to trust in this figure who has introduced the audience into a particular or private world.  The writer belongs everywhere, and yet nowhere.  S/he is invited to all the dazzling parties and events and often enjoys being there, while regarding the others with a degree of amusement, cynicism, or even contempt:  Nick Carraway is stunned by the lavishness of Gatsby’s fetes, but is horrified by the shallowness all the same. S/he is rather a non-entity, the sponge to absorb the follies and actions of the more strong characters. Paul Varjak observes the New York social scene while silently in love with the social-climbing Holly Golightly. Charles in Brideshead Revisited is surrounded by the staunch Catholic Marchmain clan and his fallen Catholic best friend, Sebastian Marchmain, and it is precisely his in-between position that causes such tension and draws the reader into the story. Some might even call the writer figure dull.  This may well be the case, but one must remember the author’s intentions of using the writer as the device for showcasing the more savory characters.

The writer character has more emotional depth, and wants to process things more deeply than the other characters in the story.  S/he must inevitably belong to the social circles about which s/he writes.  But what is seen at face value is not enough—-there has to be greater meaning within.  Carrie Bradshaw has to go home to her computer, if not a warm bed with a handsome man in it, to crank out her observations and homespun wisdom about the Battle of the Sexes.  Given that writing = reflection and depth, it is not surprising that a number of religious works are “told” to the audience or reader by a particular storyteller or narrator.  It is not enough for us to hear or read holy words; rather, they need to be handed down to us by someone more knowledgeable.

As long as human beings live on this planet, we must have fiction.  We need writers.  Our existence as human beings requires them, as much as we need to eat, sleep, breathe.  We need people who observe and then tell us the truth.  We need people who are willing to be in society, and yet able to observe it from without.  We need someone to put into words that which we see, hear, think, and feel.  Because nothing holds as much power over us as a story.