Reading The Bible As Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. 213 pp.
In Chapter six of Reading The Bible as Literature: An Introduction by Jeanie C. Crain, the focus is on characters and how they are used for identifying in different aspects of literature. In my opinion, the characters are quite possibly the most important part of a story. If I can relate to and understand a character, I will feel more connected to the story and want to continue reading. I enjoy being able to put myself in the characters’ position and trying to determine how they feel. For me, some of the best pieces of literature that I have read are ones where at the end I wish the story were not over, so that I could know what happens in the characters’ lives next. The characters are like the heart of a story and often one of the only constant things throughout the story, keeping everything connected.
Characters can be one-dimensional or multidimensional. The reader comes to know the characters through their actions, thoughts, and what they say. “Characterization refers to the revelation or display of a character’s habits, emotions, desires, and instincts,” Crain states. The inner thoughts of the characters and their motives, attitudes, and morals are revealed by the narrator of the story. The inner thoughts are the best indicator of how the characters feel. As Crain notes, “the Bible’s characters will remain fragmented, contradictory, mysterious-eluding any attempt to say who they are concisely.” I agree with the mysteriousness and fragmented nature of the characters of the Bible. It seems to me that many characters appear at different, varied times in the Bible, in different books and stories. It can be difficult to keep the characters clear, or even to recognize that one story involves the same character as another story.
The Bible is often read as a kind of guide as well as a look at the history made by God. I would agree that I most often read the Bible with this type of approach. Crain states that “readers have come to the Bible expecting to discover religious truth, believing its storytellers worked with a didactic purpose: through setting, action, and characters, their stories address the great issues of life.” Furthermore, the reader will often allow God to become the central character, focusing the story and the message on Him. However, I think this is what we are kind of supposed to do. It seems that God is the central character in this great story, like the one thing holding it all together.
The other characters of the Bible seem to have a sort of responsibility. They are to obey God’s word and fulfill the stories the way they are meant to happen. “They carry a burden of meaning larger than themselves,” as Crain explains. Although the characters of the Bible most likely did not know about this weight they were carrying and incredible story they were being made to fulfill, it seems to me that this would have been a lot of pressure. The Bible is one of the greatest pieces of literature. To be a character critical to the story that so many people are going to read and live by would be such a great responsibility, whether they knew it or not.
The Bible is written with few descriptive details which Crain calls “cryptic conciseness.” The information is written chronologically but with stories and characters that have an interconnected background. To best understand the characters, the reader should reflect about why a character is presented in a certain way, how dialogue is introduced, and how motives and feelings are introduced. Also, thinking about how one part is used for indirect comments on another character and how the syntax used in the description affects the overall story. These contribute to the interpretation of the characters and ultimately the entire work. I think that most of the time, readers of literature do these things more subconsciously than deliberately. In order to really understand a character and relate to them, I think we do these things without really knowing and deliberately doing it. However, when reading the Bible as literature and analyzing it, I can see how it would be important to pick out these specific details in order to best understand the characters.
In the Bible, the characters are mostly presented in action. As Crain states, the Bible “embodies its meaning experientially through characters who change, grow, and develop; almost always they face choices that contribute to their development.” I think this is true for characters in any piece of literature, though, as well. This is what makes literary works worth reading, in my opinion. The reader gets to see how the character changes, what situations they have to deal with, and how they change throughout the story. Some characters are also animals and things which are personified. The Bible in particular makes multiple references to sheep and lambs as characters.
Crain further explains that characters should be examined in “the immediate and extended framework in which they are found: context, actions, responses, words, symbolic actions, requests, impact, description, and structure.” Analyzing these will help the reader to better appreciate all aspects of the characters. However, when doing this analysis, it is important to keep in mind that the stories told from a narrator’s point of view are different than if told from the characters’ point of view.
In the context aspect that Crain uses as an example, a multidimensional or round character is presented “against the background of a growing tension between prophet and king as well as a moral compass gauged by loyalty to Yahweh.” The character is described differently in two different books of the Bible. In identifying the character through actions, Crain reminds the reader that the characters “cannot be reduced to a simple statement of meaning but must remain characters within the story or episode within which they are found.” I think this could be difficult for readers, at times, if they know different stories in the Bible with the same character, to keep the stories’ plot and meaning separate. However, I think it would be most difficult to identify characters through other characters’ responses. It seems to me that the reader would need to have a pretty thorough understanding of one character in order to recognize another by the first character’s responses. I think identifying a character through their words would probably be easiest, as the reader can clearly see what the character is saying and how they are portrayed. Identifying a character through symbolic actions could also be a challenge, as symbols are often not openly expressed. They are commonly references and allusions, which can be difficult for the reader to recognize and interpret at times. Identifying characters through requests can be related to two different characters that have similar requests or requests that provoke a similar response. A character that is identified mainly through impact would have to be a very influential on another character in order to show through in a strong way. I think that most all characters could be identified through description. The description is what allows the reader to understand and relate to the character. The description can portray to the reader the importance or significance a particular character holds. Finally, identifying a character through structure can really affect the identity of the character. I think the way the character is presented makes a huge impact on how the reader interprets the character and what they represent, how they act, and their role in the story.
All in all, the characters in a story are a critical and important aspect of any literary work, and especially in the Bible. There are many ways to identify and recognize the character in order to understand and relate to them. To quote Crain, “characters in the Bible evidence a great deal of complexity in their humanity and deserve careful, attentive scrutiny.” Although this is true in any literary work, the Bible has a great stake in the characters. They are representative of God’s plan and His desires. He uses the characters to lead His people and inspire them to do His will. They are kind of like an example and He wants others to see what they have done. I think there is a lot to learn from the characters we read about in literature and especially those in the Bible.