We become the characters- that is what happens. When we read a novel, the psyche of the characters overlaps with ours and we cannot distinguish if it is us who is thinking the thoughts or the character. And if the writer has adopted descriptive narrative methodology, then every detail is etched on your mind and you start seeing things as described in the novel. You see the park which was never there, the building where the protagonist works automatically pops up on the way, and you see and hear things and cannot comprehend what they mean because it is not real. The line between reality and fantasy gets blur- that is, the opportunity is bestowed upon those who are true readers. Eerie it may sound but that is what happens-not being able to comprehend what is happening because the ‘unreal’ becomes more ‘real’. Your thought is hacked by the plot. They linger on. In some sick, twisted way, you become the character- it is like you are governed by them. The line between the reader and the character fades away. You dwell on the story so much that your reality becomes obsolete- and simulacra and simulacrum come into play.
We mourn with our characters at their loss, we rejoice at their happy endings, we feel tickled when they steal a kiss, we feel embraced with warmth at their gain- we feel part of them- we are involved in the storytelling, we don’t just remain passive reader but active participants. Or else we won’t be laughing, crying like crazy with a book in our hand. We find ourselves transported into their lives. Or is it them who visit us in our ‘real’ world? By reading the story, we make them come alive and they visit us from the other world into our realm. Eons old or post-modern literature- the characters don’t feel out of place when they are ‘real’ in the imagination of the readers. If we could see the characters, the scene would be something like this: Othello is running wild and stumbles upon Emma who is lost in her thought and there is Jay Gatsby riding on his horse who stops by to chat with Rob from High Fidelity. And these characters are all there hovering around us out of the novels.
Imagination gets wings through reading. You use our thinking gear on and the characters get shape, the surrounding gets materialized and the scene is in front of your eyes. Sure, the author has done his job describing the facts well, but it is the reader engrossed in the book who adds colors. When the office environment is mentioned, the lay-out is already there in our mind, we are even quick at imagining the color of their car, the ambience at a party- everything is in our head.
Well, the obsession subsides eventually but during the time when the effect is still on- the characters get stuck with you- they walk, laugh, breath, eat with you. Even if you are making love, they are there with you. “Be on the top- I would have if I were you”- echoes the character over your head. You cannot concentrate and the love making is interfered by the presence of the third party. Sure, threesome is not possible because the third one is in your head. Or for instance you are about to let go off things, the willful character you adore shouts at you “I never thought you would be this meek and hopeless” and surprisingly, you do get up and walk that extra mile- even if to shut up the voice. The characters teach us to be strong- to cultivate our thoughts, to bring up our children in a better way, to see, to think, to observe, to achieve more, to be more than what we are, and to live life.
Anywhere you go, whatever age the readers be, and whichever gender the readers belong to; we can distinguish them into two major groups. One group which just flips through the pages; they read just to kill time. They skim through the pages and jump from the first page to the last. They are not interested in the process; rather the end. And they read to be seen reading. They want the observers to define them as ‘thinkers’. The first kinds are pseudo-intellectuals. Whereas the other kinds are voracious readers. They read to know, to learn, to understand. In an attempt to understand the characters, they end up understanding a part of themselves. They don’t just see the plot in black and white but unravel the hidden meanings of life. They interpret, they think and they question.
As a reader you are never left alone. You are constantly haunted by the most proverbial stereotype habits of the characters- the way they quince their nose when smiling, that smirk whenever they win the game or the way they tilt their head and we find ourselves adopting the same idiosyncrasies. We start acting, deciding the way the character would if encountered with the similar situation.
You wish your partner would kiss as passionately as the characters in the novel, you day dream and at times, the result is the night fall. If everything is at the disposal of the character then you regret your blue-collar job, you wish you were living their lavish lifestyle- you were a billionaire like the character, would be flaunting Chanel as frequently as mentioned in the novel, that you would be driving Porsche, the Chloe dress would fit you magically and you look gorgeous all the time and that you never had a bad hair day, the love of your life would sweep you off your feet by his loving acts, you wish life was good, you would leave for Paris just like that- unannounced and that too on a private jet, you wish life was something else other than what you are living.
If a novel on Sherlock Holmes is the one lying next to your bed, then you start to see things through the eyes of a detective, you sense everything fishy, you suspect, you doubt and you think that you can solve the problem-however imaginary it be. When one of my colleagues (let’s call her X) was reading Madam Bovary, she thought that she could go away with infidelity. She wanted to keep lovers; she wanted to experience things and experiment. D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ had a similar effect. Also my nephew who is a big time Harry Potter fan, thinks that magical world exists and he wants to enroll in the Hogwarts when he grows older.
Howard Roark in Fountainhead, Santiago in the Old Man and the Sea, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood- these characters fascinate us. We tend to imbibe their characteristics. We idolize the characters. They become part of our growing phase, part of our daily life and part of who we become. You know that these are mere books but you realize that evil exists but more than that it is love and goodness and hope that will prevail for always.
Books play with our thought process and play a major role dictating the state of our mind- if not for always-at least during the time of the reading. But reality meets you round the corner but meanwhile, you can day dream.