Characterization In The Good Soldier Essay

2455 words - 10 pages

In The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford does not fully develop any of the characters. The reader is intended to use the narrator Dowell’s disconnected and inaccurate impressions to build a more complete version of who the characters are, as well as form a more accurate view of what actually happens with “the sad affair” (Ford 9) of Dowell’s pathetic life. This use of a single character’s various perceptions creates a work that follows the style of literary impressionism, which, to some extent, should be only a series of personal impressions that culminates in the portrayal of reality as “a subjective experience” (van Gunsteren 239). This very subjectivity of reality is clearly evident in Dowell’s perception of other people and events. Dowell seems to be inherently incapable of understanding anyone’s true disposition or the effects of happenings in his life. This is most clearly demonstrated with Dowell’s portrayal of his wife Florence. For most of the novel, Dowell ignores her character and her role in the story, while still managing to present a different view of her each time he mentions her. Yet, despite this, a relatively clear understanding of her can eventually be reached through Dowell’s confused impressions, so that her character is almost fully developed by the reader’s interpretation of his various perceptions. Ford uses this gradual and incomplete development of Florence’s character to show the path that Dowell takes to find a similarly limited understanding of what has happened to him.

Dowell’s notion of who Florence is changes constantly as he slowly learns more about her and begins to better understand her role in what he considers to be the rather tragic history of the Ashburnhams, the couple that he and Florence occupy most of their days with during their nine years in Nauheim. Dowell’s first mention of Florence is to say that she has “a ‘heart’” (Ford 9) that makes it impossible for her to travel much or over-exert herself. He also says that her heart had made him lead the life “of the sedulous, strained nurse” (13), constantly needing to watch her and protect her from anything that might possibly excite her or cause damage to her heart. While this apparently constrictive relationship could be construed as irritating, Dowell does not seem to have any objection to the role Florence has given him, even when he later realizes that she had faked her heart condition to manipulate him. For the most part, Florence even inspires some degree of pity in him, and she often becomes “poor dear Florence” (12) in his mind. That he is capable of pity for such a manipulative person is only explained by his oblivious nature. This particular version of Florence shows the full extent of his lack of understanding as he attempts to explain things to himself. It also shows the degree of his gullibility.

Dowell also describes Florence as weak and simple-minded, saying that “she was bright and she danced” (17). This portrays...

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