“character” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     in the dialogue … Jiggs to Yank … “I never saw such a miserable, ungrateful bastard in my whole life.”  ·     O’Hara has characters ask each other questions. Jiggs to Yank: “are you a writer?” Ellis Walton (the producer) to Yank … “Where is your home town?” (Ellis asks this out of nowhere) … “What do your people do?” … “Have you ever been married?” … “What was your wife like?” … “Why did you happen to marry her, if you don’t mind my asking?” (finally, Ellis realizes that his questions are intrusive … but he keeps on asking) … “And what finally broke it up?”  This is a lazy dubious approach to characterization.   ·     New characters are often introduced first in the conversation of other characters. Yank and Ellis Walton discuss (and begin to characterize) Zena Gollum, David Salmon, and Barry Payne before we meet them.  ·     characterization is provided through the eyes of a minor character (only possible with an omniscient narrator) … “The porter sized him up …”  ·     Yank’s self awareness: “I’m a genius now, but ten plays from now I may not even be good.”


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