Feb 6, 2013

Characters: Hawkeye Pierce

I've been thinking a lot about characters, especially since I've started the second draft of my novel (chapter one is done!!). Mostly I've been thinking about what makes a good character, and the kind of characters I think are good characters. This leads to questions like, What is the characters motivation? Why does the character react the way they do? Do you feel attached to the character (whether in a good or bad way)? Is the character believable?

Which leads me to the character of Hawkeye Pierce on "MASH." There are so many characters in literature, film, and TV that are fantastic, but I recently watched an episode of MASH that impressed on me just how good of a character Hawkeye is.

Before I go into the specific episode, I just want to talk about Hawkeye. At first glance, he's a sarcastic, light hearted prankster. He makes jokes while in surgery, and seems to live his life to drive his tent mate crazy. But the more you watch, the more you realize that the jokes are really just a cover, that he actually feels for humanity, and is deeply affected by the war and what he sees.

This brings me to the episode that I feel shows the character of Hawkeye Pierce the best. It's from season 4 and called "The Late Captain Pierce." In this episode, Hawkeye, through some clerical mistake, is declared dead. At first Hawkeye takes full advantage of that--refusing to work, and hosting his own wake, among others. Then, when he can't seem to reverse the declaration, he becomes worried about his dad back at home thinking he's dead. In frustration, at the end of the episode, he climbs onto a morgue bus and lies down, saying he's dead so he might as well leave. This culminates in the part of the episode that made me cry.

BJ gets on the bus to try and reason with Hawkeye, to which Hawkeye responds: "I'm tired of death. I'm tried to death." And then this:

[Choppers approaching]
Hawkeye: [sighing] Wounded.
BJ: Klinger says a lot.
Hawkeye: I don't care. I really don't. They'll keep coming whether I'm here or not. Trapper went home, they're still coming. Henry got killed and they're still coming. Wherever they come from, they'll never run out.

This one scene shows just how downtrodden the war has made Hawkeye. All of the joking is a front, something he can hide behind, something that keeps him sane, but then there are times when he is reminded just what it all means. The wounded will keep coming, and he'll have to keep working on them, watching some of them die while sending others back out to fight some more.

This is why I think Hawkeye is a great character--he's complex, with his jokes and his sad moods, the things he fights for, and his sarcasm; he's got a history, a family back home, and education, and friends; and he's empathetic. The trick to making a good character is making sure that they have depth, instead of just one side. Not only are shallow characters boring to read, but they are unbelievable as well.

I'm not a professional writer, but I try my hand at it and I read like crazy, so this isn't any kind of professional advice, just my own little musings.

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