why Characters are Important

This year I dressed up as Rey from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens for Halloween. I gave directions in a British accent all day and told them I could run without anyone holding my hand. I honestly don’t know who enjoyed the day more.
Humans crave stories. I’m not a Doctor of Science or even a PhD student, so I can’t tell you this for sure. What I can tell you is that we place a lot of value on the work they produce and the titles they’ll achieve and the pieces of paper parents and guardians proudly display on their kitchen refrigerators next to grandma’s phone number and homemade magnets. We often reduce to numbers and letters and titles: “my child is an A student” “my child goes to XYZ University” “my child won the nobel peace prize for solving world hunger”. We like to brag because these long hours of hard work are immortalized in tangible titles and numbers we can quantify. We believe that these things are universal signs of success. My student is winning at life! My child unlocked the next grade level! This human is better than the rest! 

Sometimes we get caught up in winning and forget the importance of the intangibles that aren’t incentivized. We also forget that some students have to work much harder to get to the same answer. We forget the stories behind these achievements that build character. We celebrate the wins, yes, but instead of learning from our failures we often shove them into back corners under lots of dirty laundry and wait for them to disappear. 

Thank god for characters.

Books and movies often taught me that it was more important to be kind and generous and humble than to be powerful and important. Luke Skywalker was just a whiney moisture farmer from Tatooine with a stellar name and nice hair. Harry Potter was his cousin’s favorite punching bag and had a weird scar. Frodo was a jolly hobbit with hairy feet. We love hero stories for a reason. Unassuming characters overcome the odds and prove to be extraordinary. They give us hope that, just maybe, we can do that stuff too. They all care so much, so deeply, that they make a difference.

These characters are brave. They teach us that we, too, can be brave enough to create change in our own lives.

I teach English; I study characters for a living. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think so. In understanding characters, we understand ourselves. Art is a mirror framed by our imagination. 

Characters are important because they show us what we are and who we can become. Characters are important because they are best friends, role models, and confidants. Characters are important because we are all made, just a little bit, out of our favorite characters.


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