From Hero to Villain – Using Setting as a Metaphor for Character Development

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Alexander Kavalier - ALG

© Alexander Kavalier

Fred E. Whyte

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

A Living Ghost, by Alexander Kavalier, is the story of a young boy, Jack, whose family’s misdeeds have landed him in King Henry VIII’s prison. His family has all been killed and there is no rescue coming for the young orphan. And he knows it.

Trapped in the London dungeons Jack is visited by a something from the other side, offering him the vengeance he desires against his captors and those who have caused him harm.

A Living Ghost follows the tale of this young boy’s tragic end and transformation into a malevolent spirit.

This dungeon becomes a metaphor of sorts for the state of Jack’s psychological and emotional being.

Kavalier: “The dungeon is obvious, Jack is imprisoned, stuck in darkness and ‘living’ at the mercy of other people. The darkness and physical pain reflect the anguish occurring within him. When he passes over, Jack is immediately freer.”

Once Jack accepts the deal from the specter who visits him, his emotional and psychological state changes, and these inner changes are seamlessly intertwined with the changes to Jack’s prison setting:

Kavalier: “The way in which he can now pass through walls and has no confinements represents how freedom alters your morality, if you cannot be confined or punished you are less fearful of the repercussions of your actions and this is how we witness Jack deciding that he will take his revenge.”

Even the use of colour, or lack thereof, is a symbolic representation of Jack’s state of being. Kavalier uses the absence of colour and then its reemergence to show Jack’s transformation from victim to aggressor, from living to poltergeist. 

Kavalier: “When Jack is alive in the dungeon all he can see is darkness, there is no mention of colour because all he can see is darkness. Except for there being a small ray of sunlight, which helps to keep Jack feeling safe. Once Jack has passed into the afterlife he is no longer in the darkness, he is happy and free. Though he is becoming darker within himself. The colours from this point are reference to what he sees in his afterlife and therefore could be construed to represent his happy mental state at passing and becoming powerful.”

Though setting is often used just to give the reader a sense of where, it can be so much more. When used metaphorically to represent either a theme or a character’s development, the story becomes a much richer and more engaging tale.

Check out A Living Ghost as an example of how it can be accomplished.

One Comment

  1. Kathy Anderson
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Awesome! I got nothing else.

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