Challenge 417 Response
Names in “Left Behind”
by Cheryl W. Ruggiero
In Chris Castle’s “Left Behind”:
Bewildering Stories unofficially frowns upon using personal pronouns as proper names, mainly because it’s often hard to tell who is saying or doing what to whom. However, exceptions do occur. Does the use of pronouns rather than names create such ambiguities in this story?
What might have been gained by giving the characters even conventional names? How might names affect both the readers’ and the author’s perception of the characters?
I like your question about not naming characters in Chris Castle’s “Left Behind.”
When I read the question, I realized that I had not even noticed there were no names. I had been completely caught up in the restrained power of the mother’s grief. Because it’s clear at every moment who “she” is and who each of the others are, I felt no lack of anything in the characters just because they were not named. They didn’t seem any less individual, nor any more universally symbolic because they were unnamed. The details made them individuals. And grief makes them universal.
Thank you for the feedback, Cheryl. That’s the sort of thing that both we and our contributors appreciate.
As you can tell, we felt the same as you do about the story. And we saw that the lack of names not only causes no problems but may, in fact, be an advantage.
However, I must gently emphasize that “Left Behind” is an exception. It has only two characters or, at a stretch, three, if you count the mother’s deceased son. Hence no grammatical ambiguities occur. If the mother had been the father or the young man had been the truck driver’s daughter, the story would have been in trouble.
Honestly, Cheryl, you’d be amazed at some of the submissions we receive. I remember one from a young contributor who used four different pronouns in the same sentence, all with different antecedents. I had to point out to him that he’d set a record of some sort.
As a general rule, names — even generic fictional names — allow readers not only to identify characters easily but also to visualize and imagine the characters as real people. The principle also applies in the case of first-person narrators; even the character “I” almost always needs a name.
Again, “Left Behind” is an exception in that way: readers quickly understand — even subconsciously, as you did — that the story is a form of allegory: it doesn’t really matter who the mother is or who the young man is; it’s what they do that counts.
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