Blue Jasmine: Lesson for Authors

I just saw the movie, Blue Jasmine. The story is a little slow, but the acting is terrific. The character of Jasmine is very interesting to me because she is a person who is not naive or ignorant. Rather, she chooses to look the other way and not see things that would make her life much more difficult. At one point, for example, she tells a friend that she believes her husband is having an affair. Her friend responds that everyone in town knows about affairs her husband has been having for several years. In fact only Jasmine has chosen to pretend they weren’t happening.

Note that this type of character is very different from a common type of American character, the naive narrator. Think of the famous Ring Lardner short story, “You Know me Al.” What the narrator doesn’t understand is very clear to readers. Similarly readers of Huckleberry Finn understand the satire when Huck describes the way decent folk act and we realize Huck is a far better person.

Jasmine in the movie is different, though. She’s not naive or stupid. She’s very intelligent. She just chooses to look the other way and not accept things that would cause her discomfort. I thought about how difficult that would be for an author to capture in a novel. It’s much easier in a film where you actually see the husband flirting and you watch Jasmine look and then turn away.

Most of us have been taught that a main character in a novel should undergo some change and come out changed somehow; perhaps he’s more aware of life or he learns a life lesson or he realizes how mistaken he’s been about something. Jasmine never really learns that lesson. She falls from a very high society position to the end of the movie where she’s homeless sitting on a bench and talking to herself. She still hasn’t accepted reality.

It struck me that if I were trying to convey Jasmine’s condition, I’d have to have at least three separate incidents in which the reader would note how Jasmine’s reaction differed from what would be expected. Each incident would have to be more extreme and more obvious. Only then could I be sure that readers would understand that Jasmine consciously chooses not to see.

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