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The importance of secondary characters in the novel A Pilots Wife
essay [ ]

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by [lavacaloca ]

2004-05-05  |     | 



Characters shape the context and plot of the novel according to the individual roles that they assume, whether the characters are main or secondary. No matter how many times a character appears in a novel, each of them hold a specific significance and meaning to the story. In the novel The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve, all of the characters have a significant role in the context of the novel. Some of these characters are only mentioned or appear a few times, such as Jack’s father and mother, Muire, Dierdre and her brother. Nonetheless, this does not take away their importance and meaning to the plot. Dierdre, Muire’s daughter appears only briefly in the novel, yet she leaves a great impact on the main characters Kathryn and Jack Lyons.
Diedre’s main function in the novel is to serve as evidence of jack’s relationship with another woman. Infidelity among couples is a growing problem in our society, but what makes this problem worse is when the lives of children are involved. Once the life of a child is involved in a relationship, it becomes more complicated for the couple to solve their problems, since they must undergo the consequences and responsibilities of being a parent. The child is not to blame for the couples mistake, therefore the parents must love and care for the child and give them the importance they deserve. Even though Jack is unfaithful to his wife Kathryn, he acts responsible by caring and supporting his child. We discover later in the novel that Jack had been involved in two families, both of which he seemed to care for.
Jack Lyons is a character who never appears in the context of the novel, yet the effect that Dierdre left on his life is quite noticeable. When Jack first met Muire, she was a flight attendant with the airline Jack was flying with. Their relationship grew complicated when Muire became pregnant with Dierdre. Jack, who was truly a religious (he had denied this information to Kathryn) loved Muire and the new baby, and he wanted his new child to have a family who loved and cared for her. The decision to marry Muire shows how Diedre triggered the loving relationship between him and Muire. After Jack’s death, Diedre is left with the impression that her Daddy is on another trip, since she did not get to see her Dad most of the time. When Kathryn begins to talk with Dierdre, she shows her the gift that she had given her Dad that Christmas. It was a bookmark which included a picture of “...Jack with Dierdre on his lap. He was craning his neck to see her face.” (Shreve 239) The pose that Jack assumes in this picture expresses the love and affection he felt toward his daughter. This is the same affection he had with Mattie, his child with Kathryn. We can clearly observe that Jack was devoted to his children and their happiness.
Kathryn, the protagonist of the novel, is a woman who has become a widow after her husband’s unexpected death in a plane crash. Throughout the course of the novel, Kathryn finds herself discovering evidence that lead to the cause of the crash. In her investigation, Kathryn finds out that her husband, Jack, was married to another woman named Muire in London. The desperation of not knowing the complete truth about her husband’s past leads her to visit Muire in London. When Kathryn meets Muire, she is faced with the harsh truth about her husband’s other life. Seeing Muire causes her to doubt and question the validity of her husbands affections towards her and her daughter, Mattie. This shock was made evident when she met Diedre, Jack and Muire’s daughter. The photographs of Jack and his children in Muire’s house were simply unbearable for Kathryn to comprehend. When meeting Diedre, she confronts the awful truth of Jack having another family which he loved and supported. Dierdre will appear to Kathryn as a symbol of the infidelity and dishonesty of her husband. Kathryn’s reaction and emotions would not have been so deeply hurt if Jack had not had children with another woman. Immediately after meeting Dierdre, Kathryn became submerged in childhood memories of her daughter, Mattie. Dierdre reminded Kathryn of the life she had with her daughter and husband, one in which she thought was based upon love and trust. Kathryn also feels sympathy towards Dierdre, because she was not to blame foe Jack’s decision. We can observe that Kathryn even acts motherly with her, just as she would have with her own daughter. Dierdre also leaves a lasting impression on Kathryn which can be noted in the last sentence of the novel, when she says: “ I just wanted to know if the children were all right.”(Shreve 304)
The effects that Dierdre has on the life of her father, Jack, and Kathryn prove that a character’s significance is not determined by the number of appearances he or she makes in a novel. Only by having a short conversation with Dierdre, Kathryn is clearly affected by the existence of the child in her husbands life. The existence of Jack’s second family will forever abide in Kathryn’s life. Anita Shreve proves that all of her character’s add a significant meaning to the plot of the novel, if not, she would not have mentioned them at all. Through these minor characters, one can observe that the popular saying “less is more” could be true.



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