…when something could potentially grow or develop
Can you really only tell what a person is really like when their back is against the wall? … that when they have an infinite number of options open to them their choices are no more telling of their character than are the accidents which befall them on any particular day?
Can a deeper understanding of Smith’s character be gleaned through observing situations when his back is against the wall?
It would seem that his back was against the wall quite often. It is the very nature of Smith to be someone who is involved in a particular incident which seemed to proscribe only two sensible lines of action at the very most. His back, it seemed, was often against the wall. However, by his very next move, a move counter to any intuition a normal person would have, a move counter to common sense, all forms of logic and every calculation of his best interests, Smith would show that there was more than two desperate options open to him…. that his back wasn’t against the wall after all – leaving the incredulous observer of such events to conclude that, in Smith’s case, there never could be a situation where his back was against the wall, because he was just as likely to climb over that wall, regardless of its excessive height or lack of holds, as he was to walk away from it towards the only two or three desperate choices a normal person would have considered – whatever those choices might have been – going on holidays with your parents or running away from home, taking the dog for a walk or releasing him from three years of slavery, going to work on Tuesday morning or giving up on the real world, handing over your wallet, watch and shoes at the darker end of a dark alley or embracing death at the pnt of a rusty steak-knife.
So not having that option open to the narrator – Smith’s back being against a wall, being truly against a wall, being against a wall such only two options are open to him, both equally desperate and both equally telling – one must hope that it isn’t necessarily true that you can only tell what a person is really like when their back is against that wall or any wall.
The opposing theory states that you can tell what a person is really like when they have a large number of equally viable options open to them, and it is through their choices that their true character is revealed.
Yesterday, faced with the almost infinite choices on display in the supermarket, Smith chose three natural yogurts, a pineapple, a box of red-bush tea, four fruit and nut chocolate bars, a loaf of bread and a dozen bananas.
Yet the reader will feel no closer to understanding the character of Smith.
Right now, nothing at all is happening at 25 Railway Street – the home of Smith’s neighbour and friend Oscar MacSweeny. There isn’t a sound. Oscar and Helen are both absent – the latter must be working, the former must be whiling away his hours elsewhere. Nothing is moving, not even the pictures on the television screen – recently broken again by one of Smith’s erratic and unlikely movements.
But now there is a sound, quite at first, a faint rattling, getting louder and finally subsumed by the sound of Smith’s voice bellowing out Oscar’s name and Helen’s name and then swiftly followed by the sound of a key in the lock and the opening and closing of the door.
Smith in an empty house – this might prove to be more illuminating than the scene from yesterday, the scene in the supermarket, more illuminating, at least, with regard to Smith’s character.
A more specific version of the opposing theory just stated is that you can tell what a character is really like when they have nothing to do. Not that you can have nothing to do. But this having “nothing to do”, what is called having “nothing to do”, really means having everything to do but no inclination to do anything – it is the absence of inclination, and the arrival of Smith in his neighbours empty house, his moping about, sitting in one chair and then in another, his looking out one window and them out of another, his idly opening drawers and walking into and out of rooms – all of this is indicative of Smith being in that state, the state of having “nothing to do”, that is the state of a complete lack of inclination.
Inclination-less now, but one cannot remain inclination-less for too long, Smith’s character is about to be revealed.
Unfortunately Helen’s bedroom is padlocked shut, which Smith already knows – ready access to Helen’s room without her knowledge could have revealed a great deal, perhaps too much of Smith’s character.
Sitting on the sofa at the back of the living room– a room which runs the length of the house, between the filthy Venetian blinds at the front bay window and the filthy Venetian blinds blocking the direct sunlight at the back, a room in which Smith has often sat discussing the finer points of unimportant subjects with Oscar and Henry and Helen, but rarely on his own, rarely when there was no one else in the house, when he has nothing to do, when he was completely inclination-less – sitting there, a segment of sun just catching the corner of his eye, Smith looks about him aimlessly.
His eyes would certainly have landed on the chest of drawers in the alcove next to the bay window at the other end of the room, a chest of drawers almost hidden by the stacks of books Oscar had placed before it, perhaps to deliberately obscure it. The thought would surely have occurred to Smith to make a thorough investigation of each of these drawers, to carefully move aside each of the obscuring piles of books and take his leisure over each drawer, carefully examining its contents, all the time feeling a soft pain in the pit of his stomach, a feeling of expectation – the expectation of finding something absolutely fabulous, disgraceful or embarrassing.
Whilst walking aimlessly up and down the stairs, through the kitchen, tip-toeing along the landing, walking up to each of the windows up stairs and taking cursory glances outside through various curtains and Venetian blinds, it must have occurred to Smith that he could look though Oscar’s files – up to a hundred lever-arch folders on shelves, on the floor, under the bed – files he has asked to look at in the past, files he has often imagined looking into, files he had been explicitly refused access to on several occasions, files he is sure contain works of genius, answers to questions, sharp character studies, intriguing mysteries, insightful comments, detailed descriptions of the human mind, lengthy studies of the intricacies of the human soul, humorous sketches of this and that, witty observations about life as we live it, revelations about Oscar’s feelings towards him, towards Helen – and does he really like Henry? But Smith leaves all of the folders and even the loose papers which have been left lying around unmolested.
Is he teasing himself with the opportunity, only to deny himself?
Is he really so unaware of the opportunity presented to him right here and now, an opportunity he must have been waiting for, pining for, hoping for?
Is Smith made of such stuff that he would scoff at the suggestion of breaking a friend’s confidence and peering into things that aren’t his to peer into?
Or is he simply afraid of Oscar returning home and catching him at it, his hands all over his most private thoughts and valued recollections?
Smith doesn’t look in the bathroom cabinet, he doesn’t run the toothbrushes along the rim of the toilet, he doesn’t spit over the banister, he doesn’t eat food from the fridge, he doesn’t lie on Oscar’s bed, nor check under the mattress, he doesn’t go through the post, attempt to steam open the various unopened letters, he doesn’t climb up into the attic, he doesn’t try on Oscar’s clothes, he doesn’t even smell the arm pits of his shirts.
Is Smith’s character to be defined by, to be built on, to be understood in reference to… what Smith doesn’t do?