Legend Theme

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For the purposes of this assignment, I have chosen to study the significance of a character`s arc throughout a story. Building realistic characters is a weakness I have struggled to overcome. Therefore, it was logical to study this area to gain a better understanding of how to create strong characters and overcome the problem.

I will analyze the Legend series by Marie Lu because she writes in the same genre I am currently writing in. Marie was born in China and emigrated to the United States with her family during the Tiananmen Square Protest. She got her inspiration for Legend (2012) from Les Misérables (2012). Marie said I remember thinking: wouldn`t it be fun to tell a teenage version of the criminal vs. detective story? (Lu, 2021). She also grew a love of storytelling from interning with Disney Interactive Studios.

As a child, Lu witnessed tanks and soldiers preparing for what would become the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 (GradeSaver, 2021). Marie has also stated in an interview that when you`re going on the street and you smell, like, street food and it`s kind of gritty and grimy, those are all of my memories of wandering the streets in Asia (Lu, 2016) and that this influenced her writing. Considering Marie`s experiences, it is expected that she has messages she wishes to share and that consciously or otherwise, included these in her novels.

I intend to look at the relationship between a character`s arc and theme and the importance they share.

Script Reader Pro writes of character arcs, At the beginning of a movie, the protagonist is unaware of their unconscious desire and acts purely according to their conscious desire. Therefore, they`re completely unaware of the answer. Being unaware makes them feel safe and it`s how they`ve always lived (Script Reader Pro, 2018). Although discussing films in this quote, the same applies to books. Take June, for example, the female protagonist of Marie`s Legend (2012). June had always lived in the shelter of her rich, privileged life, with her older brother to protect and support her. She felt safe. Conversely, Day, the male protagonist, had started in the poorer neighborhood. After scoring low on his trial, he had been taken, experimented on, and left for dead. His resulting escape and the overall experience had left him wary and watchful, and through this and his new habits of living, he felt safe in his hideaways, watching from the outside rather than being seen.

Marie`s choice to write from two points of view effectively crafted contrasting differences in the alternating chapters that allowed the readers to connect and relate to both characters. One can clearly see the opposite upbringings and ways of life June and Day experience, as well as their differing beliefs June, feels loyal to the government, and Day the opposite.

Then, when inciting incidents throw the characters out of their usual world, their beliefs dictate how they react. Day`s reaction to his father being beaten resulted in him committing his first, perfect crime: an ice ball through a window, leaving broken glass but no evidence once the ice had melted. This propelled him into rebellion, into using his cunning and intelligence to fight against the government, consequently placing him on the most wanted list.

June, on the other hand, had been taught loyalty to the government. Her brother, a soldier, also added to her beliefs. So, when her brother is murdered, she makes a silent promise, I will hunt you down. I will scour the streets for you. I make you this promise: your life is mine (Lu, 2012, p.590). It is debatable that June`s upbringing didn`t influence her reaction to this occurrence, that even if she lived in Day`s circumstances, she would still feel anger and a desire for revenge. For instance, later in the novel, when Day`s mother is shot, Day manages to get hold of a soldier`s gun. His previous efforts not to hurt anyone in that particular moment evaporated. He even goes so far as to agree to be part of an assassination plot in Prodigy (2013). He tells June, I should`ve never saved you from that Skiz fight. I should`ve left you to die (Lu, 2012, p.1912). We clearly see the same anger and pain from his loss as with June, therefore supporting the theory that these characters are not so different and that their anger lies within their humanity rather than their surroundings.

Moreover, as the story progresses, [the characters] become more and more aware of their unconscious desire (Script Reader Pro, 2018). Despite the death of Day`s mother, during his interrogation, he feels a weird tinge of sympathy (Lu, 2012, p.1940), and June`s face hardens but behind that [Day] can see something waver (Lu, 2012, p.1968). Once again, we see a similar reaction from both of them despite their differences. Saying that, in previous chapters, they had spent enough time together to begin developing feelings for one another, including a kiss they shared before Day`s capture. This begs the question of whether had they been strangers, would they have felt any softening at all.

Upon facing the choice of handing Day over to the authorities, June feels a surprising pang of guilt (Lu, 2012, p.1713) and she recalls the way he saved [her] from the Skiz fight, that he had helped [her] heal this burning wound in [her] side (Lu, 2012, p.1723). Her conflicting feelings set her up for a softening of her heart later. Likewise, Day trusts her word completely when she directs him toward the soldiers. He even admits he`d been duped into kissing her. Even falling for her (Lu, 2012, p.1802).

Alternatively, Day took in Tess, a young girl living on the streets, and he helped June when she was injured in a fight. At the time of doing this, they were strangers to him, and yet he still chose to assist them.

Martin Wenglinsky, a sociology professor, wrote about natural disposition. He tells of a native of Arabanoo who was forcibly taken to serve as a hostage. He was found to be likable, even going so far as to build a friendship with his jailor. He cared for victims of smallpox in a touching manner and buried them. He was known for his amiability (Wenglinksy, 2016). Wenglinksy went on to speak of Phillips, a governor, who, during a conference, was deliberately wounded with a spear by one of the native warriors. Despite this, he spoke well of his enlightenment (Wenglinksy, 2016) as to the tribe`s reasonings and continued on to make peace with them. Both men, despite originating from entirely different backgrounds and cultures, held the same compassion.

The 14th Dalai Lama said Love and compassion are necessities. Without them, humanity cannot survive (Dwivedi, 2021). Perhaps then, June and Day`s feelings of compassion, albeit unwanted by the characters, is their humanity fighting to survive.

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This change in June`s character is continued when further details come to light, like discovering her brother was murdered by someone else. Her mindset begins to change, opening her up to a greater realization of the truth. This is strengthened even more when she sees the violent personality of Thomas, one of her friends, and the orders to shoot protestors all given by those she believed to be good guys. As this new knowledge is revealed to June, she begins to commit to her hidden need. Script Reader Pro writes It`s only near the end of the film that they`re able to fully commit to their unconscious desire and fully complete their character arc at the film`s climax by realizing the answer (Script Reader Pro, 2018). The answer, in this case, extends to more than just the characters, but also to the readers by discovering exactly what Marie is trying to say, what the theme is.

As we look at June`s character growth, we see her compassionate side of her from the start, from helping Tess despite this resulting in a brutal fight to rejecting Thoma's kiss because of her revulsion to his violent personality. This highlights that the compassionate trait was already there, but in order to access it more fully, June needed certain triggers to help her realize it, for instance, the death of Day`s mother, Thoma's violence, and her brother`s secret blog about the government deliberately spreading the plague. These triggers increased her turn against those she once worked with, especially that of her brother`s blog since she fully trusted him. Likewise, in Prodigy (2013), after June agrees to help assassinate the new elector primo, a series of events leads her to discover he isn`t antagonistic like his father was and signals to Day to stop the assassination plot.

It is interesting to see the growth of these characters, and arguable that there isn`t much of growth at all since they had the truth in them all along. All it took were the right circumstances to bring it about. One could question if June`s trait of compassion came from her brother. Perhaps having someone to instill it in her made a difference. However, Day didn`t have that person since he`d been taken as a boy and treated harshly. Despite this, he still helped those in need. Perhaps, then, it was the humble beginnings. The day certainly had that. June was also kept in check by the humility of her brother. Saying that it is important to note that Thomas began much as Day, living in the slums, yet his nature is vastly different. He says to Day, I`m from a poor sector, too. I worked my way up. I earned my country`s respect. The rest of you just sit around and complain and blame the state for your bad luck. Bunch of dirty, lazy cons (Lu, 2012, p.2520). His contempt towards those less fortunate than him is clear. Of course, his interest in June and his statement, How dare you force yourself onto someone of her rank (Lu, 2012, p.2520) shows his anger and jealousy. It is possible that he was acting solely out of his emotions and may have reacted differently had the circumstances been different, but Marie demonstrates several instances of his violence without jealousy.

The main question that arises from these points is how these triggers help the readers understand what Marie is saying.

If we look at Marie`s past, we discover that she and her family moved to the United States Texas when she was five years old, during the Tiananmen Square Protest (Wikipedia, 2021). Even as a very young child, her time in China influenced her life. The World Biographical Encyclopaedia writes of Marie, Before moving to the United States[,] she remembers sucking on a popsicle and observing the people as they gathered around to protest (Prabook, 2021). Obviously, this protest led to tragedy, and although Marie wasn`t present in China at that particular time, it is part of her history. When looking at Day, it is interesting that his real name is Daniel, and that only after being taken from his family, he chooses the name Day. When asked about it, he says it helps him try to walk in the light (Lu, 2021, p.3534). It is reasonable to theorize that the Tiananmen Square Protest influenced this point in Marie`s stories. For Day, he uses the name to give himself hope, to remember that with each new day, everything is possible again. As well as reminding people that even great tragedies do not mean the end of all things, this works as an introduction to a deeper message.

At the beginning of Legend (2021), the JumboTrons boards advertise the wanted posters for Day. Marie writes, They always have a different photo running alongside the report. One time it was a boy with glasses and a head full of thick copper curls a boy with black eyes and no hair at all. Sometimes I`m black, sometimes white, sometimes olive or brown or yellow, In other words, the Republic has no idea what I look like (Lu, 2021, p.67). Just as no one truly knows what a new day will bring, each day will be different for each person. Marie lists several different kinds of people in this description, which can easily be symbolic of the genders, races, colors, and personalities of people throughout the world.

June and Day are extremely opposite in their upbringings, circumstances, and beliefs. June is a hunter. The day is the hunted. June got a perfect score on her trail. Day failed his. As Marie reveals more of their past, we discover Day did, in fact, get a perfect score, too, and that he was taken so the government could experiment on him. We discover that they are both smart, intelligent, and capable. It seems Marie is referring, through June and Day, to race, gender, and the variations of people on earth. We are all the same, despite the differences people initially see.

It is only after all the triggers occur that June comes to the full realization of the truth, and as a consequence, takes the necessary steps to show that she has learned the relative lessons. In the mirror, I look the same. But I am a different person inside. I`m a prodigy who knows the truth, and I know exactly what I`m going to do. I`m going to help Day escape (Lu, 2012, p.2911). Her determination to help Day and give an electro-bomb to the rebels wasn`t something she would have considered at the start not without knowing the truth. But upon discovering that Day shouldn`t be cast out and that he is, in fact, the same as June, she couldn`t sit back and do nothing.

With Marie`s Chinese heritage, it is reasonable to believe that wanting to be accepted was a part of her childhood, and this desire has come through in her story with the fight for justice and equality.

Script Reader Pro wrote, Conscious desire equals a lack of awareness of the theme and the answer. Unconscious desire equals eventual awareness of the theme and embracing the answer (Script Reader Pro, 2018). June and Day both had an unconscious awareness of the theme of equality through diversity, and as they learned about it throughout the story, the reader can see that all isn`t as it seems. We see that people deserve respect and kindness, and to be fought for.

K.M. Weiland writes, These changes must flow naturally from the characters (Weiland, 2008). Take June, for instance. She only wanted to fight for those she loved at the beginning of Legend (2012). Although the compassion was in her, shown when she stands up for Tess, she thinks, I should have let her fend for herself (Lu, 2012, p.1260). As stated earlier, Marie uses switching points of view to show the different perspectives of June and Day and create sympathy and connection between the readers and the characters. In an interview, Marie stated, [I]n Prodigy, there`s an early scene where [June] starts listing off the metal composition of a paper clip. So I had to stop and go online and read about the history of paper clips (Lu, 2013). These little details Marie inputted into June`s character made her unique and real to the reader, and as such, relatable. So, when June makes this choice to defend Tess, despite it being shown through Day`s point of view, we understand it.

Marie said, Mostly, I`m hoping to show a world that is diverse and filled with different people from all walks of life, and hopefully makes for a reading experience that is rich in heritage (Lu, 2016). When discussing the end of Champion (2013), Marie stated, I left it to the reader, what happened to them in the future. That was how I left them in my head as well (Lu, 2019). When referring to the theme of the novels, we can assert that Marie left the future open so the readers can act on the message she was trying to convey. This belief is strengthened with Marie`s continuation, I`m one of those people who likes open-ended endings. I want to keep it that way and let the fans take it from there It`s something that belongs to the readers (Lu, 2016).

To conclude, this study has highlighted that a character`s arc must sync seamlessly with the theme so as to avoid redundancy and a floppy story. The importance of doing this has opened my knowledge to new ways of writing and planning a novel that I wasn`t previously aware of. By matching character growth with the theme, I can create stronger characters and understand why they should act in a certain way. I also understand now why particular actions and thoughts don`t fit in a certain scene. This truth has never registered with me before and has left me stuck on how to improve.

Marie has shown that a character`s hidden needs and motivations link directly to the theme of a novel. We see that circumstances and triggers bring characters to the realization of a certain truth that is the message the author wishes to share and that this truth is inside them all along. We also see the significance of the theme and its relation to the character arc since they work hand-in-hand to demonstrate the theme through growth. One can argue that character arc is the theme, and that by adhering to this rule, not only can one`s writing significantly improve, but the author`s message can reach far past the page and bring about a realization and change within the reader, and hopefully, begin to make the world a better place.


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