Think For Yourself*

It can be very difficult sometimes to think independently, especially if there’s a lot of pressure to fall in with one’s family’s wishes, or what friends think, or…  In fact, that pressure can be so great that we think we’re thinking and acting independently, but subconsciously that may not be the case.  It’s hard to break free of those influences and really think for oneself, but it’s really important if one’s to develop as a mature person. The conflict between thinking for oneself and wanting to fall in with what others think can be hard in real life, but in a novel, it can add an interesting plot layer. It can also serve as a motivation.

For instance, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of The Copper Beeches, a young woman named Violet Hunter seeks Sherlock Holmes’ help. She’s been offered a job as a governess, and she’s not sure she should take it. Her prospective employer, Jephro Rucastle, asks her some strange questions, and she’s a bit uneasy. But she’s without work and without resources, so she needs a job. Holmes advises her not to take this one, and at first, she agrees with him. But then, Rucastle raises his salary offer so high that she cannot refuse. So, she goes to work for the Rucastles. There’s a lot of pressure on her to cut her hair, wear a particular dress, and other things that make her uncomfortable. And Rucastle wants her to fall in with what the family asks. But Violet resists that, and she contacts Holmes, who travels immediately to the Rucastle family home. In fact, he’s barely in time to prevent a real tragedy. In the end, Violet’s determination to think for herself actually saves her life.

Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death introduces readers to the Boynton family. They’re Americans who are taking a tour of the Middle East. On the surface, they look like any other family of tourists, but the truth is very different. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is a tyrant – Hercult Poirot describes her as a mental sadist – who has her family so cowed that none of them dares to contradict her or go against her wishes. One afternoon during a family trip to Petra, Mrs. Boynton suddenly dies. She was elderly, and had various health problems, so it’s not shocking that she’d die. But Colonel Carbury, who’s in charge of the investigation, isn’t entirely satisfied. So, he asks Hercule Poirot, who is also in the Middle East, to investigate. Once Poirot finds out what really happened, the other members of the family are free to think independently and make decisions for themselves. It’s a novel way of being for them, and it’s interesting to see how their lives change over the five years between the events in the novel and its epilogue.

The focus of Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel is Eve Moran. She’s always hungered after things, and is willing to do whatever it takes, legal or not, to get them. In fact, she spent time in a ‘special sanatorium’ because of her tendency to shoplift. As Eve’s daughter Christine grows up, she falls under her mother’s influence, and their toxic relationship has a real impact on her. As the years go by, Eve is no less determined to get what she wants, whether it’s a man, some jewelry, money, or something else. And she isn’t above committing murder to do it. This, too, impacts Christine. But then, something changes. Christine sees how her mother is beginning to manipulate her three-year-old brother Ryan. Christine doesn’t want Ryan to have the same toxic experiences she did, so she’s going to have to find a way to think for herself, break free of her mother, and care for Ryan.

Larry Watson’s Montana 1948 tells the story of the Hayden family. Wesley Hayden is the sheriff of Mercer County, Montana. He’s got a good life with his wife, Gail, and his son, David. Everything changes, though, when their housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, falls ill. As it happens, Hayden’s brother Frank is a well-known local doctor, but Marie refuses to let him treat her. After a time, she reveals the reason: it seems that Frank Hayden is responsible for raping several of his patients who live on the nearby Fort Warren (Sioux Nation) Reservation. Not long after her revelation, Marie dies. There are little pieces of evidence, too, that suggest she was murdered. Now, Wesley faces a terrible choice. His brother is practically revered in town, and certainly within the family. If he goes against his brother, that could create a terrible situation. On the other hand, Frank is probably a serial rapist, and could even be a murderer if he killed Marie Little Soldier. Frank will have to break free of his family’s influence, and local influence, if he’s to get a clear picture of what happened and do what he needs to do.

And then there’s Brian L. Porter’s A Mersey Killing: When Liverpool Rocked and the Music Died. Liverpool is the musical place to be in 1961, and Brendan Kane and his band, the Planets, want their share of fame and fortune. They’re liked locally, but they haven’t really had huge success. Still, Brendan wants to give it one more try. When that doesn’t pan out, Brendan decides to go to the US and try to make it there. Thirty years later, a body is pulled out of the water at the Liverpool waterfront. Detective Inspector Andrew ‘Andy’ Ross and Sergeant Clarissa ‘Izzy’ Drake investigate. At first, they wonder if the body might be that of a young woman named Marie Doyle who went missing in the early 1960s. But soon enough, that’s proved wrong. Now, Ross and Drake have to dig into the past and find out who the dead person was, and how that ties in with Marie’s disappearance. They find that part of this has to do with the desire to think independently and be free of pressure.

Most of us do want to think for ourselves, and we like to believe that that’s what we’re doing. It’s interesting to see what happens when characters with that same need go up against people or situations that pressure them not to think independently. Which ones have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Beatles song.


12 thoughts on “Think For Yourself*

  1. Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel is a perfect example of this and a very good novel. I haven’t read Montana 1948 by Watson yet, but I do have a copy.


    1. I think Concrete Angelis an excellent novel, too, Tracy. As for Montana 1948, I hope you enjoy when you get to it. It’s a tough story in some places, but I thought it was done very well.


  2. These are great examples, Margot. Recognizing that there are choices and then acting on those choices is such a huge part of a character’s arc. I enjoyed how you narrowed it down here to a choice between compliance and thinking and acting independently. Those are pivotal moments that can change everything. 😀


    1. Thanks for the kind words, DWP! You’re quite right, I think, that making and acting on choices really tells us a lot about a character, and helps make that character more multi-dimensional. And as you say, those moments of acting independently so a lot to move a story along!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Montana 1948 sounds really excellent, such a dificult situation to find yourself in and I’m wondering how it all pans out.


    1. If you read Montana 1948, Cath, I hope you’ll really enjoy it. It’s a strong story with a fine sense of place and time, in my opinion. And it’s novella length, so not a huge investment of time.


  4. Mrs Boynton is one of my favourite characters in all of Christie’s books – she’s such a wonderful monster! And Christie is very good at showing why her children find it so hard to rebel. It’s also another of those books that’s got a great Christie clue – in plain sight and yet still so easy to miss!


    1. Yes, FictionFan! You’re so right about that clue! Clever, isn’t it? And I do like the psychological dynamics in the Boynton family. You don’t feel at all sad when Mrs. Boynton is killed, and it’s fascinating to see what her impact has been on her children. Really interesting character study!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting. Your post prompted me to think of the people of Beautiful, Saskatchewan in Anthony Bidulka’s book, Going to Beautiful. The rural residents of this small community welcomed and respected Jake Hardy and his friend, Baz, as they search out the life of Jake’s deceased husband, Eddie Kravets. It might be a surprise to urban folk that the rural folk would invite the gay man and his transgender friend into their community and lives but not to me. Country people are often not stereotypes.


    1. Thanks for mentioning Going to Beautiful, Bill. It really is a fine example of a group of people who don’t behave the way they’re ‘supposed to.’ The way that the people of Beautiful befriend Jake and Baz is, I think, healing for all of them. And it shows, as you say, that country people don’t always fit the stereotypes around them.


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