Symbolic Imperfections On Characters
Symbolism in storytelling is more than just some metaphorical construct that you have to read, or see, between the lines just to get a minuscule glimpse of what it could possibly represent. Symbolism can be more simple than that, but just as grand. Physical imperfections is one example of symbolism in characters, but you still have to analyze story elements to see it. Let’s say you’re watching a movie and you’re introduced to a character with a limp – you notice the limp, and the cause of it might be explained, but other than that you probably don’t think much more about it. More than likely, there is a much deeper meaning behind this person’s limp. A character who has some sort of ‘flaw’ is no accident.
A character’s physical imperfection and what it symbolizes is highly dependent on the role they play in the story. Let’s look at an example. Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump started out as Forrest’s commanding officer in Vietnam. He was very stern, grouchy, and believed he was fated to die on the battlefield just like every man in his family before him. Having come to terms with his self-proclaimed fate, you can imagine how he reacted when, during an ambush, he was saved by Forrest after having his legs injured. After the war, he became a wheelchair bound veteran with no legs living off the government. His fate, which he has accepted, had been stolen from him, causing him to fall into depression and alcoholism. Having lived far longer than he anticipated, he grew very bitter at having lost any control he had in his life. Based on the set up, his legs symbolized control. After losing them, there was nothing he could do. He was unable to go back to war and die like he thought he was supposed to. Any control he had in his life was gone. That is until he becomes the first mate of Forrest’s shrimping boat and gets his ‘sea legs’ so to speak. Once the storm in his life has passed on, leaving only calm seas, does he gain control of his life again.
Symbolism in imperfections is not restricted to live action. There are plenty of animated movies and TV with examples of their own. Such as both Toothless and Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon. At the beginning of the movie, when Hiccup discovers Toothless attempting to fly out of the cove he is trapped in, he notices that a part of the dragon’s tail is missing, making it impossible to fly away — unless a prosthetic was made — and this is exactly what Hiccup accomplishes. However, the wind is proves too powerful, making it impossible for it to work without help. This is where Hiccup comes in. With his help his help, Toothless can take to the skies once again. The bond that is formed between dragon and human is strengthened through the altruistic nature of their friendship. One cannot fully function without the other. Not to mention the ending when Hiccup finds out he lost his foot and requires a prosthetic just like his best friend makes their imperfections absolutely perfect.
*Spoiler Alert FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS* If you have not seen the movie, than I suggest you get off the internet, leave your house, go to the movie theater nearest you and watch it.
The first two examples have either been of the hero, or a friend of the hero. Nevertheless, this type of symbolism extends to the Dark Side as well. When we first meet Kylo Ren, he’s wearing a very Vaderesque mask. The mask, obviously, covers his face, leaving what’s underneath up to our imagination. Could he possibly be scarred and grotesque like grandpa? Or flawless like his daddy? At this point, we don’t know. He’s being set up as another faceless, monstrous, inhuman villain. That is until he kidnaps Rey. When he goes into the cell to question her, she calls him a monster, which leads to Kylo taking off the mask and allowing us a glimpse of that luscious mane of his. This action humanizes him. We are shown that, underneath the domineering mask, is a normal, unscarred man. He doesn’t look like a monster. He hasn’t really done anything monstrous. At this moment, he isn’t a villain that we hate. He is a person. He’s made bad choices, but still, he is a person. Skip ahead towards the end. After he kills his own father in cold blood, he’s shot in the side by Chewbacca’s cross-bow blaster, which packs a big punch. Immediately after, he chases down Finn and Rey, which leads to him fighting them one-on-one, all the while having a giant wound in his side. During the course of this lightsaber battle, we see him grow more and more angry. He even seemed a bit insane to me. Now, up to the moment he killed Han, Kylo Ren was not a monstrous villain to us. He was just a person going down the wrong path. However, from the moment of Han’s death and on, he begins to slip even further into the Dark Side. By killing his dad, he has now become a villain we hate. Yet his face is still flawless. That is until his battle with Rey, and she slices the lightsaber across his face leaving a mark that will forever be there. He is no longer perfect. His face is forever scarred. Any humanity we saw in him is gone. He has become the monster Rey accused him of being. That to me is one of the best examples of the symbolism behind physical imperfections.
Next time you see a character with some kind of physical imperfection, think about what it means. Does it serve to bring them closer with someone who shares the same? Does it limitate them from chasing after their dreams? Or does it represent their descent into madness? There is more to a scar than it just being scar tissue. There is more to a limp than an old injury — you just have to look for it.
Julia Kelso,18, was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She’s an aspiring producer, writer, director who grew up involved in theatre and now attends Center For Creative Media, a Christian Film School. In addition to being a strong supporter of the arts, Julia is a left-handed, right-minded, introvert living in a right-handed, left-minded, extroverted world.