Characters and Characterization Techniques in Gale’s “Bill”
In fiction, characters are defined as “anything (persons, animals, plants, or other creatures and things} representing people (Pardede, 2020). In fiction, characters play an important role because they are the performer who carries the events that establish the story illustrate and personify the themes. Cuddon (2013) stated that character refers to the person portrayed in a narrative or dramatic work. Thus, to get the meaning of a story, the reader should understand the characters’ psychological traits, personalities, and other attributes.
To present a character, authors can use one or both of the expository and dramatic method of characterization. The expository method is conducted by describing a character using explicit statements either by the author or by another character in the same story. The dramatic method reveals the character to the readers through action. In the practical level, this is implemented using five techniques, i.e. showing the character through how he looks, what he says (his speech), what he thinks (his thought), what he does (his action), and the other characters’ reaction to him. As a whole, these six techniques of characterization are abbreviated by Pardede (2020) as EL-STAR (Expository, Look, Speech, Thought, Action, and Reaction).
This paper analyzes the character and characterization in Zona Gales’ Bill (1927). The characters of this short story is interesting to analyze because it tells about what a widower does when he knows he has only six more months to live due to his terminal illness. Being in a critical last period of life, how the main character behaves and acts? How the other characters react? This paper try to address these questions.
The story starts by describing an ordinary but happy and compassionate life that Bill and Minna have in the first two years after Bill’s wife died. But now Bill is convicted to suffer from a terminal disease and has only six more months to live. After cross-checking up his condition to some doctors, he advertises on a newspaper that he wants nice people to adopt Minna. Many wealthy families are interested to adopt Minna, but Bill refuses them because they look either stern or unwise. Finally, Minna is adopted by a simple but loving couple. Minna looks happy when she departs with her new parents.
The story employs six characters: Bill, Minna, the woman next door, the wealthy lady, and the couple who adopt Minna. Among them, Bill is the major character and the protagonist as well. He is the major character because he is central to the plot development as the plot and resolution of conflict revolve around him.
Bill is a young widower. He was 30 years old when his wife died two years ago. Although he is just an ordinary man, he is a loving father who tries his best to be a single parent for his little daughter, Minna. For him, Minna is his entire world. He is a carpenter working in a shop located in his house’s yard. This enables him to look after Minna, do the house works, and work at the shop as well. When he should go out, for some hours, he asks the woman next door to look after Minna. Although he is not very good in cooking and doing house works, he commits to keep on doing them for Minna and himself.
Bill is quite religious and believes in the importance of education. He always prays for Minna and takes her to church. He escorts Minna to kindergarten in the morning and picks her up in the afternoon. He also keeps on ensuring that Minna never forgets her night prayer. He is also a realistic person who knows his ability to educate Minna is limited in some aspects. He is not very good to guide Minna in doing school works.
Bill seems gloomy when a doctor diagnoses he suffers from a terminal illness and has only six more months to live. However, he is unhappy not because of the illness but he has no idea yet to ensure a good home for Minna after his death.
Although he is gloomy in the first time he faces the conflict concerning his terminal illness, Bill is essentially a sensible person. After making sure of his illness by asking for a second opinion from another doctor, Bill starts to consider some alternatives to provide a happy home for Minna. He starts by considering to ask whether one of his relatives would be a good parent for Minna. But he thinks none of them can understand her well. He finally decides to look for nice people to adopt Minna. To enable him to carefully select the prospective parent, he publishes an advertisement in a city paper.
Bill’s sensibility is well revealed through his decision to stop Minna kiss him to make their upcoming separation easier and his selection of the people who are interested to adopt Minna. He declines some rich families’ intentions as they look stern, unwise, or indifferent. Bill believes they cannot offer a happy home for Minna. He finally says yes to an ordinary but loving couple. Bill’s decision is correct as Minna looks happy when she departs with her new parents.
Gale employs both expository and dramatic methods to present Bill’s character traits. In the beginning, he is described as a loving, religious, and realistic father despite his limited ability to do house works through the author’s explicit statements and his actions. Gale writes: Bill was thirty when his wife died ... Bill could cook a little, coffee and bacon and fried potatoes and flapjacks, and he found bananas and sardines and crackers useful. He swept, all but corners, and he dusted, dabbing at every object; and he complained that after he had cleaned the windows he could not see as well as he could before. He washed and patched Minna’s little garments and mended her doll.
His religiosity and realistic view are also shown through his actions and thoughts: “He himself used to pray: “Lord, make me do right by her if you see me doing wrong” and “But he could make little of the colored paper and the designs and the games, and he did not go again. ‘There’s something I can’t be any help to her with,’ he thought.
Bill’s sensibility is revealed through various characterization techniques, i.e. his action, thoughts, speeches, and reactions. To make their upcoming separation easier, Bill starts to stop Minna from kissing him: “When she came to kiss him that night, he made an excuse, for he must never kiss her now. He held her arm’s length, looked in her eyes, said: Minna’s a big girl now. She doesn’t want Papa to kiss her.” Although it is very sorrowful for Minna and himself, he consistently forbids Minna to kiss him. At the night before the loving couple comes to pick up Minna, he does the same: “When he had tucked her in her bed, he stood in the dark hearing her breathing. ‘I’m a little girl tonight—kiss me,’ she had said, but he shook his head. ‘A big girl, a big girl,’ he told her.”
His actions, thoughts, speeches, and reactions towards the people who come and propose to adopt Minna clarify his sensibility. Seeing that the wealthy lady coming in a limousine is a stern woman, he “said steadily that he had now other plans for his little girl.” But when the thoughtful and tender couple comes, Bill becomes very happy. Gale writes: “In blooming of his hope and his dread, Bill said to them: ‘You’re the ones.’ When they asked: ‘How long before we can have her?’ Bill said: ‘One day more.’
Minna is the minor character as she has less influence on the story and serves to complement Bill’s characterization and supports to move the plot development. Gale presents Minna by employing various characterization techniques, including the direct statement, look, action, and reaction. She was four years old when her mother dies and six years when Bill falls ill. She is an adorable girl. This is stated directly by Bill's statement through his advertisement: “A man with a few months more to live would like nice people to adopt his little girl, six, blue eyes, curls.”
She is also a cute kid who follows his father’s instructions and advises and never causes trouble to his father. These are shown through her actions and reaction. Although she only plays with a kitten she does not feel lonely and lets her father works in his shop. For instance, she obeys Bill not to forget to pray every night: “If she forgot the prayer, he either woke her up, or else he made her say it the first thing in the morning.” The only thing she finds difficult to accept is when Bill starts to forbid her to kiss him: “But her lip curled and she turned away sorrowful.” As a young girl, she cannot yet understand that Bill decides to do so in order to make their upcoming separation easier.
The other characters, including the woman next door, the wealthy lady, and Minna’s adoptive parents are confidants. Each of them plays a minor role in the story. The woman next door is an impulsive woman. She is furious when she knows Bill declines the wealthy lady’s proposition to adopt Minna without trying to understand why he does so. This is shown by Gale through her actions and speech: “’For the land sake!” said the woman next door when she heard. “You done her out of fortune. You hadn’t the right—a man in your health.” And then the other cars came, and he let them go, this woman told her husband that Bill ought to be reported to the authorities.”
The wealthy lady who comes with a limousine is a stern and unthoughtful woman. This is shown through her reaction and speech to her own daughter coming with her to Bill’s house when the little girl cried: “’Is this my little sister?” On which the woman in the smart frock said sharply: “Now then, you do as Mama tells you and keep out of this or we’ll leave you here and take this darling little girl with us.” Perceiving her character, Bill refuses her intention to adopt Minna.
The couple who finally adopt Minna is loving, thoughtful, and resilient. Although they had just lost their daughter, “The woman was not sad—only sorrowful, and the man. Who was tender of her, was a carpenter.” In addition, their eagerness to adopt Minna is sincere. This is shown through an action that symbolizes their commitment to providing a safe future for Minna, i.e. they bring Minna a little blue parasol, and she is very fond of having the parasol. Gale writes: “This parasol Minna held bobbing above her head, and she was so absorbed in looking up at the blue silk that she did not remember to turn and wave her hand.”
Gale’s Bill includes six characters, among which Bill is the major character, Minna is the minor character and the other four characters are foils. Gale employs all characterization techniques to present these characters.
The short story centers on Bill, a 32 years old widower. He is described as a loving father who dedicates his life for his only little daughter Minna. Although he is religious and realistic, he is gloomy and doubtful when he knows he has only six more months to live. His gloom, however, is not due to his illness but because he has no idea yet to ensure a good home for Minna after his death. After considering for some time, Bill’s sensibility becomes dominant. He tries to thinks of the best alternative to ensure a good home for Minna and finally decides to find her loving parents who can understand her. He firmly declines some wealthy families’ propositions because he thinks they cannot understand Minna. He finally lets a loving, thoughtful, resilient, and sincere couple to adopt Minna.
Cuddon, J.A. (2013). A dictionary of literary terms and literary theory (5th Ed.). Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Gale, Zona (1927). Bill. Retrieved from https://losarciniegas.blogspot.com/2011/02/bill.html
Pardede, Parlindungan (2020). Characterization in Fiction. Retrieved from: https://www.weedutap.com/2020/08/characterization-in-fiction.html