Lately I’ve been thinking about the odd contradictions that exist in all of us. For example, when I visited England years ago I stayed with my Aunt Dorothy. She was soft spoken, polite to a fault and a very charming person. Yet on Saturday afternoons she liked to sit in front of the television and watch Pro-Wrestling. She delighted in watching these huge muscular men knocking each other about the ring. “Slam him to the mat!” she would cry out. My jaw dropped open. Was this the same lady who was making polite conversation over a cup of tea only moments before?
I’m curious about these incongruities because I’m a writer. I like to try to figure out what makes people tick and I’m always astonished when I see such startling contradictions. I don’t think it’s a Jeckle and Hyde type of thing. Usually there’s nothing pathological. In fact, it’s a trait that’s all too human. But I still have trouble getting my head around it.
While I’ve given up trying to understand these contradictions, I still love to observe them and then try to create characters that show these quirky contradictions. And I just love it when I see other writers using these odd character traits to kick a plot into high gear.
For example, I’ll never forget the opening scene of As on a Darkling Plain by Ben Bova where a seemingly rational scientist attempts suicide in sheer frustration over the enigma presented by alien artifacts found on Titan. Or in J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash, where an ostensibly reasonable psychology professor named Robert Vaughan has an erotic obsession with car crashes. He targets a fatal collision with Elizabeth Taylor’s limousine for his ultimate orgasm.
But maybe the best examples are found in the works of Philip K. Dick. His characters show these wild contradictions on almost every other page. Are his characters crazy? Well, maybe a little bit, but they are no less human. In fact, they’re just like the folks we rub elbows with in the break room. They’re people with lots of problems and limited coping skills. They’re not like you and me, of course!
When it comes to these inexplicable contradictions, Walt Whitman has the last word:
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”