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There s a famous saying that goes like this: Behind every great man,
there is a great woman. However, not all men are great. All men have flaws
and women help men get through tough times and problems so they can come to
resolutions. In the novels The Man Within, Lord Jim, and The Catcher in the
and in the movies Fight Club and American Beauty, the female characters
relationships with the male characters are important and help the male
characters with their respective problems.
In The Man Within, Andrews problem stems from the fact that he has two
separate personalities. In the novel, Andrews said, He was, he knew,
embarrassingly made up of two persons, the sentimental, bullying, desiring child
and another more stern critic. If someone believed in me- but he did not believe
in himself. Always while one part of him spoke, another part stood on one side
and wondered, Is this I who am speaking? Can I really exist like this? (Greene
24). What he was trying to say is that 2 personalities dominated his life. One of
his personalities was called the coward. This personality of his was really
emotional. He would look at ordinary things and stare at them for long periods
time and see a lot of beauty in them. This personality also prevented himself
from standing up for himself and against his fears. One of those fears was his
nemesis in the novel, Carlyon, who he was trying to flee from because he
betrayed him by giving the local authorities information about his smuggling ring.
Another one of his fears was the fact he couldn t live up to the legend of his
Father, who was known as a great smuggler but never treated Andrews the way
he wanted to be treated. The critic in Andrews always second guessed
everything he did. Whenever Andrews did something or was thinking about
doing something, the critic in him would question what he did. One example of
this was when he was about to tell Elizabeth why he was running and he was
about to fabricate a story but his hard, critical self said, You fool, she ll see
through that. Haven t you enough gratitude to speak the truth (Greene 70)?
These personalities are polar opposities and Andrews lets them confuse him to
the point where he doesn t know what to do sometimes. This is where Elizabeth
helps him a great deal.
Elizabeth s relationship with Andrews affects him a lot and helps him
to a resolution at the end of the novel. Half way through the novel of The Man
Within, Andrews falls in love with Elizabeth. Not just because she s beautiful,
because she has attained a balance in her personality that Andrews wish he
Elizabeth has found a median and that interests Andrews a lot and is one of the
reasons he is very attracted to her. Elizabeth gives some good advice to
Andrews. At one point, she gives Andrews advice on how to combat the coward
in him by saying, You hesitate and hesitate and then you are lost. Can t you
ever shut your eyes and leap (Greene 86)? Elizabeth tries to help Andrews by
making him go to the town of Lewes to testify against Carlyon. She also was
willing to help Andrews confront Carlyon at the end of the book. However, it
wasn t until Elizabeth was killed that Andrews found balance in his personality.
He found a middle ground between the coward and the critic but it took the death
of Elizabeth to find it. Andrews also finds out that it wasn t Carlyon that he was
running away from the whole time. In the novel, he says, There had been no
struggle with Carlyon but only with his father. His father had made him a
betrayer and his father had slain Elizabeth and his father was dead and out of
reach. But was he? His father s was not a roaming spirit. It had housed itself in
the son he created. I am my father, he thought, and I have killed her (Greene
In Lord Jim, Jim s problem is that everyone thinks he is a coward and he
eventually starts believing it. The reason for that is because he jumped off a
ship, called the Patna, filled with eight hundred Islamic pilgrims that he thought
was sinking but it wasn t. For this he goes to court, where it turns out everyone
at the town is against him and thinks of him as spineless. Jim is a romantic with
a vivid imagination and the fact that people think of him that way makes him feel
ashamed and uneasy and he starts believing that he is actually a coward. He
wants to be known as a hero and someone who is known for doing brave deeds.
All he wants is to have a second chance at life so he can prove himself.
Jim s relationship with Jewel in Patusan is very important to him. Jewel is
a Malay that Jim meets and falls in love with. From what is read in the novel, it
seems that Jim feels as if Jewel and Patusan represented a second chance. A
chance where he can prove that he is, in fact, a good and brave man. In one
scene in the novel, Cornelius is harassing Jewel. Jim found it very
uncomfortable but he didn t leave because leaving the house would have
appeared a base desertion (Conrad 187). He doesn t want to leave Jewel
because the situation reminds him of the Patna. Leaving Jewel would have
like deserting the Islamic pilgrims on the ship and he did not want to seem like a
coward again, no matter what his instincts say. Jewel also does other things to
help Jim in the novel. In one scene, she tells Jim about assassins looking to kill
him and he goes down to where they are hiding and kills them. At the end of the
novel, Jim does what he feels is the brave and right thing to do as Doramin kills
In the movie Fight Club, the main character, Jack, also has problems that
a female character, Marla, helps him through. Jack is a disgruntled man who is
living a dead end life. Nothing really matters to him except the material
possessions that make him feel complete. So Jack decides to attend support
groups to warm his desperation. At these support groups, he meets Marla. She
is just like him except she doesn t feel the healing that Jack does at the support
groups. Jack is uncomfortable with that. So Jack sub-consciously creates Tyler
Durden, an imaginary personality that is everything Jack wishes he could be and
together they form fight club. He uses Fight Club to vent his frustrations about
life and himself. Near the end of the movie, Marla helps Jack realize that he
doesn t need Tyler Durden as they watch the skyscrapers fall together.
Another movie also has the theme of a female character help the main
character find resolution. In the movie American Beauty, the character Rickey is
a romantic. He is a lot like Andrews in that he sees beauty in the most ordinary
of things. He usually videotapes things he finds beautiful. In one part of the
movie, he says, Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t
take it, like my heart’s going to cave in. Also like Andrews, however, is that he
lives in his father s shadow and he doesn t stand up to him. His father, who
to be a marine, is trying to shape Rickey the way he believes a good person
should be like and doesn t give him room to grow as an individual. Rickey then
meets Jane. She is very different then Rickey in that she is very defiant against
her parents and most of the time, doesn t follow their wishes. They fall in love
and when Rickey s father beats him, Rickey realizes that enough is enough and
he finally stands up to his father. Rickey then asks Jane if she is willing to run
away with him to New York. Rickey finally gets to be his own man and won t
have his father telling him what to do anymore.
A Catcher in the Rye is another book that captures the theme that is used
in the other novels and movies mentioned. The main character, Holden
Caulfield, is a sixteen year old that has flunked out of his third prep school.
Holden s problem is that he s afraid of growing up. The process of growing up is
a sign of corruption from Holden s point of view. At one point in the novel,
Holden says, Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be
able to stick then in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone
(Salinger 122). In that quote, Holden shows how he s very much against
The difference between Holden, Rickey, Jack, Jim, and Andrews is the
fact that the female character that helps him is not the women he s in love with. I
Instead, the female character that helps him is his ten year old sister named
Phoebe. When Holden sees Phoebe for the first time since coming back to New
York, he notices that Phoebe seems to have matured a little since the last time
he spoke to her. The reader also notices that Phoebe seems to be more mature
and responsible then Holden. When Phoebe tells Holden to shut up in one of
scenes, he is surprised. Phoebe has never told Holden to shut up before. To
him this was a sign of her growing up. In another scene where Phoebe is on a
carousel and is trying to reach for a gold ring, he says, I was sort of afraid that
she d fall off the goddamn horse but I didn t say anything or do anything. The
thing is with kids, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it,
and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but its bad if you say anything
them (Salinger 211). When Holden said that, he understood that both
innocence and childhood are not permanent. He s basically saying you can t
stop someone from moving into another stage of their life.
Andrews, Jim, Holden, Ricky, and Jack all were men with conflicts that
female characters helped them through. They all had problems and the female
characters helped them solve the problems. However, it depends on the reader
whether each of the results was happy or not. One thing is for certain. Behind
every man is a great woman.
Conrad, Joseph. Lord Jim. Bantam Books, 1981.
Greene, Graham. The Man Within. Penguin Books, 1929.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Little Brown Books, 1991.
American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. 1999.
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. 1999.
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