Themes in Fiction #9 – Faith vs. Doubt

Picture by Len Matthews

Picture by Len Matthews

“I talk to God but the sky is empty.” ~ Sylvia Plath

 

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Faith and doubt don’t have to just reply to the big ideas like God and religion. Every day, people have faith and doubts. Faith that their friends are there to support and help them, doubt that they have the ability to do something. Faith vs. doubt is a good internal conflict, as often characters lack faith in themselves. It can also serve to make powerful characters relatable.

Examples

Dragonfly by Julia GoldingDragonfly

Taking the idea of faith and doubt quite literally, the main character Tashi lives in a community where faith is everything. As a representative of that faith – she’s one of four princesses who are both leaders and religious figureheads – she has to follow strict codes and rituals.

Adventures ensue, and in a dark moment, Tashi questions her faith – fearing that no god she could love would allow people to suffer in the ways that she has experienced and seen. Ultimately, she reconciles her faith with her experiences, but her ideas, and therefore her character, are ultimately changed by her experiences.

harry_potter_and_the_philosophers_stoneHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling

In a less literal way, Rowling plays with the ideas of faith and doubt. Harry himself is a character who has a lot of self doubt – he’s held in such high regard by the wizarding community – they all have faith that he is going to be an amazing wizard. Harry, insecure about himself because of his life at the hands of the Dursleys, and a fish out of water in the wizarding world, is riddled with self doubt, not believing himself to be anything special.

This doubt serves to make him a likeable character (for the most part, I’m still not overly fond of Allcapsrage Harry in book 5) – The Boy Who Lived raised in the wizarding world would have been a very different character. Harry’s doubt makes him relatable.

Turning Round Self-Sabotaging Doubt

I’ve read a couple of books lately where the main characters are so doubting of their ability to have happy and successful lives that they actively sabotage themselves. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, Hayley has constructed a whole protective shell to minimise the damage caused by her PTSD suffering father. Her doubt that things will ever get better prevents her from taking steps to make things better – such as getting a good education. When Finn starts to take an interest in her, she fights against it almost constantly, despite being very interested in him.

In Rock Chick Rescue by Kristen Ashley, protagonist Jet has a similar outlook. She’s trying to look after her mother, pay bills by working two jobs, but she doubts that she has anything to offer Eddie Chavez, the attractive detective who’s pursuing her romantically.

In both cases, the characters have to start proactively doing things before they can start to shift their self doubt, though in both books they are also helped along by the loving attentions of someone else.

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