The Young Protagonist

January 18, 2012

How many novels begin with a protagonist who is nineteen or twenty years old? I dare say, most novels. How many books come with the  title of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man! Almost every writer deep into advanced maturity, at one point, reaches backward to those early years. What is the fascination for a protagonist who is naive, innocent, inexperienced and completely vulnerable?

Even the mature person who leads a rich, exciting life, full of conquest and achievement, a profoundly interesting life, even that person, is interested in the young life. Why?

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road not Taken” is written in the past tense—at the end of the road, not at the outset. The traveler looks back, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

But the traveler is still curious about the other road, the road not taken.

We writers wind up the young protagonist and set him/her upon a road.  Then writers and readers alike watch with curiosity, with an adventurous spirit, like voyeurs, wishfully dreaming about the other road.  One road is simply not enough.