Stories with Characters who Change

By the Dramatica Team

Main Characters, like all of us, can grow through change where one's values, attitude or world view is altered. Or, like us, they can stick to our guns and remain steadfast in the hopes the rest of the world will get in line. To help understand what “change” can look like and how it is used dramatically, here's a list of stories with Main Characters who change, an a description of how we can tell:

A Doll's House:


Once it is clear that Torvald puts himself and his reputation before his wife, Nora realizes she is no longer in love with him, gives her wedding ring back, and prepares to leave him.


The Age of Innocence:


Newland is a man who considers himself intellectually above his peers, a person open to new possibilities.


NARRATOR: On the whole Archer was amused by the smooth hypocrisy of his peers [...] Archer enjoyed such challenges to convention. He questioned conformity in private, but in public he upheld family and tradition.


Slowly Newland becomes more dissatisfied with the narrow-minded pursuits of his world. Then Ellen comes along, a kindred spirit, who speaks her mind. She becomes a beacon of enlightenment and change. Newland follows her light and moves toward changing the way he acts, not just the way he thinks. Finally, when he realizes he's about to lose Ellen for good, he tries to speak out, ready to give up everything he has represented in society to follow her to Europe.


All About Eve:


 Margo changes from a jealous, age-obsessed actress to a woman who has accepted herself at age forty, and is getting married to the younger man she's refused until now. She wanted to play a woman of twenty in Lloyd's new play, but changes her mind:

MARGO: But not for me any more -- not a four-square, upright, downright, forthright married lady. . . It means I've finally got a life to live! I don't have to play parts I'm too old for -- Just because I've got nothing to do with my nights!


Apt Pupil:


Todd has changed from hiding his true nature as a killer, behind his mask of a golden child, when he embarks on a shooting spree above the freeway.


Barefoot in the Park:


When faced with the prospect of divorce, Paul loses control by becoming intoxicated. As an illustration of his resolve to change, he acts on Corie's whimsy--regardless of its foolishness.


Blade Runner:


When Deckard is told a replicant is bad and to retire it, that's just what he does, no questions asked. But when he's told to retire Rachael, his love for her overcomes his duty and he escapes with her.


Body Heat:


Throughout the story, Ned pursues Mattie and her interests regardless of the danger or costs. At the end, however, he approaches the boat house and, sensing a booby trap, changes his mind and asks her to go into the boat house. This risks the very thing (Mattie) that he has so single-mindedly been pursuing.


Boyz N The Hood:


 It is in Tre's nature to look for the easy way out; his decision not to seek revenge against the gang members that wasted Ricky is indicative of his resolve to change.


Bringing Up Baby:


The change David ultimately makes doesn't happen in a leap of faith, but gradually, over the course of the entire film. In the opening shot of the film, David is sitting in his "Thinker" pose, with his attention entirely on his work. At the end, after Alice has left and Susan shows up at the museum, David doesn't seem to care that she has found the bone and is giving him the million dollars inherited from Aunt Elizabeth. In fact he says that he's been giving it a lot of thought and the day he spent with her was the best day he'd ever had in his whole life. (nb: in a scene that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor, Alice tells David "...since your experience with that girl you've been a changed person. And I don't appreciate the change.") A more subtle, visual clue is that in the beginning, David is always wearing glasses (despite the fact that Susan tells him he's so good looking without them), and at the end he is working on his dinosaur without glasses.


Bull Durham:


When Crash makes Annie aware that she has been focusing more on her own needs than on Nuke's pitching (as she claims), she breaks her hard-and-fast rule of "one player per season," and admits that she wants Crash. At the very end of the film, Crash tells her that he doesn't want to think about baseball or quantum physics or anything. "I just want to be," he says. And Annie, who has been the consummate Do-er throughout the film, says, "I can do that too.”


Casablanca:


Rick changes from self-centered and controlling to emotionally confident and selfless. Early on, he repeatedly emphasizes that:


RICK: I stick my neck out for nobody.


But at the moment of truth he risks everything to help Laszlo escape with Ilsa, and takes up his personal fight for what's right.


Charlotte's Web:


 Instead of acting frenzied (as usual) when faced with a crisis, as Charlotte's health declines, Wilbur takes charge and carries out her last wishes:

Wilbur was in a panic. He raced round and round the pen. Suddenly he had an idea-he thought of the egg sac and the five hundred and fourteen little spiders that would hatch in the spring. If Charlotte herself was unable to go home to the barn, at least he must take her children along. (White, 1952, p. 166)


The Client:


Reggie starts out as unable to let things go even after they have been taken away from her (e.g. her children). By the end of the story, Reggie is instrumental in enrolling Marcus and his family into the Witness Protection Program (which means she expects never to see him again).


The Crucible:


He progresses . . . from shame to renewed assurance. For a time his humility as an adulterer disposes him to accept the greater humiliation of confessing to witchcraft; since he has already blackened his "good name" by succumbing to and then publicly admitting lechery, he is tempted to save at least his life. Indignation, however, compels him to salvage self-respect. "How may I live without my name?" . . . (Moss 42)


El Mariachi:


 El Mariachi changes from a soft-spoken musician in search of love and luck, to a cold blooded killer, gunning down Moco for revenge.


Four Weddings And A Funeral:


 Charles changes from disbelieving he will ever be able to make a lifelong commitment with anyone, to finally stepping out on faith and asking Carrie to spend the rest of her life with him.


The Godfather:


Michael changes from believing what his family does is wrong to believing that his family's crimes are a necessary evil. He begins by insisting that his family's crimes belong to his family, not to him. In the end, he is organizing the execution of these crimes as the family's new Don, having reasoned they are necessary.


The Graduate:


Everyone thinks that Ben is absolutely on the right track and if he continues as such, he'll be assured success. But Ben changes. His change is not a leap of faith, but one that is gradual and inexorable--resulting in him getting the girl, but also disappointing everyone he knows.


The Great Gatsby:


Nick Carraway was raised to be tolerant of other's moral shortcomings. The events that occurred in the summer of '22, however, gave him an aversion to the ways of the corrupt and dissolute, and his essential nature changed:


"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.' In consequence, I'm inclined to reserve all judgments… Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on."


Hamlet:


Hamlet stops contemplating Claudius' lies and treacheries and accepts the knowledge that Claudius is responsible for his father and mother's (and his own) deaths.


Harold and Maude:


Through Maude's influence, Harold loses his obsession with death and destruction and embraces life--driving his hearse (without him inside of it) over a cliff.


Heavenly Creatures:


 Experiencing adolescence and the possibility of other worlds shown to her by Juliet, Pauline changes from a dull, obedient daughter with straight-A grades to an imaginative person with a purpose:


PAULINE (Diary V.O.): Anger against Mother boiled up inside me as it is she who is one of the main obstacles in my path. Suddenly a means of ridding myself of this occurred to me. If she were to die...


(Walsh & Jackson, p. 208)


Lawrence of Arabia:


 An expert on the region, Lawrence volunteers to be sent to Arabia, a country he comes to love even more as he adopts its customs and dress. But after experiencing the desert's brutality firsthand, and realizing the futility of trying to change the Arabs' squabbling nature, he abandons it:

LAWRENCE: I pray I may never see the desert again. Hear me God.


(Bolt and Wilson, p. II-112)


Lolita:


 In recounting his relations with Lolita, Humbert gradually moves from feeling only blind lust for the twelve-year-old "nymphet" girl, to genuine and everlasting love for a worn-out, old-before-her-time adult woman. During the two years they live together, "The sensualist in me (a great and insane monster . . .") (Nabokov 115), and (my) "monstrous appetite" puts in motion the "the writhing of desire again" (Nabokov 129). " . . . Ready to repent, all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again" (Nabokov 260). In the ensuing three years that Lolita is missing, Humbert comes to see that although his "accursed nature could not change" (Nabokov 234), his love for her did. Although Humbert's physiological lust for young preadolescent girls remains with him, when he finally meets Lolita again, he sees her "ruined looks and her adult, roped-veined narrow hands . . . unkempt armpits . . . hopelessly worn out at seventeen . . . [I] knew . . . that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else" (Nabokov 253). Earlier in the book, Humbert had had nothing but contempt and revulsion for the older high school and college girls as well as adult women. Now, he states: "She (Lolita) was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet . . . but thank God it was not that echo alone that I worshipped" (Nabokov 253). Although Humbert has no remorse for killing Quilty, neither does the reader. The reader abhors Humbert's lust, and using of Lolita, but can empathize with his constant guilt over his physiological addiction. In the end, the reader can feel comfortable with the idea of an emotionally changed Humbert, and believes him when he says that in spite of her ruined looks he loves her still. "I loved my Lolita this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another's child . . . " (Nabokov 253).


Othello:


Othello changes from a noble and just groom who declares, "But that I love the gentle Desdemona," (I,ii,27) to a foul-minded, irrational husband who vows, "I'll tear her to pieces." (III,iii,483) He changes from treating her gently to striking her in public, calling her a whore, and murdering her in an unfounded jealous rage.


The Philadelphia Story: Tracy is accused throughout the story (by Dexter, Seth, and George) of being "a goddess." By the end of the story she has stepped off of her pedestal and has become more forgiving of human frailties.


The Piano Lesson:


Berniece refuses to play the piano because she's afraid to wake the spirits of her ancestors. However, when Boy Willie is attacked by Sutter's evil ghost, she uses the piano to release those spirits to save her brother.


Platoon:


 When Chris Taylor first arrives in Vietnam, he is basically a naive, idealistic, young man who has dropped out of college to enlist in the military--he's signed up for infantry and combat. He's done so with the hope of finding himself and what he's really about, and to discover something he can be proud of:


CHRIS (V.0.): ...Course Mom and Dad didn't want me to come, they wanted me to be just like them--respectable, hard-working, making $200 a week, a little house, a family. They drove me crazy with their goddamn world, Grandma, you know Mom, I don't want to be a white boy on Wall Street, I don't want my whole life to be predetermined by them.

...I guess having always been sheltered and special, I just want to be anonymous. Like everybody else. Do my share for my country. Live up to what Grandpa did in the First War and Dad the Second.


...Maybe I've finally found it, way down here in the mud. Maybe from down here I can start up again,... be something I can be proud of and not have to fake it--be a fake human being. Maybe I can see something I don't yet see, or learn something I don't yet know... (Stone, p.14)


However, by the end of the film, we sense that Chris doesn't still hold to the same basic ideals as when he first arrived in Vietnam.


The war forced Chris to experience and do things that he's not proud of at all, like his platoon's involvement in the My-Lai-esque pillage and destruction of a Vietnamese village, and the climatic murder of Sgt. Barnes. Chris thought the war would mold him into the type of man he would be proud of, instead it has dehumanized him to the point where he is willing and able to commit the murder of his commanding officer in an act of revenge. He is no longer a naive, idealistic, young boy who was looking for a great adventure to make him a man, he has come to realize, and take part of, the atrocities and numbing reality of the Vietnam War.


Pride and Prejudice:


 Elizabeth firmly believes Mr. Darcy is the last man in the world she would ever marry. Her change of heart is illustrated when he proposes for the second time:

"If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever." Elizabeth . . . gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. (Austen 305)


Quills: Abbe de Coulmier changes from an administrator in the asylum to an inmate:


Dr. Royer-Collard: Circumstances have turned you surly. Interred too long with the beast, you've now become one. (Wright 75)


Rain Man:


Charlie is most concerned with making fast money and guarding his emotions. He works hard to close the car deal and make a profit with just "a few phone calls." He argues with Susanna when she wants him to share his thoughts, however, because he does change he is able to reconcile with her. After the road trip with Raymond, Charlie turns down Dr. Bruner's offer of $250,000 to release his brother:


CHARLIE: It's funny, I just realized I'm not pissed off any more that my father cut me out of his will. [...] It's not about the money anymore. [...] Why didn't anyone ever tell me I had a brother. Because it would have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.

Later, at the hearing with the doctors, Charlie says he connected with Raymond during the trip and values him as family:

CHARLIE: I had a father I hardly knew. A mother I didn't know at all. I found out a few days ago that I have a brother and I want to be with him.


Rear Window:


 We first see Jeff's fiancée, Lisa, in a negative light, literally, as a negative image on a slide viewer. This symbolizes the negative feelings Jeff has about the state of matrimony. But as he watches the marriage and courtship rituals of his neighbors, and those who suffer the perils of loneliness, Jeff's distaste for married life dissipates and he grows more amenable toward the issue of marriage.


Rosemary's Baby:


Rosemary changes in her feelings toward Guy (evidenced by spitting on him), and in her refusal to accept that anything is wrong with her child. Her ambivalent feelings about Catholicism are resolved as well. At the climax of the story, Rosemary overcomes her revulsion to the baby and chooses to be a mother to him, despite the fact that Satan is the father.


The Simpsons Christmas Special:


Homer believes the only way to make his family happy on Christmas is to provide packages under the tree. When he brings home "Santa's Little Helper," he discovers it's the love his family shares that is important.


All Good Things (Star Trek: The Next Generation):


Picard is thrown willy-nilly through time, trying to understand why. At first he is at the whim of the time-shifting. He then realizes that he can use the time-shifting to his advantage in solving the problem of the paradox. He is therefore able to turn the chaos into order.


Star Wars: After years of following other people's advice, Luke finally decides to ignore his superior's commands to use the targeting computer and does it the way he (and Obi Wan) thinks is best.


Sula:


Nel lets go of her hatred for Sula; the oppression she has allowed herself to live with is lifted.


Sunset Boulevard:


Joe wants to be a Hollywood screenwriter, so he accepts the expensive gifts and lavish lifestyle Norma offers him, hoping to continue his "career." Later, through Betty's influence, he quits stringing Norma along and living high on her money. He decides to give up his bid for Hollywood success. Acting upon the little decency he has left, he packs only his old belongings, and takes off the gold watch Norma's given him:


GILLIS: The rest of the jewelry is in the top drawer.


NORMA: It's yours, Joe. I gave it to you.


GILLIS: And I'd take it in a second, Norma--only it's a little too dressy for sitting behind the copy desk in Dayton, Ohio.


Taxi Driver:


Travis achieves some catharsis through the purging of criminals' blood in the climactic slaughter scene. Though he remains a loner with psychopathic tendencies, he's no longer obsessed with the details of the immoral activities on the street, and he's able to interact with Betsy without stalking her. Whereas earlier he complains:


TRAVIS V.O.: Twelve hours of work and I still cannot sleep.


At story's end, he tells Betsy:


TRAVIS: I just sleep more, that's all.


His infamy has changed him from a misfit into a media darling and hero.


To Kill a Mockingbird:


Scout changes when she realizes Boo Radley has saved Jem's and her life, and he is a man who is a friend, not a man to fear.


Tootsie:


 At first Michael is an uncooperative, opinionated, self-involved actor who has alienated producers on both coasts. Through his experiences as Dorothy Michaels, he changes into an understanding person who can see the "other side" of issues.


Toy Story:


Woody's resolve to maintain his status as "Andy's Favorite Toy" is unraveled throughout the course of the story, until by the end he concedes that status to Buzz. At the moment of greatest crisis (right before the rocket explodes), Woody lets someone else be in charge for once, allowing himself to be literally taken under Buzz's wings. From the experience of his separation from Andy, Woody comes to believe his own words, "It doesn't matter how much we're played with--what matters is that we're here for Andy when he needs us." In the final scene we see Woody loosened up and dancing, satisfied to be part of the group rather than its leader; he's more comfortable with himself, more chummy to Buzz, and more accessible to Bo Peep's advances.


A NOTE ABOUT OBSTACLE CHARACTER: Even though Buzz Lightyear appears to make a change (when he comes to see himself as Andy's Toy rather than a Space Ranger), in terms of his IMPACT upon Woody and the others, he is a Steadfast Obstacle Character. His presence forces Woody to confront his personal issues, and that impact remains constant until Woody's own "change" resolves the inequity between them. [Please see the "Story Comments" field for more info.]


Unforgiven:


For eleven years William Munny has been a family man, relinquishing his hard-drinking, man-killing ways. Financially desperate, he's drawn back to killing for money and when his partner Ned's killed, he hits the trigger and the bottle again.


The Verdict:


 In the courtroom, after all his evidence has been disallowed, Frank reaches deep into himself and banishes his Disbelief. He musters a new Faith in the judicial system as a whole, telling the jury that THEY are the law, and no matter what forces work against the truth, he has faith they will do the right thing.


Washington Square: Catherine begins as the victim of what is almost a system of inverted family relations . . . and not until Townsend crudely deserts her, and the egoism of her father and aunt is inescapable, does she exhibit any signs of independence, and even then it is partly the independence of a person intent on simple survival. Catherine is far from the transfigured victims, the Strethers and Milly Theales, in the later [James'] novels. Yet she has something in common with them. She is not, at the end, merely an old maid enveloped in the pathos of her unhappy memories. A small but real triumph has been hers: she has survived and become a person without recourse to the selfishness of her tormentors. Between victim and victimizer there is a human middle ground which Catherine makes her own. (Dupee 65)


When Harry Met Sally:


 Harry changes his outlook on men and women's relationships when he realizes people of the opposite sex can be friends as well as lovers.


Witness:


 Rachel is curious about life outside of her Amish world, and is determined to explore it with the possibility of starting a new life among the English. She is attracted to John Book, but comes to realize the violent and volatile world he inhabits is not one to make a life for her son and for herself. Rachel eventually reconciles to the Amish ways, and stays to settle down with Daniel.

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