Character descriptions are important in novels, because they form the picture in our minds of what the people in our stories look like, walk like, talk like, how they feel about things, etc etc etc. However, a good character description is such an integral part of the story, that you don’t even realize you’ve read it. The picture forms in your mind, without truly reading the individual words on the page. That’s how everyone knows exactly what Harry’s hair looks like (and why so many of us were confused when he wasn’t NEAR as messy in the movie).
This was another difficult one for me, when I saw the list because of that reason. Holy crap, how am I going to go back and find a character description in a book? I am going to have to dig!
But then, as I was reading The Grapes of Wrath, I came across Tom’s vision of his mother when he meets her in the kitchen for the first time in several years. I can’t say if it’s my favorite, but it definitely is very striking.
“Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.”–John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath