Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jamie Fraser: "Great Scot" or only human?

Throughout the OUTLANDER series, Jamie Fraser has always been portrayed as a heroic figure, big and strong, brave and honorable, able to meet nearly any challenge that comes his way. But is he too perfect a character? We know he has flaws, because Claire sees them all too clearly. But he keeps them hidden away from everyone else — from his tenants, even from Brianna and Roger — with the result that outsiders tend to view him as almost super-human.

[Most of the new tenants] regarded him with a half-superstitious awe, and I was given to understand that Himself could naturally survive the eating of things that would kill any normal person dead on the spot.

(From Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 70 ("The Gathering"). Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The first and most obvious sign of Jamie’s vulnerability is his heavily scarred back. Flogged nearly to death at the age of nineteen, Jamie has taken great pains to keep his scars hidden ever since. This is entirely understandable; as Jamie explains in OUTLANDER:
"I think...if he were to see the scars, he couldna see me anymore without thinking of my back. And I'd be able to see him thinking of it, and that would make me remember it, and--" He broke off, shrugging.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 8, "An Evening's Entertainment". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
However, he allows Claire to see them almost from the beginning, when they are still strangers to one another. He is open and honest with her in a way that he can never be with anyone else. Once, one of his tenants makes a remark to the effect that “he could be dying and you’d never know it,” and Claire is startled by this, thinking to herself that if he were dying, she would certainly know about it. And yet, in FIERY CROSS when Jamie does in fact come close to dying from snakebite, he never says a word to Claire about it.
In the light of day, I saw clearly what exhaustion and the aftereffects of shock had stopped me seeing the night before. His insistence on his own bed. The open shutters, so he could hear the voices of his family below, his tenants outside. And me beside him. He had, very carefully, and without saying a word to me, decided how and where he wanted to die.

(From The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 93 ("Choices"). Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Jamie does not show his feelings easily in front of other people (Claire excluded). He seems to feel that a chief, a leader of men, must not betray any signs of weakness or uncertainty in public, lest it undermine the people’s confidence in him. We see this outward confidence shaken only rarely -- for example, when Young Ian is kidnapped in VOYAGER:
"I don't know," he said. "Damn me to hell, I don't know what to do!" His hands flexed suddenly into fists at his sides. He shut his eyes, breathing heavily.

I felt even more frightened at this admission. In the brief time I had been back with him, I had grown once more accustomed to having Jamie always know what to do, even in the direst circumstances. This confession seemed more upsetting than anything that had yet happened.

(From Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 39 ("Lost, and by the Wind Grieved"). Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.

In ABOSAA, when Jamie rescues Claire from her abductors, we see a completely different side of Jamie, where he has reverted almost entirely to pure instinct. Terrified by the thought of losing Claire, seized by fury and a deep desire for vengeance, he reacts with a sort of mindless brutality, all traces of the civilized man, the gentleman, forgotten.
He was saying something else, urgently, but I couldn't manage to translate it. Energy pulsed through him, hot and violent, like the current in a live wire, and I vaguely realized that he was still almost berserk; he had no English.

(From A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 28 ("Curses"). Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Another aspect of Jamie's character that tends to make him seem super-human, at least to those who don't know him well, is his refusal to acknowledge his body’s weakness – whether due to the effects of illness or injury. This is something that has been shown over and over again during the course of the series. On the very first day Claire meets him, he nearly falls off his horse, only then reluctantly acknowledging that he has been stabbed in the side. It’s all the more shocking, therefore, when Jamie does occasionally show signs of physical exhaustion: after the events at the Beardsley farm in FIERY CROSS, for example, when he collapses from the combined effects of exhaustion and a bad cold. But he reveals this side of himself only to those he knows extremely well, and only very rarely.

Jamie’s refusal to show weakness in public sometimes causes friction with the other men. Tom Christie is frankly jealous of Jamie’s leadership abilities and his ease in dealing with people. Roger is intimidated by Jamie’s seeming ability to handle any situation (”He can do everything better than I can”, he snaps to Bree at one point in ABOSAA). It’s not until Roger saves Jamie’s life when he is bitten by the snake in FIERY CROSS that a true bond of friendship and trust is established between Roger and Jamie. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is the first time Jamie really lets down his guard in front of Roger, dropping the stoic facade and allowing Roger to see the vulnerable human being underneath.

Even with Claire, Jamie is not always willing to show what he is really feeling. In times of the greatest emotional stress, his first instinct is to turn away, to hide his tears (which he views as shameful evidence of his “weakness”), and to refuse Claire’s attempts to comfort him. But eventually, he always turns to her, finding solace in her embrace. For it is only with Claire that he can truly be himself.

7 comments:

Karen Henry said...

To all:

I first set these thoughts down in writing about a year ago, but never showed them to anyone until now. I realize it's rather lengthy <cough>, but there seemed to be so much to say, that I couldn't bear to leave anything out.

It's nice to have a place to share these Deep Thoughts about some of our favorite characters. <g> I'm very interested to know what you think.

Karen

Janell said...

I like checking your blog early in the morning (as I check the other Outlander type blogs!) to get my day's thoughts going. This was very insightful. I read a lot of other types of current fiction and have lately been ruminating about what makes a man a hero. It's interesting to think about the way others see Jamie-especially Roger and Tom Christie. I'll be back with some more comments-must do some work first. Thanks for this thoughtful start to MY day!

Anonymous said...

Hi
Very good Karen! I have had some of these same thoughts about the "superhuman" Jamie. He drops his mask when with Claire and becomes human where he allows only Claire to see inside. I think this is expressed best when he tells her after their 20 year separation "To have ye with me again--to talk wi' you--to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts--God, Sassenach," he said and ended with ..."the pleasure of having ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart."
Chapter 27 Up in Flames. Voyager.

"...to tell ye all my heart." Those words just make my heart melt.

Thanks for these lengthy looks into the psyche of Jamie.

Shamrock

Mitzi said...

Karen,

What a terrific synopsis of Jamie’s character. There is no doubt in my mind that Jamie is “larger than life”. He is a Great Scot and a wonderful human being. I love everything about him.

Mitzi

Karen Henry said...

Mitzi:

Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Karen

Anonymous said...

"...to tell ye all my heart." Those words just make my heart melt.

Jamie might have wanted to tell Claire all his heart, but he didn't tell her he had married Loaghaire did he?

Heather said...

How am I only finding this now??? So, my answer??? Jamie is only human...but he is one PERFECT human! :)