Top positive review
The Greatest Character Ever Created Cannot Drive
Reviewed in the United States on October 14, 2019
Lee Child created Jack Reacher out of necessity. Child was fired from his previous job shortly after receiving a raise and turned to writing for the answer to income. In the introduction to the first Reacher novel, Killing Floor, Lee Child wrote, “Character is king.” While creating Reacher, Child kept in mind an, “Old fashioned hero who had no problems.” Child did not want Reacher to have kryptonite. He wanted to create a clear thinking, rational type of character who would also have a clear sense of right and wrong, along with the ability to set matters straight in a hurry. He called his new hero “Jack, no middle name, Reacher.” Reacher appeals to a broad audience because he stands up for the oppressed. The feeling of oppression is widespread throughout today’s society. As Reacher overthrows the oppression in each novel, victory and renewal are felt by the audience. Reacher’s uncanny ability to make the audience think like him and share in the victory of overthrowing the oppressor make him the best character ever created.
While creating Reacher, Child wanted to introduce a character that would be remembered. He broke the process down into three main categories. The first being about the character himself. He must have a reason to be remembered. When going through his own steps to make the character memorable Child wrote, “Who remembers Lone Ranger? Everybody. Who remembers any actual Lone Ranger story lines? Nobody.” Reacher is memorable due to his unique life story and physical appearance. At six feet, five inches tall, and 250 pounds, Reacher is not easily forgotten. The importance of Reacher’s size stood out when Lee Child’s book, One Shot, was made into a movie. Tom Cruise, who stands at five feet, seven inches, was cast to play the role of Reacher. Many Reacher fans, including Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times, were disappointed in the movie because of the lack of Reacher’s imposing size. Kellogg wrote “They are not looking forward to seeing Tom Cruise, not known for his bulk, portray the hero of Child’s novels.” Child’s second category was based upon capturing a new idea. If someone has already had a similar idea, or started a new trend, it’s already too late. Instead of joining an existing popular bandwagon, Child chose to create something new. A hero without a weakness. A hero who stood up for the oppressed. Child’s third criteria was that a character cannot be designed too specifically. There must be room to fill in information about the character. Child accomplishes this by giving Reacher a nonspecific past. Leaving an uncertain past was how Child was able to create a vague new character that keeps readers wanting to learn more.
Child’s new process for creating a character produced an ex-military police investigator. Reacher served in the U.S. Army and has brought the same attitude back to civilian life. Although Reacher is highly trained and skilled in combat, he does not have extensive experience in civilian life. Child did not want Reacher to have a flawless transition from the military to civilian life. In Killing Floor Child wrote, “I had noticed that people who have spent their lives in the military have trouble adjusting to civilian life afterward,” and “His transition from the rough, tough world of the army made him a fish out of water in civilian life.” Child did not want Reacher to breeze through normal life like so many characters do. Having such a unique background allows Reacher to view civilian life through a different lens.
What Jack Reacher lacks in everyday practicality he makes up for in military training. Reacher rarely carries more than his toothbrush and ATM card. He does not even have a driver’s license. Reacher grew up in military bases around the world, graduated from West Point, and then went straight into the Army. He was then abruptly released from the Army following the collapse of the cold war. He never led a normal civilian life. While some may view this as a disadvantage, it is not. Having few physical possessions to worry about and take care of enables Reacher to focus fully on the task at hand.
Jack Reacher, having been a major in the U.S. Army for 13 years, carries with him a sense of pride and duty toward his country. I felt some of the same patriotism when I attended Buckeye Boys State last summer. I can certainly relate to the sense of respect and honor that Reacher shows toward his country. However, Reacher’s patriotism is not blind. He once commented on the difference between patriotism and common sense. “Exactly patriotic. My country, right or wrong. Which means nothing, unless you admit your country is wrong sometimes. Loving a country that was right all the time would be common sense, not patriotism.” I feel similarly that it is part of one’s duty to his or her country to stand up for what they believe is right and to stand for change when necessary.
When it comes to standing up for the oppressed, Jack Reacher excels. He always has a clear goal and motive. Reacher is also decisive and makes decisions quickly, often leading readers through his thought process. This makes the reader feel like they are there with Reacher, about to topple the oppressors and free the oppressed. Reacher was once quoted as saying, “I just hate the big guy. I hate big smug people who think they can get away with things.” The real oppressors in true life are often not punished, but when Reacher liberates the victims in the novels, there is a feeling of gratification knowing that the oppressed have been redeemed. In real life many people are forced into the role of the oppressed and often need liberated from the oppressor. However, in a Reacher novel, the audience can experience the satisfaction as Reacher overthrows the oppressors. The reader enjoys sharing the role of the hero.
As a hero, Jack Reacher needs to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. He often takes a vigilante standpoint on matters the police have a hard time controlling. Lee Child’s plots almost always walk a fine line of criminal activity that seems above the law or that somehow slips through the cracks of established law enforcement. This is where Reacher steps in. The idea of Reacher working above the police is expressed well by Malcom Gladwell, from The New Yorker, who wrote about Reacher’s take on the law. “Our contemporary fantasy is about lawlessness: about what would happen if the institutions of civility melted away and all we were left with was a hard-muscled, rangy guy who could do all the necessary calculations in his head to insure that the bad guy got what he had coming.” What is right and wrong is often not clear throughout life, but Reacher seems to easily identify the oppressors and proceed to remedy the situation. A decisive attitude, along with Reacher’s ability to recognize the difference between right and wrong, are strong pillars of his attractive personality.
Some would say a character who is not flawed in some way towards his opponents would be boring, because he will always win. However, this is not the case with Jack Reacher. Regarding the question of character boredom, Lee Child wrote, “Shouldn’t it be boring? In theory, yes. But readers don’t agree. Because actually he has many problems. He’s awkward in civilian society. The contrast between his narrow and highly developed skills and his general helplessness humanizes him. It gives him dimension. He thinks he’s fine. He thinks he’s normal.” This is how Reacher can almost be a superhero yet remain realistic as he still has human qualities that we can all relate to.
Jack Reacher is enjoyed by many because of how Lee Child presents his hero to the audience. Reacher is not quite like anybody else, and that is what makes him special. He views the world from a unique perspective. Because of Reacher’s skills and background, he is often able to take care of what the police cannot. The feeling the reader gets when order is restored and the oppressors are dealt deserved justice is not just one of vindication, but also of closure. The reader hopes that similar oppression in real life could also be overthrown. A world without oppression is an ideal goal that everyone can agree upon. As an audience we strive to escape the real world, where we can be hurt and oppressed, to the world of Jack Reacher, where justice is freely dealt. Having the ability to instill a feeling of vengeance and closure in the audience’s mind makes Jack Reacher the greatest character of all time.