Sunday, March 13, 2011

Character Focus: Rachel

I had fun doing the Amber Sweet character study, so I figured that I might as well do some more with some other character I quite like. Probably quite a few will be from my lists of favourite strong female characters, but a male character or two might get thrown in, or some justifications for weaker/shallower characters that I can't put in those lists without fanon, personal or fandom-wide. This time it's Rachel, from Animorphs. Since she is who she is, TW for violence and gore. Also, spoiler warnings, as I'm going to go over aspects of her character from beginning to end.This might be quite a bit longer then the Amber Sweet character focus, as she's not one of my favourite-ever characters, and Rachel certainly is.

Rachel (Berenson?)

David: You got something to say to me? You looking for a fight?
Rachel: Maybe.
David: You wouldn't morph. Not here. Not in front of all these people.
Rachel: I don't need a morph to handle you.
David: Maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are just a girl, Rachel.
Rachel: And you're just a worm. Wanna see who wins that fight?
David: Aw, you're upset over Bird-Boy. Did you like him or something? That's sweet. But you know, birds have short lifespans.
Rachel: So do worms.
David: What are you trying to do? Scare me?
Rachel: Nah. Wouldn't want to scare you. I just wanted to tell you something. You try to sell us out to Visser Three, we'll know. We have sources inside the Yeerk organisation.
David: Yeah, right.
Rachel: How do you think we knew where the Summit Meeting was? How do you think we knew one of the heads of state was a Controller? You try to sell us out, we'll know.
David: Doesn't matter. Nothing you'd be able to do about it anyway.
Rachel: You're probably right. Even if we were warned, we wouldn't last long. But some of us would last a while, you little bastard. Long enough to make sure your parents... Well, just use your imagination.
(David swings at Rachel with his fist. Rachel catches his hand and jams a fork to the side of David's head)
Rachel: You want a war between you and us, that's fine, we'll play that out. But if you try to sell us out to the Yeerks, your little family will never get put back together again.
Never! The Solution 

Tall, blonde, gorgeous, Rachel was a hobby gymnast who loved to shop and was best friends with a girl named Cassie until they, Jake (Rachel's cousin), Marco (Jake's best friend) and Tobias (chronic victim of...of life, really) took a shortcut and met an injured alien that gave them the power to morph into animals and told them that their world was being infested by slug-like aliens that controlled people's minds. The Animorphs, written by K.A. Applegate was a very popular book in the nineties, and was loved for being creative, and edgy-the effect of their long struggle against the Yeerks have very obvious and sobering effects on the teenagers, and violence is never shied away from. 

Rachel is enthusiastic from the get-go, not morally confused like Cassie, or skeptical like Marco, and once convinced of the reality of the situation starts to earn the nickname that Marco gives her, 'Xena, Warrior Princess.' Her catchphrase when planning attacks on the Yeerks is 'let's do it!' and she's drawn into the struggle from the start, determined to deal with their new reality. 

A hidden side of Rachel emerges quickly, her tendency towards violence and how she exults in that violence. It never wavers through the series-she fights with all her energy and soul, and though it's for a noble cause, as the series goes on, both herself and the other Animorphs wonder what she'll do after the struggle ends, how she'll live without the adrenaline rush and the conflict that becomes so central to her existence.

Rachel: Eight of them. Five of us. No way we could win. A sensible person would have seen the odds. But I charged straight at them. The Alien

Crayak even takes an interest in her, trying to recruit her after Jake rejects him. He gives her enormous power, the ability to crush those she wants to, and she almost kills Visser Three before realizing that her friends would consider her a monster for what she was about to do. That is the entire reason why she rejects Crayak's offer, turning her back on the possibility of immense power, and constant conflict. That relationship with her team, and her loyalty to them, is clearly one of very few things that keeps her on the side o the Ellimist.

Her relationship with her family suffers, especially towards the end of the series, when they know about the invasion and what Rachel does. (It's not helped by her mother being unable to accept the reality of her new situation, and trying to escape their safe haven all the time to tell the police.) Her relationship with Cassie suffers after Cassie makes the decision to give Tom the Blue Cube. Her and Marco have always had an antagonistic friendship, snarking at each other near-constantly. Jake and her have been at odds for a while, Rachel resenting what she assumes he thinks about her, guessing his judgement of her from half-slips, implications, or just the logic of how she knows she is behaving. Ax thinks that she's dangerous, and her relationship with Tobias is always tinged with tragedy. She's increasingly alone, the team fragmenting and her blood-lust increasing.

Tobias: But how does the butterfly know when to beat its wings? 
Rachel: It doesn't. I guess it beats its wings the best it can, and hopes it will all work it. It's a butterfly. If just does what butterflies do. 
Marco: And what do we do, Xena, Warrior Princess? 
Rachel: (grinning) We kick Yeerk butt. The Stranger

Rachel has a very close, touching and odd relationship with Tobias, the Animorph that is stuck in the body of a hawk. It develops behind the scenes, almost, significant glances, more concern then most would expect from Rachel, awkward conversations, until it's laid bare by their team mates commenting on the developing relationship that they can all notice. At the point where he is a nothlit who they all assume will never be able to be human again, their emotional connection has a very strong flavouring of starcrossed lovers, something that neither of them seem to be quite fond of. As Rachel mentions once, Romeo and Juliet has nothing on them.

When Tobias gains the ability to morph into his human self, though, Rachel is torn, because she wants Tobias to trap himself in his human body, and be someone that she can be with permanently, that doesn't have to turn back into a hawk every two hours. And Tobias doesn't want to give up the fight. She goes so far as to not warn him that he's running out of time when they're at a school dance. He realizes it on his own, but it's a near miss. Rachel does learn to respect his choice, possibly because she understands the need to keep fighting very well.

Possibly, because Tobias is captured and tortured by a beautiful blond Controller that is the dark-Rachel. That book has a lovely moment between the two, where she barrels in, ready to kill the girl that's hurt Tobias so badly, and he asks her not to kill her, to be 'Rachel, not her.' And though she's very obviously sorely tempted to ignore Tobias' request, she scoops him up and leaves, sparing Taylor's life.

Rachel doesn't usually show mercy very often, needing to be prompted to it. She, like all Animorphs, started off being squeamish about killing human-controllers, but there is a point towards the end where they can't be as careful as they'd like, and she's bothered, yes, but not to the same extent Cassie is. The interesting relationship between the best friends is intriguing, Cassie being the merciful one, the giving one, the moral one, and Rachel being hard, ruthless, violent, and capable. It causes friction between them, many times, but they do learn from one another. Rachel helps raise the skunk kits that Tobias orphaned. Cassie kills when she needs to do so. But in the end, Cassie gives away the Blue Cube, which gives a certain Yeerk the ability to morph into a polar bear, and to kill Rachel. Killed by kindness.
Rachel: (narrating) Unlike Cassie, unlike Tobias perhaps, I'm ruthless at times. But even I have enough sense to know the words "we have to win" are the first four steps on the road to hell. The Underground

I'm not going to touch on David much, but the last book he's mentioned in, The Return, was my favourite Rachel book. And the final scene, Rachel staring at the white rat that is David the traitor, David the nothlit who begs for death and tells her that if she doesn't kill him, he'll come back to haunt the Animorphs's a beautiful, haunting moment of Rachel struggling with herself. She either kills a rat with a human soul and mind, kills someone begging for death, kills someone who's hurt her, tried to kill Tobias, that she trapped in the body of a rat, that is the most pathetic thing she's seen...or spare his life, allow him to attack again, to live in this hell of a life that she condemned him to, to suffer as a rat.

We never see what she chooses. We never get told.

Rachel: I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.
And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.
A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.
It would be hard to believe the entire fate of the planet depended on that girl.
A girl who wanted to do the right thing.
But who had no idea at all what that was...
The Return

Rachel has nightmares every night, like all the Animorphs, dreams of all the terrible things that have happened, will happen, and could happen. The glory of Rachelis her humanity, is seeing her being plagued by guilt and anger and hatred, and still fight. She never really gives up, and she never stops trying. She's got violent impulses, a dark side to herself that scares her as much as it helps her, and sometimes wants things that she can't handle. But she's someone good to have in your corner, loyal to her team, a brilliant fighter, and a woman who sacrificed everything to help save the world, and in her death found release from that inner darkness that plagued her eye-blinding brightness.

Rachel: Answer this, Ellimist: Did I . . . did I make a difference? My life, and my . . . my death . . . was I worth it? Did my life really matter? 
Ellimist: Yes. You were brave. You were good. You mattered. 
Rachel: Yeah. Okay, then. Okay, then. The Beginning

 This quote always makes me feel like crying.

Image Locations

3. chareed/com/Animorphs

1 comment:

  1. I know this year's late... But I just had to comment, your breakdown is beautiful, and Rachel truly was a tragic character. There's a knot in my chest right now... I think I need to cry