William Stoner: William Stoner is the title character, and the book is the story of his life. The narrative begins just as Stoner reaches the age of majority and prepares to go to the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he is to study agriculture to help his parents on their farm. The narrative ends with Stoner's death at an advanced age. Stoner is generally a lonely and awkward character, and his motivations and actions are complex. In the final analysis his story is one of a life that never reaches its potential and Stoner unable to break himself out of his professional and personal prisons. His early character is shy but determined. He turns to a lifelong study of literature (despite obligation to his parents) and immerses himself in a world of the mind. This evolves into the stronger part of his personality, where his dedication to his work, his students and his field becomes the defining point of strength in his character. However he never develops an ability to handle people outside of this realm. His personal and professional relationships are few and generally failures, and his life outside of his work is generally submissive. Increasingly he escapes through his work, though that too is merely mediocre and a lack of ambition (and perhaps talent) prevents him from going far as an academic. Nevertheless it is fulfilling, and his love of the study of literature becomes rock onto which his character and strength is built, while the rest of his life fails miserably. His personality gradually transforms over time from one of retiring timidty to one of curmudgeonly stubbornness, though in both cases those around him generally pay little attention to him or his life.
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