It is hard not to become attached to fictional characters when their stories seem real to us. Indeed, it is safe to say that most of us have felt the loss of a fictional character as if they weren't fictional at all. The deaths of these six characters have resonated so strongly in the lives of fans of fiction, that they may as well have been living, breathing individuals.
One of literature's most charismatic and tragic characters, Jay Gatsby's death is certainly memorable. After having taken the blame for Myrtle Wilson's death, her enraged husband, George B. Wilson, comes after Gatsby in the last pages of the novel. Having been a peripheral character at best throughout the book, George briefly takes center stage, shooting Gatsby before also shooting himself. What makes this death memorable is the overwhelming sense of injustice felt by the reader, who has an omniscient understanding of the events that have set the characters against one another.
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy creates one of the most emotionally complex and star-crossed characters in fiction. Convinced that her lover, Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, is having multiple affairs with other women, Anna is driven wild with jealousy and suspicion. She becomes convinced that he will give in to his mother's attempts to marry him to a rich society woman, and, overcome with rage and confusion, Anna commits suicide by throwing herself in front of a passing train.
For those who read To Kill a Mockingbird (which means pretty much anyone who has attended a high school with an English class), you will certainly remember the painfully unjust death of Tom Robinson. Accused of rape, and forced to suffer through an obviously race-motivated trial, Tom was shot down and killed by police when he eventually attempts to escape prison. Indeed, in spite of strong evidence for his innocence, the small town was up in arms against him from the start. Harper Lee's powerful telling of Tom's death acts as a reminder of the injustice and inequality that exists when we let hate and fear rule our hearts.
Piggy manages to be one of the most lovable and pathetic characters in literature: a young man that is true of heart, while also seemingly unable to defend himself against the other boys who have gone rogue. The defender of civilization on the island up until his death, Piggy represents the goodness in humanity. Indeed, when Piggy is crushed by Jack and his "tribe" with a boulder (yikes...), it is understood to be the end of innocence on the island.
Gollum's death in The Return of the King is not only a memorable event on its own, but also a significant part of the story's unfolding as a whole. As a character whose back story is slowly explained throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy, his death is meant to cause a confused unsettledness in the hearts and minds of the audience. Are we happy that such a despicable creature is no longer a threat to the Fellowship? Or are we sad because we know what a tortured life he has lead because of the Ring? Indeed, Gollum's death calls into question our understandings of what "good" and "evil" may mean.
1. Dumbledore in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (2005)
The death of Albus Dumbledore is, by far, one of the most memorable in recent fiction. The very definition of a lovable character, Dumbledore embodies fairness, wisdom, love, and compassion. He was also the constant friend and protector of our beloved Harry Potter. As such, with his death came the sadness of loss, but also fear and uncertainty for the future. Who will protect Harry and the other students at Hogwarts now? Furthermore, as the murder is carried through by Professor Snape, another dimension of betrayal and sadness to this tragic event in literature is added.