Everything in Knox Overstreet’s (Josh Charles) life occurred out of impulse, out of his romanticism, and just because everything “worked out” for him in the end, doesn’t mean that this concept was the true meaning of the film. Knox was a static character – he didn’t undergo any kind of self-realization like Todd did. He just threw himself into romanticism and used that as his interpretation of “carpe diem”. I wonder what he would have done had he not gotten Chris – maybe he would have killed himself like Neil. To me, their situations were quite similar but had different outcomes.
Knox’s “object of desire” was Chris. His entire existence revolved around her (his thoughts, poetry, behavior, etc) He broke rules to see her, competed for her attention with her boyfriend, and sacrificed his relationship with his family and with the Dansburrys. And he was ready to do this based on a one-time event where he interacted with her briefly, and in the name of “love” nevertheless.
Unfortunately, Chris is practically engaged to the son of one of his family’s friends, the Dansburry’s. It is at a dinner event at the Danburry’s that Knox first sees Chris, as she is currently dating Chet Dansburry. After that initial meeting, Knox does everything in his power to win her over.
He rides his bike to a football game to see her. He calls her, exclaiming first “Carpe Diem… even if it kills me,” and is elated when she invites her to a party that Chet is having. At that party and after a few drinks, he makes a move on Chris in the same room as Chet, who then proceeds to punch Knox several times.
Knox was the lucky one of the romantics, as the only “authority figure” he came into contact with was Chet, and Chet really wasn’t much of the authority figure that Mr. Perry was to Neil or that the school was to Nwanda, so maybe that is why things worked out better for Knox than Neil and Nwanda. After all, Chris was able to make the choice of whether to be with Knox or Chet in the end, anyway.
Also, in the cave during a DPS meeting Knox proclaims that if he can’t have Chris, he’ll die. Ironically, it was Nwanda that told him to calm down. Nwanda also calls him “noxious” which is defined by Webster as:
- (a) physically harmful or destructive to living beings (noxious wastes that poison our streams)
- (b) constituting a harmful influence on mind or behavior : morally corrupting (noxious doctrines)
- : DISTASTEFUL, OBNOXIOUS
After that, Knox writes her a poem and goes to her school and reads it to her in front of her classmates, something that will quickly get back to Chet. Knox is unconcerned about this. His only thought is of Chris, as the poem he writes implies:
“The heavens made a girl named Chris
With hair and skin of gold
To touch her would be paradise.”
Chris obviously does like the attention Knox gives her, and in the end, holds his hand at the play. Although this has a happy outcome, this is completely an example of romanticism. Everything Knox did was based on his feelings for a girl that he knew as “Chris.” This must be stressed, as who the girl “Chris” actually was is unknown to him. He only knows what he perceives of her to be and the challenges he must overcome to obtain her as his girlfriend. Thus, she is presented as an object, not a person. What becomes of the relationship is unknown to us. Maybe it was a one time event, maybe it lasted longer then that. The main point is that Knox risked quite a lot for a girl he never really even talked to. Many times the “wanting” is more intense than the actual being in the situation. We are only left to wonder if it was as good as Knox thought. “Love” is dependent on knowing who the person is, what their personality is like, what they like and dislike, what their faults are, among others. It is far deeper than the short term “infatuation” Knox was experiencing.
One other thing to think about, & I’m not going to take the time to flesh it out here, as many people have already written on the aspects of love in the play, but the illusion of love of Knox for Chris may very well be a parallel of the events of “love” in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the characters seem to be mainly in love for the sake of being in love rather than knowing who their partners really are. Romanticism among the four main lovers runs wild in terms of letting their fantasies take over their realities, and it is contradicted by the realistic approach of Theseus.
More strange than true: I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!
-Act 5 Scene 1
Knox does stand at the end, but as an act of romanticism, so this fits his character. He stood because it went against tradition. Keating taught there’s a time for daring and a time for caution, and this was his time of daring.