Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Stranger

Meursault is an apathetic man and doesn't even seems to be able to prevail or fail. Seemingly without any passion, he moves on without a care either way. When Marie, "...asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so."

There are very few people or characters who don't care about love. There are very few people who experience little to no emotion at the death of their mother (" Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."). In the beginning of this novel Meursault almost seems like a failure of a person wasting away his life. As the reader we find ourselves frustrated with his character considering his lack of feeling and emotion as a problem rather than a simple characteristic.

But as the plot progresses, and especially by the end, we see how Meursault has truly succeeded in a way very few people have. His passion for the truth and to always tell the truth takes him to his very death. This passion, Camus argues, is one that isn't handled well by society and thus innocence leads to conviction.

The Stranger is a unique and unconventional answer to this question. His passion for the truth never falters which seems to be a recipe for success. Yet society turns it into a failure, death. From a more cynical view point, passion is not enough to yield success; the restrictions of society may inevitably cause some to fall.

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment is an interesting book to explore in the terms of success and perseverance. Can we really say that Raskolnikov succeeded? And if so, what did he conquer? Or did he fail?

Each character in Crime and Punishment is impure, just as all people are. There are no completely "good" characters or "bad" but struggling to remain in the middle. Although the route Raskolnikov takes is "criminal", he attempts to prove a point and follows it through to completion.

He has published an article on crime, one that few take notice of yet illustrates his motives from months even before the murder. Raskolnikov elaborates:
"As for my division of people into ordinary and extraordinary, I acknowledge that it's somewhat arbitrary, bit I don't insist upon exact numbers. I only believe in my leading idea that men are in general divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary), that is, so to say, material that serves only to reproduce its kind, and men who have a gift or the talent to utter a new word...The first category is always the man of the present, the second the man of the future. The first preserve the world and the people in it, the second move the world and lead it to its goal" (227).

This long, elaborate passage sheds a spot light onto Raskolnikov's mission in his murder, to prove if he himself is an extraordinary man so as to "move the world" towards its goals. Does he persevere? In a way, he does. He conceives this idea, wrestles with it and decides to test it. As he experiences such psychological anguish he continues to struggle with accepting the fact that he is not an extraordinary man but punished as an ordinary one. In a way he prevails in the simple conception and execution of an idea with the courage to test such a risky hypothesis with his own life. He gains a new understanding and knowledge of the world through his grappling. Raskolnikov kisses the feet of Sonia saying, " I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity" (279). He is in search of understanding and grasping what it means to be human, what is means to suffer, and how the world moves forward.

In a way it could also be seen that Raskolnikov fails, settling into a "comfortable" life in Siberia with Sonia. He let's go of his theory and complies with the comforts of the world and the following of custom. He fails psychologically as he drives himself mad, unable to fully regain his footing again. And he could be viewed as a failure to society, committing murder for what he views is right instead of following the law. But he succeeds in a sort of courage others may not ever have, to challenge the system and try and answer it: " wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle! So I killed the principle, but I didn’t step over, I stayed on this side...All I managed to do was kill. And I didn’t even manage that, as it turns out..." His ultimate failure comes from staying "on this side," for not stepping over but allowing himself to be tied up in the rules of society.

Through Raskolnikov's struggle with his theory, he finds success through the passion and commitment he gives to his idea but failure creeps in when he is unable to reach completion and remains on the side of complacency. Therefore, through passion and commitment there can be success, as long as we don't stub our toe before we fulfill the plan.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Henry IV Part 1

Henry IV is a conflicting illustration of success and failure, specifically when looking at Prince Hal. For most of his life Hal struggles to find favor with his father and becomes almost an image of failure. Being the heir to the throne, he spends most of his time with the pub crawlers wasting away his days with merriment and alcohol. From the very first scene his father confesses:

"Yea, there thou mak’st me sad and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son—
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,
Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride—
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!" (1.1: 77-88)

Here King Henry expresses his frustration with his son and how he wishes the honorable Hotspur were his rather than Hal. But there is a truth behind Hal that the King does not notice. Among his immature ways he is preparing a stage for success and in one of Hal's famous soliloquies he is ready to rise to the occasion:

"My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will" (1.2: 220-224).

And Hal, by the end of the play, truly has allowed his successes to glitter over his faults. In battle, he saves his father from death and in this gains favor and redemption.

So how can a "failure" become such a success? And why was he considered such from the beginning? The conclusion I can draw from this book is the fact that to prevail in adversity comes from a person's own initiation and motivation. Prince Hal has complete power over his success, it simply becomes a matter of using it. This book demonstrates the necessity of motivation and desire, and we get to see the spectrum of a man who both rejects and eventually utilizes his passion.

To prevail (and fail) is a choice.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oedipus Rex

Sophocles’ short play follows a different path with this question of success, partially because of the beliefs of the time period. Oedipus is an innocent man who becomes victim to fate and the wrong decision of an innocent shepherd with no concept of the future he would ruin. Through the prophecy his life was already doomed, said he would one day kill his father and marry his mother. When his parents send him away to be killed the shepherd takes one misstep, an innocent and merciful step, to save his life giving him to a family far from his parent’s kingdom. Oedipus grows up as a strong and successful man until his horrible fate returns. Once the prophesy is fulfilled and Oedipus learns of the deeds he has committed, he gouges out his eyes and banishes himself from his kingdom.

Oedipus is presented with a mountain of adversity impossible to overcome. But why does he lack total ability to succeed? Why must he fail? The answer comes down to his fate. He was destined to “fail” from the beginning. Sophocles would answer the question stating that certain people are destined to prevail and destined to fail. It doesn’t require a certain level of intelligence or strength, a social position or support system. It comes down to our predetermined fate.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle, the main character of this book and the protagonist, is quite far from a hero. At 36 he can be viewed as a lost and pathetic character, "...waiting for his (life) to begin" (11). Finally half way through the book, when he decides to step of the box in his low end news paper job, he experienced, "...the first time anybody ever said he'd done it right" (144).

Why is Quoyle prone to failure? While millions of other men in their thirties are thriving, he is struggling to find success anywhere. He is hopelessly in love with a woman who could not care less for him, and when she passes away he continues to love her greatly. In and out of unappealing jobs, two daughters his wife tries to sell before her death, parents who commit suicide, and his one best friend to move away. His life seems to be the picture of disappointment. Part of his failure I believe comes from his personality. He is a drifter and a follower. He doesn't know any better, has no motivation and simply does not even know what to do. In order to prevail in adversity, one must have the strength and motivation to do so. Quoyle may not even realize what a disappointment his life has become.

But, there is a turn. Just as in The Odyssey, throughout the course of the book Quoyle begins to grow. He moves his family to Newfoundland (ironically) and slowly learns what real love is through his daughters. He finds his niche in writing "The Shipping News" at the Gammy Bird. And as he learns about his past in Newfoundland, he finally severs the ties of his old life into a man of true character.

Interesting. A man, seemingly a failure, finds a way to prevail. His collections of inadequacy eventually transforms into the ultimate success. This goes to show that with strength and motivation, through growth, even the people that fail can prevail.

The Odyssey

Why is Odysseus the successful man, the only one to make it home? Why is he successful and his other comrades don't even manage to make it home?

An important aspect to this question in The Odyssey is the time period it was written; "Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man. . . So the spirit of the man upon this earth is as the day which the Father of gods and men brings upon him" (228). According to the ancient Greeks, the success of men is granted by the gods and much of their fate was believed to be determined by the gods. With the help of Athena and Odysseus's incomparable strength and wit, he comes to look, ". . .more like a god than a man. . . a noble and brilliant figure; you might think of some perfect work of art. . ." (286). In The Odyssey, Odysseus's heroic stature illustrates why he manages to prevail. But it is also important to notice that Odysseus did not make it home without many hardships. He did not prevail without 20 years of learning and trials.

It is a crucial aspect of the question to see how the success comes. Victory in adversity may involve a few failures before the final result. Odysseus was forced to overcome some of his own personal inhibitions such as his pride and temptations. Once Odysseus grows into the hero he is meant to be he reaches his ultimate goal and triumph, coming home. In order to be successful, a person must simply be ready. His comrades did not undergo the growth and preparation Odysseus did and fell into their own desires and hopelessness.

The Odyssey offers a unique explanation to my question, one with an outlook of ancient background. Although today it is not a common belief that through divine intervention heros and successes are chosen, the idea that through growth and the conquering of our own inhibitions we can reach an ultimate victory offers and important outlook.

Monday, August 30, 2010

To Prevail or Fail? The Big Question

Adversity and growth walk hand in hand. There is never a day where we as humans are not faced with difficult decisions or difficult realities. Typically, as soon as satisfaction and comfort stretch out their feet, the hardships knock on the door to shake us back into our struggling realism. But in the face of adversity, what causes some individuals to prevail while others fail? Why do some people succeed while several cannot overcome? And why are we sometimes able to defeat the difficulty when other times we fall flat?