In “Winter Dreams,” the reader observes the American dream in action. Dexter, a young man from humble beginnings, moves up the ranks of the economic and social ladder under his own power due to his strong sense of motivation to better his life. Dexter began as a caddy in his young teen years. Dexter did not do this to make his living, rather to make pocket money. This leads the reader to believe that Dexter was not poverty stricken, but he was definitely not born with the silver spoon in his mouth either. Although Dexter only caddied for spending money, he took his job very seriously. This shows a strong work ethic in the boy from the beginning. During his time spent caddying, Dexter has the opportunity to meet Judy Jones. Jones exemplifies the life of exuberance and extravagance. She was only eleven at the time of their initial meeting, but Dexter notes that “there was a general ungodliness in the way her lips twisted down at the corners when she smiled and in the−Heaven help us! −in the almost passionate quality of her eyes. Vitality is born early in such women” (2187). This was Dexter’s first glance into the fantasy world that Jones lived in. As he grew older, he decided to attend a prestigious college on the east coast. At the conclusion of his studies, he moved back home and opened a laundry that specialized in the cleaning of golf socks. Soon Dexter was moving in the same circles in which Judy Jones also circulated. They met and had a very dysfunctional relationship that spanned several years. Although Dexter was well-to-do at this point in his life, he never felt like he truly belonged to the social circles within which he moved. He was an outsider looking in. Judy Jones was Dexter’s gold ring. He knew that if he could gain her then he would not have to second guess himself any longer. Dexter invested years into chasing Jones only to be left in the end. Dexter did not love Judy Jones, but he did love the idea of high society and social grace and Judy Jones embodied these qualities. Therefore, Dexter deceived himself into believing that he loved the woman. If Judy Jones had not been the out-of-reach, golden ring, Dexter would not have pursued her as doggedly. The truth is that Dexter’s pursuit of Judy Jones is a reflection of the chase within his life to put his own feelings of inadequacy to rest. Jones was nothing more than a trophy that Dexter pursued to finally feel like part of the in-crowd. In the end, Dexter did not win Judy Jones’ affection and finally had his dreams shattered when he realized that the ideology of his own success and acceptance that he projected on the vivacious Judy Jones had passed away never to return.
In the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman adeptly uses the concept of altered perception for the narration of the tale. The story is focused on a young housewife and her descent from post-partum depression into utter madness. The young woman is confined to an upper room that is decorated with yellow wallpaper. The use of altered perception is objectified within the wallpaper. As the story begins, the narrator is a “normal” housewife suffering from a bout of post-partum depression, which they call a “nervous disorder.” She takes her “treatment” regimen as prescribed by her physician husband, John, which basically consisted of doing nothing and being left alone to contemplate her current life situation. As the story continues, there is subtle change in the narrator’s point of view. At first, she absolutely detests the yellow wallpaper. She asks her caregiver and her husband if they could remove it, but both state that would be impractical since they are only renting the house for a short time. As time passes by, the narrator becomes fascinated by the wallpaper, watching its lines twist and turn and “commit suicide.” Then as the descent into utter madness begins, she notices a woman trapped behind the wallpaper trying to get out. “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be. I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman” (1961). Then the descent continues finally culminating into a confrontation between the narrator and John. As John tries to get into the room where the narrator is, he finds the door to be locked and the key thrown outside. When John finally retrieves the key, he enters the room to find his beautiful bride “creeping” around the edge of the room. John faints and that is where the story ends. The most beautiful thing about the way this story is written is the fact that the reader is able to follow the narrator’s change step by step from a prim and proper housewife into a creeping crazy person. If Gilman would have chosen another writing style, the story would not have effectively communicated what she was attempting to convey to the reader. When reading the first person altered perception, the reader is forced to put himself or herself directly into the shoes of the narrator. The reader is not reading a story about a descent into madness; rather, the reader is experiencing firsthand the change that the narrator is going through. It was extremely effective when the story was published and this story is seen as one of the first and most important examples of feminist literature.
In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway uses vivid imagery to define death. The whole story is based upon the main character, Henry, and his struggle to rediscover who he is and the happiness of his youth on a safari to Africa. During the trip, Henry had been scratched by a thorn and developed gangrene in his leg. During his last days of life, Henry wrestles with the regrets of his life and his unfulfilled ambitions. Within the story, Hemingway uses several different things to symbolize both physical and spiritual death. The journey had been planned to be a spiritual journey. One that was supposed to rekindle what Henry had lost. Hemingway begins the story telling a legend about a leopard frozen in place on his trip to “the house of God.” Henry envisions himself as the noble leopard, on a vision quest to redefine his life, but after he is stricken with the raging infection, Henry comes to a dastardly conclusion about himself. Catching the scent of his rotting flesh, the scavengers emerge. Hemingway specifically brings the hyena to the forefront. The imagery of the hyena represents the spiritual death that Henry had incurred when he sold out everything that he had been for the easy life. He literally became the scavenger. “And just then it occurred to him that he was going to die. It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it” (2251). Upon the cot which became his death bed, Henry realized that he had departed the path of the noble leopard long ago and had embraced the very countenance of the hyena and he despised himself for it. This is the symbolism of his spiritual death; the death of the man that he once was and the unfulfilled potential of his life. The physical death in the story is personified as Henry lay on his cot. “Because, just then, death had come and rested it’s head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath…It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space…It did not go away but moved a little closer…It moved up closer to him still and he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tired to send it away without speaking, but if moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest and while it crouched there and he could not move, or speak, he heard the woman say, ‘Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent.’ He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest” (2257-2258). Then Henry was dead. Hemingway uses symbolism and personification to describe both spiritual and physical death within this short story. However, the theme of spiritual death is the most salient and most likely the theme that Hemingway wanted to convey as a caution to the reader to always stay true to oneself so that when physical death comes, one would be able to rest in the assurance of the legacy that the person is leaving behind and to pass away in the comfort of a fulfilled life.
In the poems Frost is speaking of death. In “After Apple-Picking,” the narrator is speaking of a life of hard work coming to an end. Within this poem he laments about missed opportunities within his life when he states, “Beside there may be two or three apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple picking now” (1958). This is a way for the narrator to convey to the reader about missed opportunities, but it would seem that the narrator is not necessarily upset about the path that he has chosen or the decisions that he made with his life. Toward the end of the poem, the narrator speaks of apples that were bruised or spiked with stubble which went to the cider heap. This is also a metaphor for opportunities take that were either botched or not productive for his life. The poem concludes with the narrator pondering whether the sleep that he is about to undertake will be the long sleep of death, or just another human sleep. Contrasting the first person style of “After Apple-Picking,” “The Death of the Hired Man” is written in third person, however, the theme of the poem is similar. This particular poem is about the death of an old and trusted farmhand that had betrayed the plantation owner by leaving during haying season for another farm that promised him more money. Old Silas had come home to die. The narrator suggests through the story of the old farmhand that it is natural for those who are dying to want to go in a place that is familiar with people that they consider family. Mary and Warren discuss the life of Silas and the reader sees a man who was proud to do the task in his life at which he excelled which was tying up hay bales. As Silas is entering the time right before his death, he begins recount to Mary the things in life that for which he had regret. Silas had attempted to teach a younger man the finer points of haying, but their relationship ended abruptly and on uncertain terms when the young man left for school. This particular encounter seems to have plagued Silas. “He thinks young Wilson a likely lad; though daft on education−you know how they fought all through July under the blazing sun, Silas up on the cart to build the load, Harold along beside to pitch it on. Yes I took care to keep well out of earshot. Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream” (1956). The narrator is giving insight into the last moments before we pass on in this life, how regret and sorrow play out in our final moments. Perhaps it is a warning to live life without regret in order to enjoy our final moments of this life. In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the narrator expresses his longing for rest. Whether this is the rest of death or sleep, the narrator stresses the desire to stay awhile in oblivion and solace to ponder the greater mysteries of his life. However, his horse brings him back to reality with a shake of his harness, questioning the duo’s sudden stop in the middle of the forest. As much as the narrator longs for rest, there is no rest to be had because he “has miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep” (1963).
The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Naturalism implies a philosophical position that contrasts the realist writers who focus on the literary technique. “The Open Boat” is a strong example of naturalism. The story pits four men who survived a ship wreck against the impassive forces of nature, which in this case is the ocean. Another aspect that brings out the naturalism technique within the story is the fact that there is no way that the men inside the boat can exercise free will. They are at the extreme mercy of nature. During the story, the men make several attempts to run the surf as they are approaching land, but each time they were unable to make the beach due to the instability of the craft in which they were sailing. This exemplifies the futile struggle of men against nature and fate. The story ends when the four sailors take matters into their own hands. Deciding against spending another moment on the boat, with the strength of the oarsmen waning, the men make one final drastic attempt to best nature. As the ship presses into the surf, the craft capsizes and breaks up. The men jump clear of the boat to make their gallant attempt to best nature and reach the shore. One by one, the men make it to shore and it would seem that man had bested nature, but tragically, one of the four could not make the final swim emphasizing the naturalistic principle that it is futile for man to struggle against fate.
The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008.
In “The White Heron,” Jewett contrasts the two main characters of Sylvia and the hunter regarding their relationship to their surroundings. For Sylvia, nature is a force to be respected and enjoyed. The text brings out how nature exhilarated her. “She waded on through the brook as the cow moved away, and listened to the thrushes with a heart that beat fast with pleasure” (1592). Not only did nature exhilarate the young lady, but she acted as if she was a natural extension of nature around her. The animals seemed at ease when she was near even to the point where she is able to observe the white heron from a few feet away while up in a tall pine tree. The hunter, on the other hand, is portrayed as a destructive force to his surroundings. He shoots and traps game for sport and for food, even attempting to get Sylvia to betray her natural instinct to protect the forest for ten dollars. Sylvia, however, is true to herself and her love of nature in the end when she conceals the location of the hallowed white heron from the destructive force of the hunter.
The use of fantasy in “The Occurrence at Owl Creek” is used not only to keep the reader involved in the story, but also to bolster the feeling of excitement as Farquhar escapes from his captors. The entire story is based in a fantastical experience that occurs as the main character, Peyton Farquhar, is being executed on Owl Creek Bridge for attempting to sabotage the union army. Bierce tells the story from Farquhar’s point of view. As Farquhar is falling to his assured death by hanging, the rope breaks and he plummets into the river below the bridge. The reader is then led to believe that Farquhar has escaped capture by an amazing stroke of luck. The story continues to chronicle his fanciful escape from the army. Although, the reader is deliberately led to believe that Farquhar has evaded capture, there are several clues that foreshadow Farquhar’s true fate. As he is in the water looking up at the sharpshooters who are attempting to shoot him from either end of the bridge, Farquhar develops super human eyesight being able to see down the barrel of one of the shooter’s rifle all the way to discern the color of the man’s eyes. This is simply not possible. He even has time to ponder how a man with grey eyes is supposed to be the truest marksman. Also, as Farquhar escapes down the river, a company of infantry joins in on the attempt to cut him down with gunfire. As the company fired, Farquhar dove under the water. While under water, Farquhar notices that the bullets seem to lose all speed when they hit the water and begin to lazily float to the bottom. One bullet even becomes lodged between Farquhar’s neck and collar, which he quickly brushes it out because it is “uncomfortably warm.” The clues continue to roll in as Farquhar finally gets back to his home, recovering from a delirium caused by his long journey, he sees his home and his wife just as he had left them. As Farquhar enters the gate of his home, he sees his wife who does not seem disturbed by the physical state that Farquhar is in with a bruised neck, a tongue pushed out due to unrelieved thirst, and his eyes being unable to close due to swelling. Farquhar then reaches out for his wife and feels a sharp pain in the back of his neck. That is when the fantasy ends and Farquhar’s fate is finally, obviously revealed to the reader. “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge” (1482).
Kate Chopin was a daring author during her lifetime. She published local color stories that often times flirted with the society’s perceived edge of decency. In 1898, she wrote “The Storm,” which was a sequel to the short story “At the Cadian Ball.” In the prequel, Chopin hinted at scandal and flavored the story with an undercurrent of improper flirtation, but these concepts were still well within the limits of the perceived literary standards of the time. However, “The Storm” completely obliterated the line of decency that was established for literature at the time. Chopin valued her ability to publish, so she did not seek to have “The Storm” published as she would have been shunned from the contemporary literary society. The most startling thing about “The Storm” was not necessarily the steamy scene that Chopin adeptly painted in the reader’s mind. Rather, it was the unapologetic attitude of the adulterers that would have crossed the line. It was this displayed attitude that almost certainly kept Chopin from submitting this story for publication.
In the story, “Desiree’s Baby,” a young woman is caught up in a destructive scheme organized by her self-serving husband. Desiree was a young woman with no name. Orphaned when she was just a toddler and taken in and cared for by a well to do woman, Madame Valmonde, and, although she was loved dearly by Valmonde, she was still a young lady with no defined past. This made her the perfect target for Armand Aubigny. Armand was a well to do planter with a secret so vile to him that he had never been able to admit this terrible revelation to anyone. Armand’s mother “belonged to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery” (1619), but she had died in France when Armand was eight. Armand knew of his mother’s ethnicity, but he had never revealed this to anyone else in his life. Armand also knew that any respectable southern plantation owner was to marry and raise a strong family, but how could he reproduce with his terrible secret? When he saw Desiree as she was leaning up against a stone pillar, an idea struck him. Desiree was beautiful, but most importantly, she was of an unknown origin. “It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing here there, had fallen in love with her. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love. As if struck by a pistol shot” (1615). This is the first evidence of foreshadowing in the story. To describe falling in love as being struck by a pistol shot has very violent connotations and prepares the reader for the violent gut wrenching ending of the story. This even gives some insight to the type of man who Armand is, violent, quick to judge, and conniving. At this point Desiree and Armand were married and Desiree moved to Armand’s plantation. Before long, Desiree was to have a child. After the birth of the child, Madame Valmonde visited Desiree’s new homestead. When she walked into the room to view the child, she exclaimed “This is not the baby!” (1616). Desiree mistook her shock to be related to the fact that the child had grown. However, the source of Valmonde’s shock had little to do with the size of the child and all to do with the color of the baby’s skin. This was another instance of foreshadowing within the story. Whether Desiree was blinded by love or just ignorant to the ways of the world, she had not noticed the child’s mulatto skin tone. Slowly as the child aged, a change came over Armand. Everything that he despised about himself and his own Negro heritage was exemplified in his child. Fortunately for his reputation, he had duped Desiree, the girl with no past and now with no future. Armand declared that Desiree was not white and she departed the plantation with her baby into the swamp. Armand had every last vestige that reminded him of the child burned. The foreshadowing in the story led to the heart wrenching ending as Desiree walks into the bayou without changing her thin white garment and her slippers never to be heard from again. The irony, though, is expressed at the end of the story when Armand reads a letter from his mother to his father, which tells the reader that it was not Desiree whom had Negro heritage. Rather, it was Armand.
In an effective drama, it is imperative for the author to introduce an antagonist and protagonist to the reader. The protagonist must be someone who the reader can identify with and support as the story progresses, while the antagonist represents the opposite of societal and moral norm. In the story “Barn Burning,” Faulkner introduces both of these character types. The first that we are introduced to is the antagonist, Abner Snopes. From the beginning, Snopes is painted in a villainous light. He is on trial for burning his neighbor’s barn after the neighbor did Snopes a favor of penning his pig so the animal would not be lost. Snopes is found not guilty due to a lack of evidence, but the Justice of the Peace demanded that the Snopes family leave town immediately. Snopes then relocates his family to a new plantation to begin sharecropping. Upon his arrival, Snopes barges into his new landlord’s home and tracks horse manure onto an expensive rug within their house. The landlord’s name is Major DeSpain. DeSpain is the moral and social opposite of Snopes. Where Snopes is a poor sharecropper, DeSpain is a wealthy land owner. DeSpain rides a gallant steed while Snopes rides a donkey. DeSpain is honest and shows integrity and strength of character. Snopes is a lying, cheating, low life who destroys those around him. In the end, Snopes attempts to repeat his delinquent activity and burn DeSpain’s barn after a civil dispute over Snopes’ idea of “cleaning” DeSpain’s Persian rug. While Snopes goes to the barn, his son (the story’s true protagonist) runs to Major DeSpain and betrays his amoral father, in essence finally being able to choose good over evil. DeSpain the goes to the barn and handles Abner Snopes. “Barn Burning” is an allegorical tale of the constant struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, and the characters of Abner Snopes and Major DeSpain represent the qualities of these two opposing sides.
The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008.
Information is regarded as one of the most highly valued resources found on the planet today. Often, the organization with the most reliable information comes out ahead in whatever endeavor in which the organization is specialized. Information can be separated into two categories: fact and opinion. The real question is, however, what differentiates fact and opinion?
Fact can be defined generally as a piece of information that has an objective reality. This means that information presented in an unbiased way that stands up under scrutiny can be regarded as fact. Because factual information is verifiable under unbiased scrutiny, it can be generally regarded as truth. Facts are outright statements of observable truths, such as the sky is blue. This indisputable as anyone can look up into the sky and see that it is blue. Further, to silence any possible criticism of this statement, science has verified that the molecules that form our atmosphere reflect blue light-giving the sky its blue color.
Opinion is defined as a view, judgment, or appraisal that is formed in one’s mind. Further, an opinion is a belief that is stronger than an impression but less strong that positive knowledge, or a generally held view. Opinion is the prevalent force behind much of the information that governs the majority of the interactions that occur in the daily lives of people. This information type is not necessarily based on objective informational analysis. Rather, opinion is subjectively based; therefore, governed by perception rather than stone cold fact. We see opinions on the news, in political and religious discourse, and in our everyday work environments. Everyone has an opinion and many times these are not solidly based in fact, rather they are based upon individual perception.
At what point does an opinion become fact? The scientific method is useful for explaining this phenomenon. Within this method, a researcher makes an observation. Then, he or she forms an opinion of what the root cause of the observation is. This opinion is then tested. If it stands up under scrutiny, can be repeated, and is verified by third-party sourcing, the opinion then can be generally stated as a fact.
At this point, fact an opinion seem extremely straight forward. The bigger question within the difference between fact and opinion is whether the line that separates the categories is black and white or is it something altogether different? Does the possibility exist that the line between these two categories of information is actually blurred? In many cases of fact, such as in the example of the blue sky, the evidence can be verified on a widely accepted level, but has there ever been a time where perceived fact has been proven wrong?
Aristotle theorized that the Earth was the center of the universe. He supported his theory with seemingly verifiable evidence going as far as to explain the rotation of the Sun, Moon, and stars around the Earth. His geocentric model was accepted as scientific fact until his theory was disproved after the invention of the telescope and the introduction of the heliocentric model of the universe. This irrevocably changed scientific fact into an outdated opinion.
The line between fact and opinion is one that is crossed everyday in every conversation and human interaction that occurs in our world. While fact can be obviously defined in some cases, fact and opinion blur together on subjects that cannot be conclusively verified. Where fact ends and opinion begins must be scrutinized on a case by case basis.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .
One of the major issues plaguing every day interaction is rooted within people’s inability to plan the full discourse of a document or speech prior to the presentation. As with the example of Dr. X, a one sided biases speaker, found within The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say , we see that a communicative presentation loses much of its effectiveness when the author fails to equally present both sides of an issue, or, at the very least, introduce the opposing view of the opinion that the communicator is attempting to present.
Objectivity within communication is achieved when the communicator effectively presents both sides of an issue without presenting a personal bias. It is a quality that is highly regarded in journalism, but this writing quality can add much needed credence to any form of persuasive communication. When the presenter appears to be extremely knowledgeable on all sides of an issue, it enables the communicator convey his or her opinion in a more highly regarded manner, ensuring that the audience will at least consider the information presented. This is also a key element in writing an effective summary.
Summary is an effective tool within persuasive communication in which the presenter conveys the general ideas of another author on a specific subject while adding his or her stance on the particular issue being reviewed. This also lends to the presenter having a greater credibility with the audience. When an author is willing to present the opposite opinion of what he or she believes, it conveys confidence, which is imperative when attempting to engage the audience and to have the presented opinion be seriously considered.
With an increased awareness in the tools of strong communication, many of the daily communicative interactions between people would become much more effective, which would lead to a reversal of the general decline that communication has experienced over the last several decades. The only way to remedy this problem is through strong, relevant communication education presented in a way that will captivate audiences making them more likely to apply these principles in their day to day communication.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .
When an author is embarking on a new literary quest, he or she must consider several different factors when planning an effective article. One of the most important factors that the author must take into account is which method of “entering the conversation” will be used in the paper to most effectively introduce his or her opinion. It is vital for the author establish the purpose of his or her discourse before attempting to dissect the subject at hand. After establishing the purpose, the author must consider the general body of work that has been done about the particular subject being written about. Once this has been mapped, the author has several different options when deciding how he or she will add their opinion to the general body of work that has been established regarding the subject of focus for the paper.
One of these options is clearly seen within the article “Fat as a Feminist Issue” by Susie Orbach. Within her article, she is tackling the issue of obesity in women; however, she is approaching the subject from a unique angle. This makes her argument something that “no one is talking about”. Orbach is introducing a completely new idea to the area of female obesity. She states that women eat compulsively and have become fat in order to break forth from the mold that society casts for their gender.
In this article, she is not necessarily responding to a specific argument for or against obesity in women. Instead, she is filling in a gap in the overall body of work for this issue and actually introducing a new idea as to why the percentage of obese women continues to grow in America. This technique is effective, but there are other options for authors that include stating what “they say” explicitly, which is extremely effective when introducing an alternate opinion. This is a strong technique because the author is able to address each argument that the opposition utilizes in a point-by-point writing style that allows he or she to introduce his or her counterpoint to each of these arguments.
This technique is used in the article “Being Fat is OK” by Paul Campos. Within this article, Campos is attacking the overall picture of how America defines obesity based on a system that uses the body mass index as the indicator for obesity and overall healthiness. He is also attacking those who claim that every overweight person would be better if he or she lost weight. The main thrust of his argument is the lack of scientific evidence that exists to support this argument. He explicitly states what the opposition says and then introduces his counterpoint in each example within the article. Another reason that this technique is effective is because it leaves no doubt what the author is attempting to communicate to the reader.
When the author is “entering the conversation” he or she must consider what mode of presentation will be most effective in relaying his or her specific contribution within the subject to the audience. Regardless of what method is ultimately chosen, it is overwhelmingly apparent that this specific aspect of writing can make or break a paper and must be given considerable weight during the planning phase for the article.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .
“We hold these truths, to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence). The American dream spawned from this strong statement found within the Declaration of Independence written in 1776. A simple summation of the premise behind the dream is the belief that, in America, no matter the situation in which a man or woman currently finds him or herself, there is always the opportunity for betterment if one is willing to work hard enough for it. This dream has spurned many to leave comfortable situations or to work themselves to death in order to ensure that they do everything in their power to better their lives and the lives of their loved ones. America has been touted “The Land of Opportunity” by the rest of the world for several generations. What happens, however, when the dream becomes all consuming? When the pursuit of selfish ambition overshadows the entirety of one’s life? To what end will one pursuing this dream go to ensure that he or she comes out on top?
One of the greatest plagues on American society today is the narcissistic attitude that permeates much of the American population. Society is primarily centered on the idea that every man, woman, boy, and girl has to look out for him or herself in order to get along in the current social and economic system that governs the global population. This belief has led many to show utter disregard to those whom they come into contact with on a daily basis. The population at large has become so completely self-centered that America is no longer the golden land of opportunity that it once was. Instead, it is the land of dog-eat-dog politics, economic strategy, and social order. This disease undermines the basic Biblical principles that this country was founded upon and common human decency which seems to be a commodity that is in extremely short supply in society today. Is this anything new, however, or has this desire and disregard been present within the historical societies of the world since the beginning of civilization?
There are many examples of societies full of self-centered citizens who show a general lack of compassion and love for those around them. There are many stories that highlight how people within these societies treat one another. One of the most well-known, however, is the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 30-35 within the pages of the Bible. The general idea of the story is that there was a Jewish man who was badly beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. The man is then discovered and passed by a priest and a Levite, whom was a member of the Jewish tribe responsible for many of the religious duties within the Jewish culture. Basically, these people were the ones who were supposed to care for people and express God’s love; however, they passed him on the other side of the street pretending like he wasn’t even there. A Samaritan then came upon the beaten man. In the culture of the day, Jewish people did not consort with Samaritans as they were seen as half-breed people and tainted. This Samaritan, however, had compassion on the man whom he had found in the gutter. He then picked him up, treated his wounds, and paid for the man’s stay in an inn so that he could recover. He extended a helping hand regardless of cultural heritage and the predetermined prejudices of the participants. This idea of helping for the sake of helping, eschewing social or economic stigma, is so foreign to many in today’s society where advancement of self is the primary goal of life.
The narcissistic concept dominating society today is also highlighted within Arthur Miller’s classic stage production, The Death of a Salesman. The story centers around the final days of a lifetime salesman named Willy Loman and his descent into extreme depression. This journey is highlighted by several episodes of psychosis where Willy experiences lifelike hallucinations of moments and people from within his past. He actually interacts with these hallucinations throughout the course of the production even asking the ethereal representation of his older brother for life advice as the depression begins to take over. Willy, however, had not always been the depressed shell of a man that the audience experiences over the course of his last few days on Earth.
Willy’s life had been lived in the pursuit of something greater. He had spent his entire existence fighting in the trenches in order to better himself and his family, and he had done fairly well in that regard. In his prime, Willy was quite the salesman. He had opened new avenues and territories for his employer to sell merchandise which ended with the betterment of the entire company. Willy had done very well for his family. They hadn’t been extremely wealthy, but neither had they been poverty stricken. The bills had always been paid and there had always been food on the table. He lived a hard life spending many days and nights away from his family on the road, plugging away, always looking for the latest and greatest sale in order to support his family and further the reputation of his company. He had established a fairly nice niche for himself as his company’s “New England man” (2464). However, there was no way that Willy could sustain this pace forever.
The human body was created with the ability to sustain high levels of punishment, whether physical or emotional. However, every physical body and mental balance has a breaking point. Willy had simply taken as much as his body could handle, and his delicate psychological disposition was a direct result of the life of moderate success that he had experienced, giving way to a life of utter failure.
“He drives seven hundred miles, and when he gets there no one knows him any more. No one welcomes him. And what goes through a man’s mind, driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? Why shouldn’t he talk to himself? Why? When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it’s his pay?” (2485).
In Willy’s mind, his life was over. He couldn’t sell. He could not provide for his wife. He couldn’t even make a pay check anymore because the ungrateful firm that he worked for had taken away his salary. “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away” (2485). Willy was done and he knew it. However, no man as optimistic as Willy Loman would give up without a fight. He had hope. At the Christmas party in the prior year, Howard, Willy’s employer, had told Willy that he might be able to find him a place in the New York office so that he could get off the road and continue to provide for his family. Willy took this offer to heart; however, the character that Howard portrays in the remainder of the story suggests that he had just said this to Willy flippantly or in jest. Unfortunately, Willy was not in on the farce.
Willy walked into Howard’s office to ask the biggest favor he had ever asked of anyone. He knew that he had to get off the road, but he was a man of great pride. He did not want to ask for a hand out, but, by God, Willy felt like this company owed him something. After all, he was their New England man for thirty-six years. Thirty-six years! After that long, one would think that the company would be loyal to their man, but, at this point, the audience is presented with a first-hand example of the narcissism that is ruining our society and destroying the people within.
Willy, full of steam and gusto, laid it on the line for Howard, but his employer was so absorbed in himself and his silly new voice recorder that he hardly paid attention to the man baring his soul before him. Howard paid him little to no heed and when he finally did understand what was going on, he had the nerve to dismiss Willy from his position.
How can a man, who dedicates his entire life to a company, be thrown under the bus, dismissed like a piece of unusable trash that had served its purpose, but is no longer of any worth? Since he no longer profited the company, it was acceptable to first take his salary, then his pride, and finally to destroy his livelihood. This is the problem that society perpetuates today. Gone are the days of loyalty and respect. Greed, bitterness, self-absorption, and hate have moved in to occupy their spot within American idealism. Willy sums up the problem of lack of regard for people beautifully when he states, “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel−a man is not a piece of fruit!” (2496).
Willy knew that he was done, but he knew that if his sons could just get themselves on the right path with the right backing, that they could really make something of themselves. They could attain the dream that Willy toiled for thirty-six years to see to fruition but of which he had fallen short. Finally, he had it straight in his head. He knew that his boys could make the dream come true if they only had the money to get it started. Fortunately, Willy had a $20,000 life insurance policy. “Funny, y’know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (2505). He knew that his death would be the ticket to his boys’ success. With great satisfaction, Willy, pushed up against a wall with nowhere to turn, ended his own life in a self-inflicted intentional car accident.
The question that bears asking is, “What truly pushed Willy to his life ending decision?” Was he left with nowhere else to run? Did he have a way out? Was it love for his boys and his desire to see them succeed? Or was he a victim of the bigger picture? Does the idea of the American dream put too much pressure on Americans to succeed?
America is by far the most overworked nation on the planet. The desire for success is so great, that many fall to the wayside as they cannot move fast enough to keep up with the pace of society or push back hard enough to deal with the overwhelming pressure that the American dream bestows on all who fall under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. The simple truth is that the American dream is not going to change anytime soon, but Americans need to reevaluate the values and methods that are used to attain a level of reasonable success. The time for a return to the values of loyalty, honor, and respect that originally defined America is at hand. Every person has value, and every person deserves to have common courtesy extended to them regardless of their economic or social status. American society will continue to morally and socially degrade until a mass of people stand up and declare that we can no longer eat the orange and throw away the peel. We have to realize that people are not worthless commodities to be thrown to the side and discarded after their assumed purpose has been fulfilled. Narcissism must die and community must grow. When will we realize that a man is so much more than a piece of fruit?
Miller, Arthur. “The Death of a Salesman.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008. 2462-2526.