Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Blind Pursuit of Happiness

(This is a paper I wrote for my first English class at BYU. It is a critical analysis of "The Seagull," a really wonderful play by Anton Chekhov. I'm planning to write a series of posts about happiness and how we can achieve it. So I thought I'd start with an example of how NOT to find happiness.)

The characters in Chekhov’s play, “The Seagull,” lead complicated lives, and they blind themselves by focusing on one thing: a selfish pursuit of their own happiness. For several characters, this is a pursuit of unrequited love. Briefly stated, Simon loves Masha who loves Constantine who loves Nina who loves Trigorin. Chekhov uses hyperbole to illustrate the paradox that pursuing only our own happiness and ignoring those around us leads to blindness and from there to misery.
Chekhov uses hyperbole in the way he represents human nature. Most human beings act selfishly some of the time; however, Chekhov’s characters are considerably more selfish than the average human being. For example, Constantine is an exaggeration of two human flaws: selfishness and blindness. Because he focuses so completely on his unrequited love for Nina, Constantine spends his whole life trying to find happiness by winning Nina’s love, at the expense of hurting everyone else around him. He tells Nina, “My whole life is bound up with you for ever. I can’t help loving you” (113). He has stopped seeing any other possibility for happiness. Nina is the inspiration for Constantine’s whole life. Without her, he feels “dry, stale, [and] dismal” (113). In Constantine, Chekhov uses hyperbole to present a picture of the way that human beings sometimes build their lives around another person and become blind to other people’s feelings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

A fencing foil, courtesy of Wikipedia

Why do Sherlock and Watson make such a great team?  

They are foils. No, not aluminum foil. In literature, a foil is more like a fencing foil, a blunt springy sort of sword, used to hit the other person in a fencing match. Both fencers use the same sort of foil, a matched set, but they're in opposition. They go back and forth, thrusting and parrying in a complex dance. Now take Sherlock and Watson. They seem to have little in common at first glance. They're the original odd couple, sharing a cheap flat on Baker Street. Watson, an injured doctor and soldier; Sherlock, a bored genius. And then the adventures start. Watson is an intelligent man, but he does not, as Holmes says, "observe". He is a physician who has a knack for writing and a taste for adventure. He enjoys the mystery and excitement of being Sherlock's companion. Sherlock, on the other hand, pretends to be annoyed by Watson's supposed inability to reason; he really, however, delights in the opportunity to share his genius with an appreciative audience. The two play off each other. They form an intriguing pair, and their interaction is just as fascinating as the adventure itself.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Integrity, forgiveness and change

I love finding stories where two characters complement each other. Like Sherlock and Watson, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, Megamind and Metroman, etc. These stories fascinate me. Last month I saw Les Miserables and realized how much Javert and Jan Valjean follow this pattern. They are two amazing characters whose qualities complement each other and teach valuable lessons about forgiveness and integrity.

Both men do what they think is right and neither will give in. They are both willing to give their lives for what they believe in. The main difference between them is that Javert is a static character while Valjean is dynamic. Or in other words, Javert doesn't know how to change. Valjean does.

Every time the people sing "LOOK DOWN!!!" it seems to be a message to Javert, who ignores it as long as he can. He was born in the gutter, as he says, and he rose out of it and never looked back. He's a strong individual who was able to change his circumstances. He believes that because he has risen beyond his past by his own righteousness, others should be able to do the same, without breaking the law. His view of life is black-and-white, right-or-wrong, with no room for excuses or exceptions, even for himself.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Words, words, words

Writing fascinates me. I love shaping stories and dreaming up new worlds; spreading my word-net wide and trying to capture my dreams on a page. Sometimes it's so hard! I remember reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, where the main character spends a whole novel trying to capture a lighthouse in paint. Transfering a real-life experience to an artistic medium isn't what I'd call an easy prospect. I've read about so many authors who agonized over every single syllable of their writing, and I'm not sure I'm much different.

My dream is to be a real author. I call myself a writer because I write, but what does it take to be an author? My goal is to tell a good story -- hopefully a lot more than one! And every good story teaches something about human nature. It also uses language in a way that helps people understand. No wasted words. No confusion. Just a plain, good, understandable, enjoyable story. (Was that too many adjectives?)  I'm not always sure what to say, which words to choose -- but I carry on. I am so tempted to go back and delete what I've just written; I've given in to that temptation several times writing this post, in fact. I have difficulty writing just a rough draft and putting the editing off till later. I write a few sentences, then re-read what I wrote, fix a few things, and keep going. It's like knitting. (Madame Defarge comes to mind, which reminds me of They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie.) I have to push myself to keep writing. It's tempting to just stop. I wonder if I'll ever get published and if anyone will read my stories if I do. I like to think so. And I know that if I just give up, I'll never get anywhere.