Individuality and despair in City of Glass and “This Be the Verse”
City of Glass by Paul Auster and “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin are two narratives that have a very different plot and style but the similarity between them is that both narratives address the issue of individual agency and despair. In City of Glass Quinn and Peter Stillmans's personalities and their abilities are profoundly affected by different events in their lives that are outside of their control and “This Be the Verse” is presented with hereditary faults, namely, genetic flaws that costs complete individual agency that negatively impacts the 'you' in the poem, resulting in despair. The despair experienced by Quinn, Peter Stillman and 'You' in the narratives becomes a challenge to their complete individual agency. In this essay it will be argued that both“This Be the Verse” and City of Glass give a representation of a modern life in which despair presents limitations to individual agency.
Firstly, there is the fact that the individuals in City of Glass and “This Be the Verse” have, in spite of some situations beyond their control, their own free will. They are making their own choices in different situations they encounter. This self-determination is represented differently in both texts. In City of Glass, Daniel Quinn who is the main character, is faced with different instances where he is in a position where he needs to make a choice. The first crucial decision he has to make is when he receives a phone call that is not addressed to him. He first decides to decline the phone call, but later on in the story he receives the same phone call but this time he chooses to take it and take on the identity of the person the caller meant to address, namely: Paul Auster. Another example of a choice he has to make takes place deeper in the story, when Quinn is working on the Stillmans's case and he is waiting to see if he can find Peter Stillman so he can follow him. But while he is waiting, he comes across what appears to be two Peter Stillmans. He is encountered with the choice of which one of the two Stillmans to follow. The decision he makes is only his own. In both examples, it is clear that Quinn is making his own choices and has free will in his decisions. At the end of the poem “This Be the Verse” there is a representation of free will. Despite the poem's claims of not having any control over one's own fate because of hereditary faults and genetic flaws, one is presented with a choice one can make to take control over one's life and stop passing on flaws to someone else. In other words “to put a stop to the endless misery” (Macbezn). The choice presented is “Get out as early as you can” and “Don't have any kids yourself” (Larkin) Which can be interpreted as a suggestion to the reader that the only way to stop this is by commiting suicide or by not having any children. However, in both narratives it is clear that this apparent free will may be compromised.
Secondly, past experiences and genetics, both uncontrollable, have had an influence on the choices made by some of the individuals in the texts. First of all, we have Daniel Quinn. We know that his wife and son passed away five years prior to the story. This event which was out of Quinn's control had a negative effect on his life, namely: despair. This despair is apparent with the following
quotes from the book: “A part of him had died, he told his friends” (Auster 9) and “He no longer wished to be dead. At the same time, it cannot be said that he was glad to be alive.” (Auster 11) Then there is also the fact that Quinn is repressing his past due to his failure to cope with the death of his family which makes him incapable of controlling his consciousness and create his life into the future because he denies internal awareness. He therefore lacks a personal basis upon which he can make judgements in the present (Lewis 33, 34)....
Cited: Auster, Paul.City of Glass. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin, 1987. Print. New York Trilogy
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