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Significance of Timely Self-Realization

By hoichan49 Aug 08, 2011 1350 Words
For this assignment, I’m going to examine the themes central to Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet” and Flannery O’Conner’s “A Good man is Hard to Find”. These stories share a common and important element that changes the characters: timely self-realization after a moment of awareness. In the following paragraphs, I will examine how the characters undergo that process and change after an ironic twist. “The Bet” is a short story that explores the value of human life. It compares the theme of materialism to the achievement of truth, and how the process of self-realization leads to an awakening and changes in the characters. The banker is a rich and pompous man who doesn’t care giving a second thought in his unrestrained extravagance. The lawyer is a greedy man who could do anything for the sake of money. They wage a bet on the idea of death penalty and life time imprisonment. The banker puts on the line two million dollars compared to the lawyer’s fifteen-year solitary confinement. Everything we do has consequences. The banker loses his fortune and could not pay off the debt. Finally, he realizes the futility and irrationality of the bet. While he resolves to kill the lawyer, an important ironic twist happens. He finds out that the lawyer escapes before 5 hours till the end of their bet. Nevertheless, who is the real winner of the bet? Is it the banker who has the fortune to pay off his debt or the lawyer who becomes a sage after tasting and seeing everything on this world through reading the books? Personally, I think the actual winner is the lawyer. Life without material goods can still be good. Specifically, we can see the profound spiritual awakening of the lawyer in the letter that he writes to the banker. “In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless pit, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new religions, conquered whole kingdoms… Your books have given me wisdom. All that the unresting thought of man has created in the ages is compressed into a small compass in my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you.” Through the process of reading and meditating, the lawyer undergoes a significant self-realization, in which he experiences a psychological growth and maturation. Formerly, he looks up to money too high. Yet, he gradually perceives the magical power of knowledge which he never experiences before. In his letter to the banker, he uses a very unique way to describe the wonderful feeling of gaining knowledge; He describes vividly through senses like taste, sight, hearing and touch. As a reader, I really enjoy reading his letter. The lawyer presents the beauty of the non-materialism and truth, and I could veritably feel his fulfillment. To compare the banker and the lawyer, Chekhov seems to be using them to represent two extremes of one personality. He shows a conflict between capitalism symbolized by the banker, and discovery of truth by the lawyer. Each of them symbolizes a way of thinking and attitude. In addition, Chekhov indicates that choices and decisions have to be made carefully in order to live a meaningful and delighted life. We can examine that the banker regrets when he recalls about all that about the bet now. He also questions himself. “What was the object of that bet? What is the good of that man’s losing fifteen years of his life and my throwing away two millions? Can it prove that the death penalty is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all nonsensical and meaningless. On my part it was the caprice of a pampered man, and on his part simple greed for money…” Chekhov contrasts the two characters by making the banker unchanging, while the lawyer grows throughout the story. Moreover, I think Chekhov wants the readers to focus on the whole conflict but not the characters. Thus, he doesn’t give names to the characters nor the time period that the story happens. It gives us an idea that the characters can be anyone of us, because those are some general qualities in human. After reading “The bet” and contemplating about the central ideas Chekhov is trying to convey, I think a person does not have to be one extreme or the other, just like the banker or the lawyer. One can be somewhere in the middle. It is very difficult to survive in the modern society in either one of the extreme ways. Yet, I still love the ideas Chekhov presents in the story. I don’t think he is trying to tell the readers to live in an extreme way. Instead, he wants to use an exaggerated and magnified way to show us how the two opposite positions work, and route us to find the attitude to live our lives. The other story that I want to contrast with “The Bet” is Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. In looking at the story, the Grandmother is the principal character and the focus is on her perspective of events. O'Connor paints her as a tragically comic character, whom reader can easily, but wrongly, feel superior to. She considers herself morally superior to the others by virtues of being a “lady”. In a comical instance of foreshadowing, the Grandmother takes efforts to dress properly in a dress and hat, so that if she were found dead on the highway everyone would recognize her as a lady. In the story, the grandmother behaves as a petty, selfish, superficial, and hypocritical person. She shows no sign of being a lady at all. When the Misfit murders her family, the grandmother never once begs him to spare her children or grandchildren. She does, however, plead for her own life because she can’t imagine the Misfit wanting to kill a lady. The two short stories have one thing in common, an ironic twist, in which the main characters achieve self-realization through spiritual awareness. The dramatic twist in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” happens when the grandmother faces death, she realizes she is deficient as everyone else does. When she heard The Misfit blaming Jesus with tears in his eyes ,and shouting “if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” She shows a moment of grace, and she calls the Misfit as one of her children. That is the moment when she undergoes self-realization. She let go of her selfishness and reveals goodness and commiseration. However, she immediately gets shot 3 times at the chest by The Misfit and dies after that. The Misfit said something after he kills the Grandmother in which I think it is the most important message O’Connor wants to convey to the readers. The Misfit said, “She would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Like the lawyer in “The Bet” who spends 15 years to understand the true value of human life, the Grandmother wastes her whole life and finally unblinds her spirit to embrace the truth of love and grace. It was quite comical that the process of self-realization involves violence, but that was a special writing style of the story. According to quote above, O’Connor wants to remind everyone of us to become aware of ourselves. Don’t wait until the last minute of your life, because no one can always be there to remind you of the truth and the right attitude to live your live. Both Chekhov and O’Connor imply the significance of timely self-realization. There are many ways to live your life, and everyone desires to different goals. Some yearn for materialistic life, but some may yearn for the opposite. It is of your own choice and inspiration to decide the way you go, because you are the only one to be responsible of your own destiny.

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