A Quote on Adversity

"Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers" -John Wooden

Monday, April 14, 2014

Waiting for Happiness: Examining Waiting for Godot and Adversity

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is unique. It is unlike any other play to have ever hit the stage. The characters, the setting, and plot are increasingly static and lack life. However, the play, like an onion, has many layers to it. There is an abundance of meanings, archetypes, and interpretations beneath the surface of Beckett’s tragicomedy. Some might point out that the characters fail to encounter misfortune and that Beckett’s masterpiece is completely devoid of any kind of adversity. This is not the case. The very adversity that Didi and Gogo come face to face with is the vicious, seemingly unending cycle they go through everyday; and, when confronted with this cycle, they fail miserably.

The lives of Didi and Gogo are perpetually in a state of stasis. There is no change. There is no growth. There is no action. They go through the same detrimental cycle each day, all in hopes of meeting Godot. It is this “waiting” that is the source of their distress. By waiting, Didi and Gogo are stuck longing for the next day. Most of all, they fail to truly live life to the fullest. The tunnel vision that they develop blocks out the beauty of life and places the their focus solely on one thing, Godot. In essence, they are focusing on the backdrop of the Mona Lisa and ignoring the true beauty of Mona which is right in front of their eyes. Although the adversity they encounter isn’t the prototypical dragon or evil mastermind, they still come face to face with catastrophe. The only problem, however, is that they fail to detect even this. 

When faced with certain doom, Didi and Gogo fail in a way only they can. The main reason for their failure is that they fail to take action and be proactive in their quest for Godot. The duo decide to leave it all up to destiny when it comes to Godot and they pay dearly for it. They pay in that are stuck in Groundhog Day-type of day in and day out living. Things fail to advance because they don’t seek out change, despite the numerous opportunities for innovation that present themselves. As the play moves along, the two become increasingly static and this is what makes them fail when confronted with extreme challenge. Nothing will change unless they do.

Waiting for Godot is a story about the greatest adversity of all time, living without purpose. Sadly, Didi and Gogo succumb to this disaster and prove to be poster boys for the life without meaning. They put their happiness with a man that never shows up, instead of putting it where it counts, within themselves. As Aristotle once said “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

Destiny's Darling: The Challenges within Slaughterhouse Five

The life of Billy Pilgrim is a life of suffering. The “hero” of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is seemingly running into adversity at every turn.  Whether it is the Firebombing of Dresden, abduction by aliens, or spastic time travel Billy Pilgrim is in a perpetual state of suffering. Despite all these unfortunate events, Pilgrim somehow finds the resolve to prevail. He draws on the past present and future to beat the challenges in front of him to ultimately stare down misfortune and win. Pilgrim’s victories can also be attributed to the man who created him, Kurt Vonnegut. This is because he is Vonnegut’s grand literary mechanism and proverbial looking glass through which the atrocities of war can be glimpsed. He serves too much of a higher purpose to not fail. In essence, Billy Pilgrim is a darling of destiny.

Vonnegut’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has been blessed-or cursed-with the amazing ability to time travel. Although, it is not at his own command as to when he can travel or as to where Pilgrim finds himself moving back and forth in time. This proves to be extremely advantageous for Pilgrim because it fosters resolve and strengthens his will. He has seen the full scope of his life and fully comprehends the path in front of him. In essence, he can see the dawn of an amazing,rejuvenating day in the pitch black of night. One example would be Billy’s death. Billy, having several times experienced his death, is comfortable with the prospect of his demise: “It is time for me to be dead for a little while-and then live again,” (Vonnegut 143). Although this may be viewed as failure in the face of adversity, it is not. There is something graceful and wise about Billy’s words. He is not fighting death nor time. He is simply greeting death as an old friend and going graciously into the night. His words evoke a comparison to Jesus, who conquered adversity despite dying. Billy Pilgrim has all the answers to the test in Vonnegut’s novel. However, it would not be the same impactful novel without this trait. It keeps Billy resilient and moving forward at all times. It allows him to stare down the barrel of the challenges that face him and not blink.

Another aspect of Billy’s triumph in the misery is the fact that he is Vonnegut’s mechanism against war. Pilgrim serves a key role throughout the entirety of Slaughterhouse Five and not just because he is the protagonist. Vonnegut needs Pilgrim. He needs him so that he can deliver his anti-war message. Billy is Vonnegut’s vessel and looking glass. A bridge between the world of fiction and reality. It can be contended, however, that this case can be made with all the protagonists of every piece of literature ever put into print, with Pilgrim it is different. It is different because Pilgrim survives despite greeting death at every turn. For example, he is one of two survivors in a massive plane crash, then is able to survive the severe skull fracture caused by the crash, and this is all wrapped together with the fact that he survived one of the deadliest bombing in the history of war. The odds of surviving one of those is infinitesimally small, let alone all three. He is always finding himself in an increasingly bleak state, yet somehow is able to beat the odds and escape. This pattern is not coincidental in the slightest. It is Vonnegut at work, preserving his dear character til the bitter end. Without Pilgrim, the book falls apart. It loses any connection between fiction and truth with the loss of Pilgrim. For example Pilgrim’s interactions with the Tralfamadorians contributes heavily to the anti-war theme in the book. None of which could ever be realized without Pilgrim. Billy’s victory against adversity is not all attributed to himself. He had a little bit of help, but sometimes it is better to lucky than good.

Billy Pilgrim is a literary character for the ages. Although he is not the hero commonly seen in literature, he is the hero the book deserves. His ability to conquer adversity is uncanny because it is unique in every way. He is the exception to the rule that heroes must seize victory in a flashy, epic climax. Pilgrim seemingly gets lucky and somehow is able to seize adversity. He is winning ugly. Plus it doesn't hurt to have the author on your side.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Keep Moving Forward: The Adversity of Beloved

Toni Morrison’s Beloved may as well be renamed Adversity because adversity, much like the title character, haunts every single crack and crevice. No character or setting is exempt from turmoil, and there seems to be no end to vicious cycles plaguing the two main characters: Denver and Sethe. That is where the similarities stop. Despite both women confronting the same challenge, the vengeful Beloved, one woman succeeds and the other fails. Denver, in the face of adversity, thrives. She becomes a working class individual with real aspirations and dreams; college being one of them. Sethe, however, crumbles and withers away when dealt with disaster. She allows her life force to be taken away from her and is reduced to a shadow of what she used to be. The glaring question in this is why does the young Denver prosper, while her older much more experienced mother whither away? Denver blossoms when facing the challenge because she decides to take initiative and be proactive, while her mother remains passive towards Beloved.

Much of Denver’s triumph against the forces of adversity can be attributed to a burst in initiative and her ravenous gung ho spirit. Seeing the writing on the wall, Denver must leave the house. Abandoning her reclusive ways in a last ditch effort to save her mother, Denver shyly and hesitantly prepares to take her first steps, “She stood on the porch of 124 ready to be swallowed up in the world beyond the edge of the porch,” (Morrison 286). Although extremely uncomfortable and new, Denver moves past her comfort zone and into a realm of growth. Symbolically, Denver represents a post-slavery America stepping into the great unknown, emerging from the shadow of adversity. And, as it turns out, both parties are better off because they took an initiative and became proactive. A major part of adversity is shifting from neutral to drive. There is something dangerous about staying put. Denver does amazing things when faced with certain adversity because, to her, the “world beyond the edge of the porch,” is the only chance she has to save her mother. 

On the other hand, Sethe deteriorates in the face of adversity because she remains stagnant and indifferent. Obeying seemingly every command dictated by Beloved, Sethe fails to break away from her ghostly daugher. She puts Beloved before her in almost every phase of her life and never once takes a stand against her. This creates an aura of passiveness about her. It is this habitual apathy that becomes the root cause of Sethe’s degradation. And in the end, Sethe becomes a shriveled shadow of her former self: “He is thinking about her wrought iron back… The mean black eyes,” (322). Where Denver represents the positive future of post-slavery America, Sethe embodies the flip side of that coin. She is the negativity and bitterness of a nation still divided. She cannot seem to let go of her past no matter how hard she tries, so much so that she just becomes docile in her own standing. Part of achieving despite the challenges that present themselves is to become enthused and energetic. Sethe, however, fails to do this and pays dearly.

The dichotomy presented with Sethe and Denver is fascinating. They are two separate generations dealing with a similar problem much bigger than a hostile spirit. That issue being dealing with the past, while moving towards the future. Winning in the face of certain doom is somewhat a similar motion. There is a level of exorcism of demons that needs to take place for one to conquer misery, a sort of burning the bridges of the past and building new ones towards the future. Because “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward,” -Victor Kiam.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Will Survive: Adversity in Invisible Man

Adversity is no stranger to the nameless Narrator of Ellison’s novel. The Narrator effortlessly encounters adversity in every endeavor he undertakes. The seemingly endless barrage of adversity molds the Narrator profoundly and forcefully; more so than any of its contemporaries. The ending, instead of giving the reader some much needed closure, opts to leave the reader desiring more. Most prevalently, it leaves the reader asking the question: did the reader prevail or fail in the face of adversity? In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man the Narrator survives in the face of adversity because he sheds his detrimental labels yet, fails to obtain anything of value during his journey.

Near the end of the book the Narrator finds himself trapped in the bottom of a sewer with three matches and his briefcase. In an effort to survive, the Narrator decides to burn the items of his brief case and use them as a torch for his exploration of the sewer. This small act of survival plays a major role on the figurative stage. The burning of the items associated with his past is analogous to the shedding of the exasperating labels bestowed upon the reader. One by one the reader burns the things that defined him: his high school diploma, his Brotherhood name, and the threatening letter he received while in the Brotherhood. All of these items pushed the Narrator down a new, more injurious path, ironically culminating in a fiery exuviation of each item. In the case of the Narrator, the end did justify the means. The Narrator was met with fierce challenges as a result of having each item however, the Narrator became at peace with himself, gained a greater awareness, and was able to see past his own illusion; glimpsing the truth.

Finally, despite the Narrator becoming a better man in the face of adversity he fails to win anything or achieve anything of value. Over the course of the novel, the Narrator is a firmly in neutral. Just when the Narrator is about to grasp success and overcome his tribulations, he manages to let it slip through his hands. For example, having been expelled from his university, the Narrator is given what appears to be a route back to the realm of higher education. The Narrator, now motivated more than ever, has the rug pulled out from under him when he opens one of the letters; revealing that the second chance was actually a wild goose chase with nothing at the finish. Similarly, the Narrator, having just gained the burrow of Harlem as his own territory in the Brotherhood, enjoys great success and becomes a prominent political figure. This success is short lived when the Narrator is reassigned to another territory, never to regain his fame again. Ironically, the only thing the Narrator is able to gain is the innate ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The adversity the Narrator faces yields both positive and negative results. He fails in prevailing and prevails in not failing when he comes face to face with catastrophe. One positive is matched with one negative and in essence the Narrator simply survives when encountering calamity; and it only seems natural that a man invisible to all is a master of survival.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Flexibility and Adaptability: Exploring Adversity in Henry IV

Shakespeare is infamous for creating adversity within his plays. His tragedies examine the extreme side of adversity and his comedies tackle the lighter side of adversity. These two extremes culminate in his historical plays, blending both the humorous and the severe effortlessly; Henry IV Part 1 is no exception. The humorous adversity encountered by Falstaff juxtaposes perfectly with a conflicting Prince Hal. The light,trivial matters at the Boar’s Head Tavern contradict the high tension atmosphere of a nation on the brink of civil war. In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1, some characters triumph in the face of adversity because they adapt to their surroundings, while others fail because of their lack thereof.

The characters in Henry IV Part 1 possess the amazing ability to adapt to their surroundings in order to overcome adversity. Despite the fact that the play is titled Henry IV, the protagonist of the play is the King’s son, Hal. Hal’s transformation throughout the play is one of the most interesting sub-plots to follow. As the story unfolds, Hal changes for the better in order to survive the challenges of the impending civil war. One of the rebels describes him on the battlefield, “His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed rise from the ground like feathered Mercury,” (Shakespeare 4.1 105-106). In the face of adversity, Hal adapted. In the great pressure cooker of the civil war, Hal emerges as a gleaming diamond. The first part of the quote “His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly armed,” punctuates this change. The use of word “gallantly” emphasizes that he has emerged as a new man  and has risen to the challenges that now face him. Prior to this point in the play, Hal is viewed as a drunkard who prefers the company indigents. However, when he encounters adversity, he adapts and overcomes. Hal goes on to defeat the rebels and win the utmost respect of his peers. This conversion in the face of adversity is a key aspect of Hal’s development as a character. Contrary to Hal’s change in personality to defeat adversity, Falstaff finds himself hiding to escape adversity. Locked in battle with the feared Douglas, Falstaff’s reaction is to escape a strenuous battle, “Enter Douglas. He fighteth with Falstaff, who falls down as if he were dead,” (5.5). The stage directions call for Falstaff to feign his own death in order to avoid the battle with Douglas. The use of the word “as if” within the directions leads the reader to believe that Falstaff isn’t really dead. This adaptation, however cowardly it seems, proves to be effective in escaping adversity; and ultimately allows Falstaff to prevail in his own way in the face of adversity. The contrasting methods employed by Falstaff and Hal allow the two to prevail in the face of adversity albeit on different moral levels. Yet, clearly one method yields more benefits. The definition of emerging victorious over adversity is subjective on many levels.  From the cowardly to courageous, prevailing in the face of adversity is personal and emotional; it is not an exact science. Shakespeare emphasizes that idea with the contrasting reactions to the challenges by Hal and Falstaff.

Finally, some of Shakespeare’s characters fail in the face of adversity because they fail to adapt to their surroundings. These characters are inflexible and hold fast to their long held beliefs. They are Shakespeare’s foils to their ever-changing counterparts. Hotspur, the leader of the rebels, is a fiery character bent on war, destruction, and glory. However, Hotspur, over the course of the play, never changes. Despite being outnumbered and without support Hotspur is determined to go to war, “My father and Glendower being both away...Come, let us take a muster speedily doomsday is near. Die all, die merrily,” (Shakespeare 4.1 132, 134-135). The beginning of the quote “My father and Glendower being both away,” paints a picture of a rebel force lacking ⅔ of their leadership; and by default the leadership role falls on the young, inexperienced Hotspur. It is obvious that there is now no chance for the rebel forces to win the battle. Yet despite this, Hotspur forges on. His fervor is captured in the second part of the quote, “Let us take a muster speedily.” The use of the word “speedily” captures his fervor. Hotspur, knowing he is outnumbered, continues on to fight the King’s forces. He sees the writing on the wall, yet chooses not to read it alter his plan. His fervor for the battle and inability to change course contribute to his demise. He is blinded by his own desire. Hotspur is rigid and fiery and in turn his  assets become his weaknesses. Worcester, when offered a pardon by the King, declines because he thinks that it will save his life, “It cannot be the King should keep his word in loving us,” (5.2 4-5). Worcester’s unbending mindset drives him right to his death. Much like his counterpart, Hotspur, Worcester lacks the vision to react differently to a new situation. He fails to think and negotiate with the King because he firmly believes that he will perish if he accepts the pardon. The irony of the situation is that he dies because he doesn't’ accept the pardon. Once again, rigidness plagues the characters. The character’s inability to adapt drives them towards their demise. In the face of adversity, Hotspur and Worcester crumble because they fail to adjust to their respective surroundings. Faced with untoward circumstances, Hotspur and Worcester are their own worst enemies.

Adverse situations require that the characters adapt to succeed. Those who fail to rethink their usual reactions, crumble in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1. Shakespeare spins an interesting commentary to the reader about adversity and flexibility. He put forth the premise that those who can change are the one’s who prevail in the face of adversity. The argument for adaptability can be summed up with the famous quote from the Oscar nominated Moneyball, “Adapt or die!”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking or Breaking Records: Adversity in Wuthering Heights

Adversity. It crafts people for better or worse. It is the single most strongest force of nature; morphing men into boys just as quickly as it moIds boys into men. Emily Brontë uses adversity as a powerful literary device throughout Wuthering Heights, directly effecting the many characters populating the Moors. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights the characters crumble in the face of adversity because they lack mental fortitude and the will to alter their respective situations.

Throughout Brontë’s novel, the characters come across adversity and crumble due mostly in part their lack of mental firmness. “She could not bear the notion which I had put into her head of Mr. Linton's philosophical resignation,” (Brontë 121). The beginning of the quote “She could not bear the notion,” reveals Catherine’s lack of mental fortitude. She cannot wrap her head around the idea that Edgar is ignoring her. Catherine, pampered for the large part of her life, never faced any real adversity. When met with the smallest bit of adversity, in this case her spouse ignoring her, she cannot find any bit of solace. Her lack of mental resoluteness is glaring and contributes to her eventual death. Cathy fails to get better because she convinces herself that she is deathly ill. It is this lack of mental firmness, in the face of adversity, that makes Catherine perish. Catherine continues on her vicious cycle when she confesses. “Oh, I will die,’ she exclaimed, ‘since no one cares anything about me,” (Brontë 119). The beginning segment of the quote “Oh I will die,” characterizes Catherine’s lack of mental fortitude exquisitely. The assertion in her statement paints a picture of a person who lacks any ability to believe in themselves. The use of the word “will” further drives that point and emphasizes her lack of mental toughness. The final component of the quote “Since no one cares anything about me,” shows how mentally weak Catherine has become. To let something as minor as not being the center of adoration get to a person, divulges the type of person who will let anything destroy them. Catherine’s lack of mental fortitude is alarming yet, justified by her affluent upbringing. However, it is this lack of mental fortitude that causes her to crumble in the face of adversity. The absence of mental fortitude in Wuthering Heights prompts them to fail in the face of adversity. 

Over the course of Wuthering Heights the characters deteriorate in the visage of adversity because they lack the will to change their standing. “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how much I love him.. because he’s more myself than I am,” (Brontë 80). The beginning part of the quote “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now,” evidences Catherines unwillingness to change her situation. She lacks the will to marry Heathcliff simply because “It would degrade her.” Catherine is too wrapped up in the material world to will herself to change her standing with Heathcliff. Catherine’s lack of will to change her situation leads her down a terrible path punctuated with her failing in the face of adversity. Had Catherine changed her situation with Heathcliff, immense amounts of adversity is relieved. The following part of the quote “So he shall never know how much I love him… because he is more myself than I am,” exhibits how unwilling Catherine is to alter her current state. Her confession of her love for Heathcliff wrapped around the notion that she cannot marry him eventually drives her to insanity. The amount of will to change a situation like this is minimal however, Catherine decides to chose a life full adversity and failure. The exchange between Nelly and Linton describes Linton’s present situation. “Is he severe to you, Master Heathcliff?’ I inquired… Linton looked at me, but did not answer,” (Brontë 253). The first fragment of the quote “Is he severe to you, Master Heathcliff?” describes the gravity of Lintons situation. Through the dialogue, Brontë implies that Heathcliff abuses Linton and beats him into submission; both mental and physical. The choice for Linton is clear: either face a life full of adversity and tribulation or change his situation. The concluding part of the quote “”Linton looked at me, but did not answer,” confirms the reader’s assumptions. Heathcliff’s abuse of Linton, evidenced by his resignation when the topic comes up. Linton’s body language discloses the life of man abused by his father and one unwilling to change his life for the better. Linton’s hesitance to alter his standing leads him to face much more adversity in the future. This adversity peaks at his death. The reluctance to transform his life causes much adversity and sadness in Linton’s life. Wuthering Heights’ tragedy, based heavily in the characters’ opposition to changing their situation, is the cause of much adversity.

Loaded with adversity, Wuthering Heights maintains it’s position as an amazing piece of classical literature. The characters, formed through their success and failures in the face of adversity, bring a sense of grittiness and realism about the novel. The lack of mental fortitude by Catherine leads to her demise. Her obsession with being the center of adoration only plunges her further into a vicious cycle of mental degradation. Catherine’s resistance to altering her relationship with Heathcliff causes her amazing amounts of adversity. Lintons unwillingness to stand up to Heathcliff leads him down a painful and trying path, accentuated by his death. Adversity is a powerful force of nature. It molds beautiful sculptures and horrifying murals out if the people it affects. William Arthur Ward eloquently describes the adversity in Wuthering Heights with Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Destined to Fail: Unlocking Adversity in Oedipus Rex

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is chocked-full of adversity and draws many parallels to the big question: in the face of adversity, what causes some individuals to prevail, while others fail? The tragic nature of the play provides the rich soil of which adversity can grow.

Oedipus, destined for a life of extreme adversity since birth, never really experiences prior to the start of the play. Crowned King of Thebes after saving them from the dreaded Sphinx he is seen as the savior and golden boy of Thebes. He marries and has kids with the beautiful Jokasta. Up until the beginning of the play everything is going right for the newly crowned King Oedipus. The adversity begins when Tiresias, a prophet blessed with the ability of foresight, accuses Oedipus as the cause of the terrible plague infecting Thebes and subsequently as the killer of former King Laios. Oedipus, unable to handle this accusation lashes out and threatens to kill Tiresias. Oedipus’ lack of mental fortitude in the face of an adverse remark causes him to mishandle the situation and ignites the chain events leading up to his demise. Had Oedipus possessed the mental fortitude needed to ignore Tiresias’ unfortunate comment, he may never have discovered his true destiny.

Oedipus’ lack of past adverse experiences and defining moments causes him to catastrophically meltdown when the truth comes to light. When Oedipus finally puts the pieces together, realizing that he has killed his father and bore children with his mother, his life and himself fragment at an alarming rate. His wife/mother commits suicide and he blinds himself, in an act of repentance. Before the play everything came easy to him, never did he face a challenge that really revealed his mettle. The fact that he acted so extreme in the face of adversity reveals the true character of Oedipus. He stared adversity in the face and blinked. This is because Oedipus lacks the essential skills and prior knowledge needed to deal with such adverse situations. Oedipus doesn't know how to work through adversity. He doesn't understand the importance of being able to maneuver through adversity and the glory that waits on the other side. To Oedipus, adversity is an obstacle that cannot be conquered. Oedipus doesn't place any value in adversity because he hasn't been sufficiently acquainted with it.  It is this negative outlook and lack of knowledge that causes him to deteriorate.

In the face of adversity, Oedipus fails. His failure can be contributed to his lack of exposure to adversity and lack of mental fortitude. He cannot deal with adversity because he has never interacted with it. How can one expect to know the benefits of adversarial moments without having experienced one themselves? Oedipus had every tangible earthly possession a man could want, riches, a crown, and the love of thousands. However, it was the lack of the intangible that led to his downfall.