A Quote on Adversity

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

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.

Understanding the Big Question

Adversity: nature’s way of separating the men from the boys. If you want to test a person’s mettle, put him in adverse conditions. We learn more about ourselves than we ever could have through adversity. It makes grand successes out of devastating failures; which is pretty remarkable. However, in the face of adversity, what causes some individuals to fail while others prevail?

This question is of great interest to me because it has to do with the intangibles of a person. An individual’s ability to navigate adversity, prevailing or failing as a result, cannot be measured in a box score or quantified on a spreadsheet. The ability to handle adversity comes from within; constructed from a complicated network of past experiences, mental toughness, and sheer will. The question relates closely to the idea of what makes Person A greater than Person B. It is rooted deep in existentialism. Last year while playing on the sophomore baseball team, I struggled mightily. I couldn't seem to get consistent playing time and I was at fault for not being able to get consistent playing time. I sunk so low that I allowed the game winning run to score on an error I committed; that was when I knew I had hit rock bottom. After practice one day near the end of the season my coached approached me and told me that he wanted me to start the final three games because I had worked so hard during the season. My hard work willed me into the starting lineup. I faced so much adversity during my sophomore year and somehow through sheer will, I made it into the starting lineup. In the face of adversity I prevailed.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Gatsby faces one of the greatest adversities of all: having to win back a former love interest. However, Gatsby has no past experiences of extreme adversity; his life adversity-less. He throws lavish parties every night, lounging with the aristocratic elite. His lifestyle lacks any challenges or defining moments; essentially he has it easy. When confronted with the adverse situation of winning back Daisy, he crumbles under the pressure. He fails to win back Daisy in full capacity and ends up being shot to death. The cause of Gatsby’s withering under adversity is that he never really experienced a lot of adversity and whatever moments of adversity he faced in the past were buried under his idealistic facade. The lack of past adverse experiences leads to his downfall.  

A news story that heavily relates to the question: in the face of adversity, what causes some individuals to fail while others prevail? Is the comeback story of Adrian Peterson. During the Minnesota Vikings’ Christmas Eve game in 2011, running back Adrian Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL, the sum of all fears for a running back. The ACL and MCL are the lifeblood of a running backs’ game. Both muscles allow him to run, cut, slow down, speed up, stop, and move laterally all of which are important to a running back; without these muscles the back is incapacitated. The expected recovery time of an ACL and MCL tear is 9-12 months and even when a person comes back from such a horrific injury the general consensus is that they will never compete at the same level again. Peterson saw this as a challenge. Training camp started in July and Peterson wanted to be ready to participate in practice. Peterson attacked his rehab with ferociousness unseen by any player previous. He was going to will himself into the opening day starting lineup. He was familiar with the adversity of coming back from an injury; he missed his entire junior year with a broken collarbone. Peterson achieved his goal and went on to rush for an NFL best 2,095 yards, the second highest mark of all time. Peterson’s relentlessness and will allowed him to come back better from his injury, winning him NFL MVP and AP Offensive Player of the Year. When faced with adversity Peterson’s hard work and prior knowledge won out.