The aim of this research paper is to present you with the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors towards human mortality as portrayed in three literature pieces. The three literature pieces which have been chosen to be presented in this essay are the ‘Greasy Lake’ by T. Coraghessan, ‘Seven Floors’ by Dino Buzzati and ‘Children on their Birthdays’ by Truman Capote. All these three stories will be presented in terms of how they seem to approach the issue of human mortality and how they can be characterized and analyzed when compared to the classic piece of literary criticism ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Frank Kermode.
Human mortality has always been an issue of great concern since it seems that is it has always been much more than just difficult for people to come in terms with the knowledge that their lives will eventually at one point reach their ending. The feeling of ending cannot be easily accepted by humans unless there is this hope of continuance of existence. It is the need for believing in the power of eternity combined with their fear for the unknown state after death of which no witnesses have ever been, which make their being compromised with the idea of their dying unacceptable or at least very difficult to think and accept. A number of different approaches have been adopted by humans during their historical route in their effort to rationalize the meaning of their existence, to explain and approach the mystery of human existence, the mystery of the ongoing existence of universe, the mystery of life and death. The efforts which have been made consist of religious systems and beliefs well established and studied and / or numerous other philosophical movements which all have aimed at providing people with a relieving belief.
As expected both the fields of literature and art have been greatly affected by this issue since it has turned out to have become a cornerstone of human existence. As a result there have been various approaches and efforts to familiarize humans with the idea of the end, the idea of death on behalf of both writers and artists. Other efforts have turned out to be the way in which these writers and artists have tries to put across their own messages and beliefs about death so that they enlighten the darkness of fear which people feel and other efforts have just been made as a kind of motivation in order to make people think a bit more on their own lives, reflect on their actions and try to find and define their own meaning in their own lives. One thing is for sure though. Since life is a gift only given once, all people seem to agree that they had better do what they can best so that they do not miss it out of their hands or they lose their meaning and scope. If life is to be represented as a journey than all people had better try to define their individual route and decide on the destination they would like to reach.
Frank Kermode has written a literary critic ‘The Sense of Ending’ in which he gives his readers the thoughts upon which they ought to reflect as far as their own approach to the issue of the ending is concerned. Taking into consideration one of his points that ‘[W]hat human need could be more profound than to humanize the common death?’ this research paper will look into how the above mentioned three literary pieces present their main leading figures of their stories to try and humanize their common death.
‘Greasy Lake’ is a story written on the thematic core of the aging procedure as experienced by the main leading figure, a young man who is not named. This young man goes through the rebellious phase which is a common stage in one’s aging procedure. It is common for people especially men to find difficult to compromise to whatever the established ideas and principles of their societies are. There is need for humans to try and mark their own passage from life by making it different from the massive lifestyle. There is a need for humans to convince themselves that they can defend their unique and different identity by showing that they can act differently and they can make the difference. Of course this obsession most of the times seems to have a worse rather than better effect on people.
The hero of ‘Greasy Lake’ who wants to find meaning in his life and wants to make his life seem superior compared to the common lifestyle of his social environment which follows the social norm, falls into the trap of performing bad actions harming first of all himself. He convinces himself that he feels nice with being bad and this is what he does. He tries to act as being a bad person. Being bad is what he seems to like as long as this is what makes him different from others. But there is a moment of apocalypse. While being in the greasy lake he realizes that he does not really want to act the way he does.
The narrator shares his thoughts with the readers. He does not want to die whenever it is his destiny to die and die being a bad person. He does not really like what he does so he had better change it. He had better start loving himself for what he is. And he is a young man who all he wants is to go to his parents’ home and lie down in his bed. So the ending to the narrator of ‘Greasy Lake’ is actually his new beginning in finding out who he really wants to be. He wants to be a man who is not adopting a behavior just because of stubbornness or narrow mindness. He is a man who wants to be proud of himself. And he realizes that since his life has the common ending which all mortals share he had better make the difference by supporting what he really believes and not what he thinks that he must believe in.
So, ‘Greasy Lake’ is the story which approaches the common ending of people’s mortality in an innovative approach. No feeling of dead end ought to conquer humans’ souls. They should only believe that they are always given the chance to make a new fresh beginning.
In the story of Truman Capote ‘Children on their Birthdays’ another approach to the ending is given. Here the main leading figure of the story is a girl, Miss Bobbit. She reaches the small town of Mobile in Alabama with her mother and as expected she generates social gossip and draws the attention of all and especially of young men. Miss Bobbit holds the appearance of an attractive feminine girl who is expected to follow the social norm of her era. Nevertheless Capote presents us with a girl who behaves ‘manlike’. She ‘sassed along with a grown-up mice one hand on her hip, the other supported a spinsterish umbrella’ (Capote 58). There is strong opposition expressed towards Miss Bobbit by other females of the neighborhood since she appears to have much more strength and power compared to them. She seems to have the courage to go after what she wants and she dreams of. She dreams of a career in Hollywood and she is about to make her dream come true. But death comes and finds her unexpectedly while crossing the street on the verge of her leaving the small town on her way to Hollywood. What is that ending supposed to depict? Does it show that ending is inevitable?
Probably Capote wishes to familiarize his readers with the fact that death is unpredictable but this is certainly not his main argument. The thematic core of his story is that Miss Bobbit although like any other mortal has not got the slightest idea on when she is about to die she does not seem to waste her time on these kinds of thoughts. She seems to have devoted herself to making her dream come true. She pays no attention to comments which may be deriving of narrow minded people or people stuck up in their narrow minded routine which leads them to behave without courage and belief in themselves crying over the spilt milk ling before it evens spills.
This is the paradox that Capote seems to wish to put emphasis on. He draws the portrait of an approach to life which seems to treat life as unique. Life has its ending. This is unquestionable. No one seems to know when this ending is to come. But what each one can certainly do is give meaning to what he / she is provided with, the unique gift of life till this life’s ending comes. Because the arising question crossing the readers’ minds is whether Miss Bobbit would have ever done anything different if she knew that her death was imminent and she was about to die while crossing the road. Is it possible for Miss Bobbit not to have chosen to go after her dream of she knew that she was about to die so quickly?
Capote does not provide his readers either with such a question or with any answer to this underlying question. But Capote certainly poses this question and this question underlies the thematic core of his story. And Capote does indeed help his readers realize through the portrait of Miss Bobbit that she would have acted nothing differently. Simply because life’s meaning does not depend on when its ending comes. The ending of life has a different meaning only when life is treated in a meaningless way. If life is treated with courage, belief, strength and belief in one’s self then no endings and fear for endings can exist. Because in this kind of cases life provides people with a feeling of fulfillment which makes them content regardless of their ending and fearful. They have all the courage they need because of their belief in the value of their soul and their dreams.
In the last story ‘Seven Floors’ by Dino Buzatti there is another aspect of how ending could be approached. The main leading figure of the story is an ill man whose death seems to be approaching dangerously. What happens to this man is that he enters hospital, a Sanatorium which consists of seven floors. At first doctors and nurses have him on the top floor. But gradually he is transferred to the other floors as his illness seems to deteriorate.
The amazing element of this story is the obsessive denial on behalf of the man to come in terms with his imminent death. Therefore doctors and nurses seem to approach him in a way that he is not told the truth. He is let in a climate of lies. Giuseppi who is the hero of the story meets the readers of the story with a swinging question which at first sight seems pretty difficult to be answered. Does Giuseppi die because he is transferred to the last, bottom floor or is he transferred to the bottom floor because he is to die?
The question is not answered but only on an individual basis. Each reader can draw his / her own conclusions. The point though is that the more he is afraid of his ending the more he reaches his end.
So what the writer wants to put emphasis on is that ending should not deprive us from enjoying life for what we wish it to be. If fear is what remains then no life can exist with a meaning. Negative aura towards life is what deprives life from its duration. This is probably what Buzatti wants to familiarize his readers with. It is not good not to think about mortality but it is not good either to stick to this thought and provoke the invitation of bad illnesses and endings to our lives.
Lake and Other Stories, Penguin Books (1986)
Buzatti, The Boyle, Coraghessan Greasy Seven Floors retrieved from www.http://bcitawareness.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10885412/seven_floors_dino_buzzati.pdf
Capote, Truman Children on their Birthdays, Penguin books, limited (2011)