Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Were you sad when Beth died in "Little Women"? I was :(

So, today in my ENG 336 class, we were discussing "The Things They Carried" (a very good, but very sad sorta-memoir about Vietnam) and our professor asked the question, "How does writing serve as an escape?" It's a pretty straightforward question, one that makes me think of that "We read to know we are not alone"-type English major sentiment...
I read and write (very shoddily) as a form of therapy-- I invent other people and give them problems that they usually solve in one way or another. Sometimes it helps me solve my own issues, sometimes not. Either way, it's comforting somehow, to feel like I have control.

However, we went on to discuss how writing about horrible, violent, or otherwise tragic events is another form of coping. In "The Things They Carried", the protagonist is never responsible for actually killing any innocent victims. Yet, he goes through great pains to show that he didn't do anything to prevent some from being killed. In this way, he argues, he is now a killer. He makes the scene more awful than it actually was, to live with this weird guilt. So when his daughter asks him honestly if he ever killed anyone, he says he can honestly answer both "yes" and "no".

How complex is that?

It makes me think of something read about Stephen King's "Salem's Lot". In the book, there's a scene where this little boy wanders onto a busy road and gets killed by an oncoming truck. :( In real life, Stephen King had a similar encounter with his own son, but he was able to pull him out of the way the last second. Apparently, he was so disturbed my his son's almost-death that he had to write about the worst possible outcome of the event to get over it.

This seems morbid... but maybe this is why Thomas Hardy wrote the tragic things he wrote. Or why Poe wrote what he wrote, or why Shakespeare wrote things like "Othello" or "King Lear".

I feel like a majority of the best books I read are all... sad. I mean, there's always "Little Women" or "Twelfth Night" or whatever (then again, Beth dies. Who wasn't traumatized by that at age 10???) ... but really. I guess that's what makes them so beautiful too.

Why is that? Why is tragedy so memorable and beautiful?

1 comment:

  1. This makes me think of the 5 people you meet in heaven. That book shows that everyone's life is connected to everyone else's and in a way we're responsible for the things that happen to them... or maybe we're not responsible. I think everyone has these moments of feeling like they are to blame and that's why we connect so much to a tragedy.