LESSONS FROM WORLD LITERATURE / Akiyo Ozawa

Since I entered university, I have read many literary works in the world. Some books were interesting, and others were a little bit boring. In any case, each time I finish reading a famous novel I feel a sense of achievement, for I dream of reading all the literature in the world. The reason why I persist in world literature is because I find its universality interesting. Although the time and the place each character lived in are quite different from that of myself, I can understand their actions and feelings, and in most cases they teach me a lesson that can still be applied to today. So far, from all of my reading, I have found out one important thing; we must confess our faults. People have to confess, otherwise they will ruin themselves. The three protagonists I will introduce in this paper bring about their own destruction as a consequence of not confessing.

Rascolnikov is one of the most famous protagonists in literature, who appears in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s great work Crime and Punishment. Rascolnikov is too intelligent to confess that he is an ordinary person. He kills an elderly money-lender who causes many poor people to suffer. This murder is based on his dangerous theory. According to him, humans are divided into two groups; people who are ordinary and have to obey the law, and people who have the right to break the law. Only a few geniuses who belong to the latter group can commit crimes for a better society, and if necessary, they are even allowed to kill people. Historical geniuses, he belives, have always opened the new era by abolishing the existing system, which often meant becoming a criminal. Rascolnikov is obsessed with the idea that he is the very person who had the right, thus commits the worst crime in the world. However, his fate plays an ironic trick. He manages to escape from the scene of the murder without being witnessed. As he is not arrested at once, he is given time to feel the pangs of a guilty conscience. What is worse, after he killed the woman, he accidentally kills her sister. Because the sister had not done anything wrong he is tormented all the more. Readers cannot know if he actually confesses that he is not a genius, but in the end he confesses what he has done after all.

In the French realism novel Une Vie written by Guy de Maupassant, Jeanne is reluctant to confess her blindness to her son. Jeanne is an only daughter of a baron and his wife. As soon as she finishes her time at a convent, she, full of hope, marries a man named Julien. However, the husband turns out to be greedy and debauched, and she understands the harshness of reality. Just like Julien, people around Jeanne betray her one after another. She stops trusting people, and loves her son Paul blindly instead. As a result he grows up to be selfish and leads a dissipated life like his father. When he becomes a teenager, he enters school and lives in a dormitory. At first, he goes back to his home every weekend, but gradually he goes back once every two weeks, once a month, and in the end he hardly goes back at all. Jeanne worries about him, but does not suspect he wants to be freed from his mother. When he quits school and goes to Paris, Jeanne even believes that Paul still loves her and sends letters to him. But the replies she receives are always asking for money. By and by she runs out of money, and has heard nothing from him. Even at this stage, Jeanne believes in her son. In the end she receives a letter from him for the first time in years, saying that his girlfriend gave birth to a child and she is nearly dead. Through this story, the more Jeanne undergoes harsh experiences, the more she seems to want to escape from reality because she no longer has the capacity for any more despair. Therefore she becomes blind to Paul. The story ends with Jeanne holding Paul’s child in her arms. If she remains what she is, that is to say, blind to her loved ones, she would repeat the same mistake as she has done to Paul.

Tennessee Williams, who is an American playwright created a pathetic character Blanche Dubois in his masterpiece A Street Car Named Desire. Blanche comes from a distinguished but now ruined family in the South. She cannot confess that the glory of her family and herself has passed. The story begins with her arrival to New Orleans where her sister Stella lives. Blanche is astonished at the rough lives of people there and expresses her dislike of Stella’s husband Stanley who comes from Poland. His crude manner, vulgar language, and the ragged work clothes he always wears makes Blanche feel unpleasant. As she still has pride of coming from a distinguished family, she despises this beast-like man by calling him a Pollack. In addition, she also cannot confess that her youth is lost. She dresses up in flashy clothes and jewelry and is always reeking of perfume. She feels secure in her beauty by Stella’s compliments. Stanley, who does not like that attitude, begins to investigate her past. He finds that Blanche was a teacher but dismissed because she seduced one of the male students, and after that she led a prostitute-like life. He reveals it to a man who is in love with Blanche. Having her engagement broken off with the man and after being violated by Stanley, she becomes mentally deranged and she is taken to a psychiatrist. Her last line, spoken to a psychiatrist is very significant. “Whoever you are―I have always depended on the kindness of strangers (Williams, Scene11)”. The fact is, she is just a vulnerable woman, who cannot keep her dignity without the help of others. It seems like she confesses her faults at last though she is out of her senses.

 Rascolnikov, Jeanne, and Blanche have taught us what would happen if people do not confess what they do not want to accept. Not being able to confess is a weakness people could have. People tend to avoid facing themselves lest they should get hurt. Therefore, not until they get the courage to overcome the fear of getting hurt do they mature. The three protagonists lack that courage because of their self-pride; Rascolnikov is full of confidence in his intelligence. Jeanne has no one to rely on except her son. Blanche has a glorious past. All people have to do is to swallow their pride first, and then confess their faults before it is too late, as were the cases of the three characters. This is an immutable fact for every generation, and it will be helpful in anyone’s life.

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