Sunday, November 16, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
1. Is tragic flaw an issue in this novel? Choose one character and explore how their tragic flaw resulted in disaster.
Yes, tragic flaw is an issue in this novel. In fact, I would daresay that tragic flaw is one of the most important elements of this novel; it shapes the characters and the storyline, creates a sense of pathos, and most importantly leaves a message of the universal human condition for the readers.
The protagonist of the novel, Patrick, copes with numerous tragedies in the novel. From the betrayal of Clara to the death of Alice, Patrick loses a loved one more than once. Each time Patrick deals with loss, he has an extremely difficult time overcoming the ordeal. Thus, his tragic flaw turns out to be his inability to cope with loss. This flaw throws Patrick into a state of despair after he loses Clara, and a state of madness (somewhat) after Alice dies. Although Patrick was more than hindered by this flaw, readers must understand that it was this very flaw that helped Patrick to find a sense of identity. It was at times unbearable to watch Patrick deal with his loss; and his grievance created a sense of pathos towards his state. Nevertheless, his flaw never led him to total destruction. At times, he was definitely in a disastrous state, yet as time passed by Patrick gradually built himself up.
At the end of the book, Patrick actually comes back to Hana after his release at prison and his attempt to destroy the waterworks. In the end, Patrick decides to take care of Hana which was his ultimate decision to let Hana complete his identity. Throughout the novel, Patrick was in need of another person to be satisfied and complete. Each time he lost his counterpart, he was utterly devastated, and it was the same after he was released from prison. However, Patrick decides during his phone call with Clara that he will take care of the only remain of his former love Alice. Thus, Hana becomes the person that completes Patrick as a person and gives him a sense of identity.
The character Patrick actually makes me wonder if a tragic flaw is necessary to make advancements in life. It seems that perfection will never result in improving one’s self, and only mistakes and shortcomings can lead to some sort of revelation. Perhaps this is the universal human experience that Ondaatje points out in the novel. Each character is equipped with a flaw that brings them to near destruction, and sometimes actual downfall. Yet, his or her tragic flaw enables the character to find a bigger truth in life and helps him or her advance forward in his or her, conscious or unconscious, search for a sense of purpose and identity. An interesting theory I believe, and in my opinion it holds some truth—maybe a lot of truth. Just like Paul said in Corinthians, God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Perhaps, we should all acknowledge the value of weakness and appreciate its existence. For without it, we would be nothing more than an arrogant group of people wandering around in a meaningless world without any human growth.
1. What character do you most identify with in this novel and why? Is pathos an element of your response to this character? Again, be specific here. Look for textual evidence and help us understand your thoughts.
As I was engulf in the novel, I knew precisely who I could relate to, and it was the protagonist—Patrick. I find it funny how Patrick is the weakest character, in my opinion, in the book and I can relate to him the most. I guess it is because I am more inclined to admit my weaknesses than extol my strengths. I know that I have always been in search of an identity. Never being satisfied with my limited understandings of myself, I have tried to find a deeper, more valuable, meaning accompanying my life. Sometimes it was the dissatisfaction I received from myself or remnants of bad memories from the past, but I was, and still am, hindered by my own rejection of who I am as a person. Perhaps it is because I am out to prove myself worthy for the people around me and ultimately for the world, or I just cannot overcome the shortcomings that create presumptions among people about who I am. In much similar ways, I felt that Patrick was adventuring through the same things that I have adventured through. There were many moments when I could completely understand the motives and the feelings that Patrick was going through. This could be a feeling of pathos, yet it was much pity or empathy but a mutual understanding that I could share with this character. Although I do not have specific textual evidence (maybe I’m just lazy), but the general trend that Patrick expressed in the novel was so incredibly similar to my own behaviors and thoughts.
First of all, Patrick’s longing for companionship and affection created such a sense of pathos. I understood so clearly the universal human condition of loneliness; it is almost impossible to go through the world without a companion, or even find one’s own identity. Humans were meant to find their counterparts, and it was no different for Patrick. Whatever it may be, another person, money, accomplishment, a person needs his or her complement to complete his or her identity. Throughout the novel, readers witness this universal human truth in the multitude of characters. Ambrose of course had his wealth, Harris had his waterworks, Clara had materialistic fulfillment from Ambrose, Caravaggio had his wife, and basically every single character had someone or something completing his or her identity—everyone except Patrick. The protagonist actually struggles to find the one thing that will live up to be his counterpart. At moments, he had Clara, and later he had Alice with more assurance. Yet, due to an unfortunately turn of events, the very pillars that supported his own identity crumbled as Clara left him and as Alice passed away. I was in agony when I had to witness Patrick grief and pain; I knew how he felt, how losing something of so much importance crushes the very core of a person in the deepest parts of his or her heart. With so much clarity, I could see and feel what Patrick was suffered. Even when he tried to destroy the waterworks out of anger, I felt a sense of pathos when I thought about his motives and his emotional state.
Although I may be drawn to Patrick, we still have many differences. I, unlike Patrick, am less likely to be so submerged in my own emotions all the time. Despite the harshness of reality, I try to accept it and deal with the fact that I must change for reality because reality won’t change for me. However, Patrick does end up changing in the end. He goes through many traumatic events in his life—death of father and Alice, departure of Clara—yet he never completely falls into a state of despair and hopelessness. As much as he seemed so weak, he was tough enough to eventually overcome the shortcomings of his life. Finally, towards the end of the book, readers see a Patrick that is much closer to the identity that he so longed and searched for throughout the entire novel, and perhaps this is the part of Patrick that I feel most drawn towards.
1. What passage did you find the most beautiful in this novel and why? Dig into setting here, and give us detail about why you have chosen your passage.
Amongst all the beautifully woven passages in the novel, the very first scene that came to my mind when I read this question was the ice skating scene in the beginning of the book. This passage located in page 21 and 22 describes the discovery the 11 year old Patrick had made on a short trip of curiosity past midnight. When he actually arrives at the frozen river, he finds a group of men skating along the shore and playing a game of laughter and excitement. The entire scene is written with very short sentences like “the ice shone with light… something joyous. A gift. There were about ten men skating, part of a game (21)” to increase the pace of the reading. The reading of the passage evokes a different feeling from the previous pages of the book. Patrick had discovered something out of expectations—something immensely beautiful. In order to highlight the excitement stirring up in Patrick, the passage read: “their lanterns replaced with new rushes which let them go further past boundaries, speed! Romance! One man waltzing with his fire… (22)2” and the passage goes on to describe how Patrick would never be the same after this brand new experience; Patrick “having lived all his life on that farm where day was work and night was rest, nothing would be the same (22).” In addition, this new revolutionary discovery impacted Patrick to the point where “his mind raced ahead of his body (22).”
The reason I’ve actually picked this passage is not only because of its wonderfully written descriptions of the men fervently skating across shining frozen lake, but also because it is such a pivotal moment for Patrick. It is at this moment in his life that he realizes there is much more out there, outside of his tiny little life. That even in a place he knew so well, “his shore, his river (21) [emphasis from the original text],” he had no idea about the breathtaking ritual going on at night; he knew so little about even what was his. It is precisely at this point when Patrick searches for an identity beyond his understanding of himself—his past, origin, purpose. And suddenly, “his mind raced ahead of his body.” Unfortunately, his search for an identity at one point becomes so obsessive that upon a loss of something precious, he goes through much difficulty trying to recover. Yet, it is this discovery when he was 11 that enlightened him in his way of thinking and transformed him into a pursuer of his own true identity beyond the limited understandings of his own self. Thus, this passage proves itself to be awe strikingly beautiful to me.