There is a popular judgement that technology is one of humanity’s greatest successes as it continues to assume new spheres of society. Although this may be true, as technology takes a position in the literary world, with an improvement in access to an unimaginable amount of information, the need for fiction and nonfiction books has begun to decline. However, literature needs to be kept alive for a multitude of reasons.
Lessons, opinions, and information lie throughout hundreds of books that cannot be found by simply surfing the web. The works Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes and Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, as well as the short stories “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “The Necklace,” by Guy de Maupassant, are all evident examples of texts revealing important themes that allow readers to grow through an improved apprehension and evaluation of their own mind.
Despite technological growth in humanity, only literature allows individuals to expand and improve their spiritual understanding, responses to societal standards, and positive perspective on life through lessons or experiences that do not transpire in their own reality. One of the most crucial aspects of many authors’ works is how they portray religion through their characters. An influential example of this is Flowers for Algernon, which follows Charlie, a mentally disabled adult who undergoes a surgery to provide him with a great deal of artificial intelligence that unfortunately, does not last.
Throughout the course of Charlie’s journey, he encounters countless recollections of his childhood, and in many, Charlie’s mother pushes him to “always love God and prey to him…to get better and not be sick” (Keyes 19), despite his inability to truly understand its meaning. However, at one of his greatest moments of intellectual progression, Charlie delves deeper into the spiritual expanse of his mind, as he thinks, “I wait, and leave myself open, passive, to whatever this experience means. Charlie doesn’t want me to pierce the upper curtains of the mind.
Charlie doesn’t want to know what lies beyond. Does he fear seeing God? Or seeing nothing? ” (Keyes 283). Keyes indicates that when Charlie’s knowledge continues to increase, he becomes more receptive to accepting new possibilities from the past, as well as from the present, into his faith, and the only entity holding him back is his past. This evokes in the readers a notion to be open to new points of views and ideas without any doubt. Often, the most important spiritual advances come from questioning the ordinary or stepping into unknown territory.
In contrariety to Charlie’s experience, but holding a similar message can be found in Brown, the main character of “Young Goodman Brown. ” As Brown, a Puritan man living at the time of the Salem Witch Trials, makes his way to meet with devil worshipers, he “heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither” (Hawthorne 5). Goodman Brown is more conscious and fearful of being caught in his act of meeting with the devil, rather than the meeting itself.
The story unveils the idea that spirituality, if simply rooted in mob mentality, is corrupt and weak. This ultimately suggests that “the critical questioning of one’s own assumptions and perceptions is an important part of any lasting faith. Anything less, Hawthorne implies, may lead to the kind of faithless end suffered by Goodman Brown,” (Klevay). Brown suffers enormously from the night he presumably meets with the devil, as he can no longer connect to or rely on his own deceitful faith, and does not feel he has the freedom to question anything in the strict religious confines of his community.
Hawthorne and Keyes, although applying drastically different approaches, defend the same argument: spiritual decisions should be made by individuals, not a society. Both of the authors deepen the audience’s thinking in their own spiritual principles, as questioning beliefs and motives should be considered a healthy practice, not a sinful one. Despite Goodman Brown’s knowledge of the corruption of his own faith, he feels forced to continue on with life without questioning the events of his ordeal in the woods.
This influence comes from his Puritan neighbors, who were also present at the satanist ceremony that night. The story takes particular notice to those who were there and yet, continue to live their days through the Puritan religion, as if nothing had happened. The dangers of staying silent are clear as seen when, “[Young Goodman Brown] had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse…. they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne 9).
Hawthorne clearly portrays Young Goodman Brown falling into depression from the deep feeling of hatred for the way he has lived his life, as he never attempts to rewrite the wrongs of his fraudulent community, but rather sits silently in order to conform. This conformity is symbolized throughout the short story, as “characters seem to blend together in both their features and their actions… Brown’s own identity seems to mingle and be caught up in identities of the others who are present” (Klevay).
No one is an individual, but rather, the church decides each person’s life and fate, as even Brown is portrayed as analogous with those around him. He has no opinion, and furthermore, no real morals, despite the community he lives in. Conformity is not only a danger to an individual’s morality, but their decisions and the consequences of them, as seen in “The Necklace,” following a poor and unhappy woman, Mathilde Loisel, who borrows a beautiful, expensive-looking necklace from a rich friend for a ball.
She loses the necklace, and consequently, she and her husband take on a horrible debt to replace the necklace. Ten years later, once they had become poverty-stricken, Mathilde discovers that the necklace they had replaced the first one with was immeasurably more expensive. The entire complication begins with Mathilde’s pride and desire to look rich, as it irritates her “not to have a single jewel, not a single stone, nothing to put on. [She] shall look like distress… there’s nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women who are rich” (de Maupassant 2).
During the time that Guy de Maupassant wrote “The Necklace,” women were adamant on living in riches and looking wealthy, as each person’s significance was based off of the amount of money they held. When this idea is forced upon Mathilde by society, de Maupassant is encouraging the readers to reevaluate who they’re living their lives for, their own content, or the conformity into societal standards. He shows through “The Necklace” that the latter is a very unfortunate position to be in, as “ten years of dissipating toil and pecuniary hardship were the product of a vainful miscalculation…
In essence Maupassant has attacked our conceit about comprehending the perimeters of reality” (Fusco). Just as Hawthorne emphasizes the importance of questioning societal beliefs in “Young Goodman Brown,” Maupassant conveys the importance of considering societal standards and expectations before making decisions. When Mathilde does not evaluate, but simply grasps at what her society deems valuable, it leaves her and her husband in extreme financial and emotional hardship. Emotion is an essential aspect of every individual’s life, which is why many authors focus their works around the emotional hardships and experiences of their characters.
In Romeo and Juliet, two young lovers fall for each other, despite their familial rivalry. After a rollercoaster of emotions and predicaments, Romeo and Juliet die, unable to live without the other. The primary cause of this tragedy is their parents, who refuse to make amends or move on from the forgotten strife that started the conflict between their families, the Montagues and Capulets. As they realize that their beloved children have deceased at the conclusion of the play, Juliet’s father says, “As rich shall Romeo’s by his lady’s lie,/Poor sacrifices of our enmity” (Shakespeare V. iii. 14-315). People often lose sight of what is important in life and texts such as Romeo and Juliet act as powerful means of bringing readers back to what is truly fundamental.
Holding grudges results in no happiness or virtue, but rather takes away from the families more than they ever expected. The same is true in “The Necklace,” as the readers watch Mathilde attempt to attain a sense of wealth, only to have more taken away from her. The text explains how she often thinks to herself, imagining “what would have happened if she had not lost that necklace… How life is strange and changeful! (de Maupassant 5). De Maupassant reveals Mathilde’s realization of the true luxuries she had taken for granted and lost.
This gives the readers an opportunity to realize the importance of feeling fortunate for even the smallest belongings. In addition, it broadens the idea of improving each individual’s outlook on life, and to accept that materialism should not be relevant to a fulfilling existence. Both texts are a reminder, although in an extreme fashion, of the importance of living without pessimism or antagonism, as doing so can lead to extremely unfortunate ends.
Even a small variety of literature can generate a powerful impact on an individual that cannot always be grasped in the vast world of internet information. Through Flowers for Algernon, Romeo and Juliet, “Young Goodman Brown,” and “The Necklace,” a wide range of themes are presented to the readers that relate to many aspects of life, including beliefs in spirituality, attitudes and desires based off of societal standards, and the effects of an individual’s emotions.
The horizon of beliefs in a greater being, as well as the questioning of what you are expected to believe, both play a role in “Young Goodman Brown” and Flowers for Algernon that connects to the readers and allows them to reevaluate their own ethics and ideology. Social standards play a significant role in “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Necklace,” as the main characters face constant pressure and depression by allowing their society to constantly control their lives through actions, decisions, and thoughts.
Lastly, in Romeo and Juliet as well as in “The Necklace,” Shakespeare and de Maupassant convey a theme of positivity in the emotional aspect of an individual and the detrimental impact pessimism can have on a person. These literary works are only a small sample of the thousands of lessons and experiences an individual can absorb through reading from the past, which can only improve the generations of the future.