Perception of Reality
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Each of the three authors, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, and C.S. Lewis are able to create their own perception of reality through the manipulation of characters and use of literary devices. However, reality is an individual concept and thus each author has a distinct perception of it that becomes apparent in his writing: in Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Alice goes beyond the boundaries of reality into a dream world, only to discover the fantasy is actually the reality of the adult world; Beckett, through Vladimir and Estragon present the readers with the idea of existentialism in Waiting for Godot; and finally in The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis uses the vantage point of a demon, Screwtape, in order to show the human condition.
To begin with the obvious, each character is not only physically, but mentally different in each piece, which enables the author his characters as instruments to illustrate his key idea. The protagonist in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is a young, innocent, Victorian girl named Alice. Like many children, she is has an active imagination that leads her past the realms of reality into a “wonderland”, that ultimately becomes her reality of the adult world. She is not yet tainted by the evils of the adult world and can still see a more beautiful world that exists outside of her environment. Her nativity leads her to believe she is in the perfect world.
However, Alice still cannot allow herself be totally free as she still tries to maintain her Victorian manners. “Come, there’s no use in crying like that!” said Alice to herself, rather sharply. “I advise you leave off this minute!” In a situation that would normally render a child to cry for help even though no one is there, she on the other hand becomes her own mother and scolds herself. She even finds it decidedly uncivil for the Footman to stare “stupidly up in the sky” when speaking to her. In Wonderland, there is no need for conformity and Alice is under no pressure to be socially apt. By Alice’s actions, it represents how social etiquette is deeply impressed in a child’s mind. As a result, even in a fantasy world, proper conduct of one’s self is still present.
Waiting for Godot is a play that has a relatively short cast of characters. The two protagonists are Vladimir and Estragon, two bums who are apparently waiting for Godot to arrive. Both have never seen or heard Godot, but for some reason they still believe that he exists. The two also have a repetitive nature to the point that they become interchangeable. This is illustrated in the opening act when Estragon tries to take off his boots:
V: It hurts?
E: (Angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
V: No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have.
E: It hurts?
V: (Angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
This repetitive nature also is a foreshadowing of what’s to come: a constant cycle of life that never ends and eventually Vladimir and Estragon’s real tragedy. Another pair of characters in the play is Pozzo and Lucky [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksL_7WrhWOc]. Although they seem different from Vladimir and Estragon, a parallel does exist between the two pairs. Vladimir needs Estragon or else he is alone and in the same respects, Estragon needs Vladimir to in order to function in life:
V: When I think of it…all these years…but for me… where would you be…You’d be nothing more than a heap of bones at the present moment, no doubt about it.
Similarly, Pozzo needs Lucky in order to survive. Lucky is Pozzo’s slave and in the Act II, Pozzo depends on Lucky in order to get around because the former is blind. ” For Beckett, the only real brotherhood of man lies in his grief and loneliness: in the cry of distress we are all one, Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, so different in appearance, yet so similar in spiritual condition.” These characters represent humanity and all humans. Pozzo’s reference to Vladimir and Estragon being made in “God’s image” and Estragon’s naming of Pozzo and Lucky as Cain and Abel are examples of this.
Godot himself never shows himself in the play, which questions his existence. In fact it is very plausible that Vladimir and Estragon made up Godot. Godot’s relationship to Vladimir and Estragon is representative of human nature: a need for hope to arrive and to have a purpose in life. Further more, this is evidence that all human life is meaningless since Vladimir and Estragon chose to believe in Godot and without him, their life is meaningless.
In the ScrewtapeLetters, we view the world through Hell’s eyes. Lewis is able to create his own reality through the point of view of Screwtape. The novel is comprised of a series of letter from Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Both are demons and involved in tempting humans in order to secure their souls. The idea is not exactly the selling of one’s soul for fame or fortune, but instead it is giving away the soul through the disbelief of God and succumbing to humanly desires. The reader can see what life is really like for a demon: a bureaucracy where “everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.” The world of Screwtape is also a world of deception since devils lie. In fact this reverse theology is more of an insight of how temptation works and possibly how to guard from it. Tempters, according to Lewis, have two motives: the first is fear of punishment, the second a hunger to consume or dominate other beings. Thus, the switching of roles whereby the story is told by the “other side” enables readers to draw their own conclusion of good and evil in the world.
It is through the use of unique details and literary devices the author can create the world in which the characters exist. Many events in the two novels and the play have some importance and the specific allusions and allegories become tools for the author to further establish his point. Other characters that Alice meets during her journey have some sort of symbolic reference to the adult world. The White Rabbit is probably the most recognizable figure of the adult world due to his concern for schedules and appointments and his obsession with punctuality. It somewhat connects to the idea of structure and organization and the logics of the adult world. It is quite ironic in the sense that Wonderland is a symbol of the adult world but it is full of chaos. The idea of social hierarchy is also present. Alice herself feels as if she is in a higher class because she is more educated. When she is confused of her own identity, Alice refuses the idea of being Mabel because she is unintelligent: “and I’m sure I can’t be Mabel, for I Know all sorts of things and she, oh! She knows such a very little!” A second example of social hierarchy in Wonderland, is symbolized through the card characters.
The card characters are unidentifiable from the back, made of cardboard, and organized into a social hierarchy or caste system according to their suit (spades are gardeners, clubs are soldiers, and so on). This is almost identical to a real card game, where every suit has a rank. The Caucus race, made up by the creatures of wonderland in order to become dry, parodies a political process. The creatures run around in circles not accomplishing anything and Alice, representing the average citizen, does benefit from it. Alice believes the adult world is magical when she gets a glimpse of the garden through the little door and adores its loveliness; getting there becomes the only real goal she sets for herself in the book. When she finally arrives in the garden, the truth is revealed to her. She finds its loveliness tainted by the overbearing presence of the queen and the courtiers and the unpleasantness of the croquet game. She also finds out that the red roses are painted red and this ruins the true beauty of Wonderland. This could be interpreted as the false perception children have on the adult world.
One thing that becomes apparent in Waiting for Godot is the use of time and the pattern of life. The motifs used in the play essentially become the central idea of repetitiveness in human lives. In the same sense, Vladimir and Estragon’s constant reciting of each other and repeating the same actions over and over again in the play trap them this meaningless world. Also there is no real orderly sequence of events. One day the tree is barren and then the very next day it is covered with leaves. What is also interesting is the fact that Vladimir is the only one who can remember anything. For example, in the first act, they meet Pozzo and his slave Lucky. The next day he meets Pozzo and Lucky again but not only is Pozzo now blind and Lucky a mute, but both do not remember being there yesterday or meeting Vladimir and Estragon.
V: We met yesterday. (Silence). Do you not rember?
P: I don’t rember having met anyone yesteday. But to-morrow I won’t rember having met anyone to-day. So don’t count on me to enlighten you. (p.101)
The characters cannot differentiate one moment from the next, leading to the notion that time and life is arbitrary and pointless. Biblical references are also used in this play. In the Act I, Vladimir brings up the parable of the two thieves. All four disciples of Christ are supposed to have been present during his crucifixion and witnessed the two thieves, crucified with Jesus, being saved or damned depending on their treatment of him in the final hours. However, the argument is that four gospels present entirely different versions of this story, and Vladimir wonders why only one of these versions is accepted as definitive. “But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others?” Which version is accepted as true is based on a person’s own perception and he decides what to believe.
Similarly, Vladimir and Estragon only exist and have a meaning because they believe that Godot will come to save them. Also, the different versions of the same story puts into question the reliability of texts. By using the Bible, it puts a cloud over human existence and purpose because the Bible is considered “the ultimate truth”. God himself, if he does exist, contributes to the absurd world of Vladimir and Estragon because of his silence. We never meet Godot but the boy (Godot’s messenger) always tells them that he will come tomorrow but never does. This symbolizes the real hopelessness of humanity since they cling to something that will never actually appear. This once again establishes the point that there is no meaning to life and it is only forged by the human mind.
In the Screwtape Letters, religion is one of the main focuses and Christianity in particular. Screwtape says how God loves humans because they were made in his image. In fact, God himself was a human. This contrasts with the idea of god or hope in Waiting for Godot. God in Screwtape’s world is silent when humans are in need because it is a true test of their faith. “He refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own’… If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependant on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.” The idea is that God does exist, he is caring and humans do have a purpose in life: to meet the needs of God and be His servant and His son. However, Screwtape’s opposition to that is to seize the moment when they are most in need and tempt them with their power. For example, Wormwood’s patient is at war and his town is going to be bombed by the Germans. Screwtape gives Wormwood three choices of what to make the patient feel: courage, cowardice, or hatred.
Courage can’t work because it is a virtue and demons cannot produce that, they can however mix it with pride. Demons, on the other hand can manage hatred because it will cause violent actions. It even is best used in conjunction with fear. ” The more he fears the more he will hate.” Screwtape also points out cowardice or fear alone is risky because it may make the patient (human) feel as if he needs God in order for salvation. Another reality of this world Screwtape lives in is deception. Demons are mischief and like to use lies in order to tempt humans. It even comes to the point where Screwtape tells Wormwood of the “real” reason why Lucifer “left” Heaven:
“The truth is I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility. He is one being, they are distinct from Him. Their good cannot be His. All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else – He must have some real motive for creating them and taking so much trouble about them…this very problem was the chief cause of Our Father’s quarrel with the Enemy”
Screwtape addresses the petty evils in everyday human lives that add up in the end to the destruction of morality, the demise of individuality and the utter destruction of souls. This novel serves as inside look at temptation and ways the demons can averts souls from Christianity. Its sarcasm is meant to actually see that God is caring and not vengeful.
The final result and the effect of the world on the protagonist, further establishes the author’s key point. By the end of Alice’s journey, she is able to learn the rules of the game and adapt to Wonderland. She ultimately matures in this dream of hers and in the end, she grows without the aid the mushroom. In the trial, she is not intimidated by the court and is able to fight her way through the king’s poor reasoning and unjust evidence:
” ‘That’s the most important piece of evidence we’ve heard yet,” said the King, rubbing his hands; ‘so let the jury—-‘
‘If any of them can explain it,’ Alice, (she had grouwn so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid of interrupting him) ‘I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.’ “
She ends up escaping Wonderland and its horror as she awakes from her dream. Her sister’s comment reflects Alice’s character and her eventual triump. Alice will grow up to be a woman, but still maintain the heart of a child. For that reason the bitterness of the adult world has not corrupted her.
Unlike Alice, Vladimir and Estragon do not escape their world and will forever be condemned to it. They are oblivious to the fact their life is meaningless and make up the idea of Godot, contemplate suicide and waste their time just to make it pass by. They continue to do this because the do not want to realize the truth that their lives are pointless. This is why the wait for Godot. They believe he will come and it is a distraction to them. Vladimir, in one of his speeches says, “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion on thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.” This illusion of salvation or hope they will get from Godot is a cover up of the fact their life is empty and futile. However, the true tragedy occurs when Vladimir gets a small glimpse of the truth. When the boy comes back in Act II, Vladimir predicts what the message from Godot is, and in fact it is exactly what the messenger said in the first act: Godot will not come today but he will come tomorrow. Both Vladimir and Estragon live a monotonous, meaningless life and they will perhaps always be waiting for Godot.
In the end, the patient Wormwood is tempting dies but he is not won over by the dark side. Similarly to Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, the ending to victorious and satisfying. Good always prevails over evil. Even though the patient is killed by a bomb, he sees the truth before he dies. He now knows that God does exist and that he was there all along. ” He not only saw Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed , could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him…his self-abhorrence and utter knowledge of his sin.” The patient has recognized and repented for his sins, allowing him to enter Heaven and escape the solid, somewhat petty world.
In conclusion, each author’s approach to addressing their perception of reality and human life can be found through his use of characters, plot, symbols and the final outcome of the characters. Lewis Carroll’s Alice is challenged with the evils of the adult world, but is able to mature and keep her childlike innocence as well. Vladimir discovers some of the truth of his existence but still lives a life of meaningless and endless wait for Godot. In the Screwtape Letters, even though the world is captured through the eyes of Hell, it is only a means to show the foibles of humans but their eventual success. Each piece is a different alteration of reality, and like life itself, human perception of the world is a distinct, individual experience.
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