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A Complexity Of Human Nature

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Human Nature is a Volatile Thing

Change is something that everyone is capable of. Many authors have characters who undergo a large transformation throughout their story to show how far they have come. Yet sometimes a transformation, or lack thereof, might be incorporated to depict human nature in its entirety. Stories such as Cathedral by Raymond Carver, Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston, and A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez include examples of this. Although everyone may be capable of change, some are too ingrained into their habits or themselves in order to adequately alter their character for the better rather than just their personal gain, and this teaches us about human nature.

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In Sweat by Zora Neale Hurston, the story is focused around a woman named Delia who works endlessly to support herself and her husband Sykes, when her husband does not appreciate her in the slightest. Yet Delia refuses to leave him, and instead continues to work hard and believe strongly in her faith. It is in this story that depicts a lack of a grandeur transformation, and instead a true depiction of how some people are too ingrained in their habits. In the beginning of the story, Sykes pulls a mean prank on Delia by throwing a whip around her neck, making her think it was a snake. “A great terror took hold of her. It softened her knees and dried her mouth so that it was a full minute before she could cry out or move. Then she saw that it was the big bull whip her husband liked to carry when he drove. She lifted her eyes to the door and saw him standing there bent over with laughter at her fright.” (Hurston, 141) Sykes is cruel and finds joy in Delia’s terror. However, at the end of this story, Sykes is faced with an actual snake. He cries out for Delia to help him. “”Delia. Delia!” She could hear Sykes calling in a most despairing tone as one who expected no answer.” (Hurston, 151) Sykes does undergo a slight change in this story; not one of his total character, but one that illustrates his cowardice. The change is that rather than acting abusively towards Delia, he’s instead asking for her help. If Hurston had this character undergo a transformation of his entire character throughout this story, perhaps Delia would’ve helped him. Yet Sykes is a character who truly depicts the negative aspects of human nature, and that is that some people do not change, or only alter their character slightly simply for their own personal gain.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver is a story about the narrator, whose wife’s blind friend Robert is staying at their house. The narrator is clearly perturbed by the idea of him not only staying with them, but because he is blind as well. Carver immediately sets the characterization up for the narrator to be one of clear prejudice. “All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding.” (Carver, 281) This example shows how the narrator is very narrow-minded. He is incapable of being able to understand how Robert was able to live his life married to a woman he could never see. Another example of the narrator’s prejudice are the lines, “I wished she’d come back downstairs. I didn’t want to be left alone with a blind man.” (Carver, 285) Here he is uncomfortable being left alone with him specifically because he was blind. Overall, Carver is strongly emphasizing the narrator’s prejudice he has towards this man.

Yet, there is a change. The narrator is an example of someone who slowly but surely undergoes a change that alters his character in its entirety. While the two don’t become best friends, Robert gets the narrator to ‘see’ things from his perspective by drawing a cathedral together. “His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now.” (Carver, 291) The narrator begins to let go of his prejudices and allow Robert to guide his hand. He is allowing himself to open up and see things from another perspective, which he realized was an entirely different experience on its own. The narrator continues on, saying, “But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do… My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.” (Carver, 291) The narrator’s prejudices are gone; perhaps not entirely, but this experience itself was enough to cause him to change. The change that Carver includes in this story is one that illustrates how while people may seem to be ingrained in their prejudices, all it takes is one little experience and some time to gradually alter a person’s character for the better.

In A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an angel comes into the life of Pelayo and Elisenda. He is described to be ragged looking, and his “pitiful condition of a drenched great-grandfather took away any sense of grandeur he might have had.” (Marquez, 235) At first the couple is confused, but ultimately they decide to exploit the angel and use him to their advantage. “Elisenda… then got the idea of fencing in the yard and charging five cents admission to see the angel.” (Marquez, 237) However, the change that Marquez included in this story isn’t one of direct alteration of character, but rather in plot. Once the “woman who had been changed into a spider for having disobeyed her parents” (Marquez, 239) showed up in town, all of the hype surrounding the angel disappeared, and eventually, he built up the strength and was able to leave. Elisenda is relieved by his departure, only because he was “no longer an annoyance in her life”. (Marquez, 241). Elisenda and Pelayo haven’t undergone a transformation of character; in fact, the pair have always neglected the angel and to be happy for his departure is only fitting. The change in this story is simply through the plot, and it doesn’t seem to affect the characters in the slightest. This emphasizes again how some people are so ingrained in themselves and their habits that they are incapable of change.

When writing about change, authors tend to incorporate it into their stories in a multitude of ways. Whether it be through a change in character, setting, or plot, it is usually inevitable. In these three stories, each author illustrates how even though people are capable of change, not everyone is willing to open their minds and expand their narrow-minded views in order to achieve it. They also stress that sometimes when a character changes, it isn’t for the greater good, but rather their own personal gain. (1161)

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