Self-discovery is defined as “the act or process of achieving self-knowledge”(Merion Webster). Every story has a beginning and an end, but in between, the characters all have different types of experiences. From an experience, a character often comes to a realization/revelation about their journey/ life. These revelations can influence the characters thoughts, actions, and beliefs or in other words, they can change the character into a completely different person. In the book’s The Great Gatsby, Into the Wild, and The Things They Carried characters Jay Gatsby, Chris McCandless, and Mary Anne Bell all come to realizations about who they are or who they strive to be and had gone through crucial self-discoveries that completely changed them.
In The Great Gatsby, we observe the life of the main character Jay Gatsby through the eyes of his next door neighbor and friend Nick Carraway. At first look, Gatsby seems like he lives a great life: he lives in a mansion, owns fancy cars, throws extravagant parties, etc. However, when you get to know him, like Nick did, you will see that his life isn’t so perfect after all. Jay Gatsby was born James Gatz to a family of farmers in North Dakota. From a young age, Gatz despise the poor and sought to one day be wealthy. His journey to wealth would begin when he met a rich man named Dan Cody. One day, a young Gatz was working on Lake Superior and saw a massive yacht in the middle of the lake. However a big storm was aproaching so Gatz went out into the middle of the lake to warn the owner of the boat. The owner, Dan Cody, was so thankful for the warning he offered Gatsby a job as his assistant. In order to achieve his goal of becoming wealthy James Gatz would change his name to Jay Gatsby and accept the job offer: starting a new life that was detached from his upbringing. Money was only important to Gatsby because he was in love with a girl named Daisy Buchannan. He knew Daisy would never love him as a poor man and so he spent his entire life trying to be someone else. Gatsby thought the only thing that would make him happy in life was Daisy and that the only way to get Daisy was with money. This thought process led to Gatsby to believe that money could buy happiness. However, once Gatsby saw that Daisy didn’t want to be with him, even with all of his money, he came to the conclusion or self discovery that money does not make you happy. A major theme in The Great Gatsby is the acquisition of wealth and social ranking. Reader’s find out that Gatsby lives a sad and lonely life : sells illegal alcohol, lives alone, chases after a woman who doesn’t want to be with him, no one attends his funeral, etc. Jay Gatsby had all the money he desired, but the one thing he didn’t have was true happiness. Gatsby’s self discovery deepens my understanding of the theme by inferencing that people in society were chasing after the wrong things; instead of trying to be happy in the life they had, characters spent their whole life trying to obtain some greater sense of happiness but would end up living a miserable life instead. If the characters were to just live in the moment, maybe there life wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Another person who sought happiness was Chris McCandless. In the book Into The Wild, the main character Chris McCandless had attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and was your typical college student. However, unlike most people in college, McCandless was fed up with the materialism of the world. Later on, Chris would come to the discovery that in order for him to be truly happy, he would need to become a transcendentalist and isolate himself from the rest of civilization. In order to achieve this goal, McCandless, like Jay Gatsby, changed his name to Alexander Supertramp and traveled into the Alaskan wilderness. An important theme throughout the book is Valuing Principals over People. One of the best parts about McCandless was that he stuck to his principles. He lived by his anti-materialism to the fullest extent: giving away all of his money to charity and kept as few possessions as he possibly could. However, while this is admirable of Chris, he seems to put his principles above people, which leads him to cause unintended pain in his loved ones. For example, in college Chris decided he would no longer hand out or accept gifts because he had a moral problem with them. While this decision is based on Chris’s principals it hurt his family(loved ones). Chris’s realization is also an example of him valuing principals over his loved ones. Chris went to Alaska because he believed it was the only way he could find true happiness but in doing so he hurt his family (by leaving them). Since Chris decided to leave, it shows that he values his principals over the people he cares for.
Finally, In the book The Things They Carried, Mark Fossie is a young medic who invites his high school sweetheart Marry Anne Bell to come live with him while he fights in the Vietnam war. He came up with the idea from Eddie Diamond, the highest ranking man within his company, who faticously suggests that the area where the soldiers were occupied was so safe that you could bring a girl to the camp. Fossie seems very intrigued by this idea and would write a letter to Marry Anne Bell inviting her to come to Vietnam. A few weeks later, a young and innocent Marry Anne Bell arrives in Vietnam. However, little did she know her whole life was about to change. For the first two weeks her and Mark Fossie had a grand time; they would hang out like they did back in Highschool. Additionally, it seemed like Mark had achieved his goal of bringing his experiences from America to Vietnam. This would soon change as Marry Anne’s interest for the war skyrocketed. She would start off by learning how to assemble, fire, and clean weaponry. Marry Anne Bell was very eager to learn about fighting in the war. As a result, she would join the Green Berets on their nighttime ambushes. Acting more like a soldier, after a few weeks Marry Anne Bell decided to look like one too. Because most of her time was now spent fighting the North Vietnam and the Vietcong’s, Bell did not have time to worry about her hygiene/personal appearance. Additionally, she would cut her hair short and tie and green bandana around it. Because Marry Anne was so involved with the combat of the war, she would spend less time with her boyfriend who is unhappy about her transformation. As a result, Mark Fossie makes arrangements for Marry Anne Bell to be sent back to the US.
However, Marry Anne refuses to go back to America and would disappear for a few days. When Marry Anne returns a few days later she goes right past mark and into the special forces tent. Mark would take a peek into the tent and notice that Marry Anne was wearing the same outfit she had worn when she came to Vietnam: A pink sweater, and a skirt. However, when Fossie approached Marry Anne, he noticed that she was wearing a necklace of human tongues! Marry Anne tries to convince Fossie that what she was doing was necessary but Fossie didn’t buy it. A major theme in this book is that war is a transformative experience. Mary Anne Bell contributes to this theme by changing from a pretty girl who wore pink sweaters to a ruthless killer who wears tongues around her neck. Bells experiences also draw a parallel to what most young solders went through in Vietnam. The transformation of Marry Ann Bell also furthers my understanding of the theme by showing that war can transform any one even an innocent young girl.