Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Perfect Storm

        Everybody has their own interpretation of perfection and their own personal definition of what perfection would be in life.  I have learned through service that this is true, and everybody has a certain perfection they hope to achieve one day.  At Our Daily Bread, I definitely witnessed that everyone defines perfection differently.  Most clients there are not as superficial about perfection as we are.  Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, and Wordworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” all show the main character having a certain obsession for what their ideal perfection would be.  In “The Birthmark” the main character has an obsession over his wife’s birthmark, and he says if she were to get rid of it then she would be perfect.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the main character has an obsession with the wallpaper and the strange sub-pattern behind the main design of the wallpaper.  In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” the main character has an obsession with a certain image that he had from a dream where he was in the clouds and this serves as his perfection when he is lonely or down.  Everyone has a perfection that they want to achieve, it’s just a matter of how they tend to view that perfection.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” is an example of someone that is overly paranoid about little things and as a result has a certain view of perfection that in the end is way too much of an obsession.  In this story Aylmer is so disturbed by his wife’s birthmark that he thinks that she would be perfect if she got rid of it.  After continuously making comments about it and obsessing over it, Aylmer finally persuades her to let him get rid of it.  He is a scientist so he says that he can draw up a potion to get rid of it. She decides to let him do it after he has made her feel so bad about it.  In the end though Aylmer gets what he wants but he suffers for it.  She does indeed lose the birthmark but as a result she also dies.  On page 477, the narrator says, “As the last crimson tint of the birthmark - that sole token of human imperfection - faded from her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere.”  The narrator almost makes a point to say yes Aylmer got his perfection of a woman but as a result she had died because of it.  Hawthorne uses this story to say that it’s not a bad thing to strive for perfection but be careful of obsessing over the little things such as Aylmer did so you don’t have to pay the punishment like he did of his wife’s death.  I am reminded of this when I volunteer at Our Daily Bread.  Society is too caught up with what the ideal “perfect” person should look like, that we sometimes never bother to get to know a person because of his or her looks.  At Our Daily Bread, many of the clients don’t fit that ideal image.  I have met many nice people there who I probably would never talk to on the street because of their “look.”  From outward appearances only, they do not look like perfection.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is also an example like the “The Birthmark” of how not to abuse your obsession and go to far when it comes to your perfection.  The reader hears the story from the narrator’s point of view which in this case is a newly married woman that struggles with depression.  The woman is constantly paranoid about little things and she and her husband move into this new house where she always stays in a little room.   According to her she is just supposed to do what her husband wants her to do which is basically do nothing that is active.    As the story goes on she starts to keep a secret journal and write her thoughts in it.  Longer into the story she goes crazy and thinks that the wallpaper of the room has a story of a woman that is trying to get out.  When in reality she is the one that is trying to get out but her husband has her so whipped that she doesn’t know what is going on anymore.  On page 398, the woman says, “I’ve got out at last in spite of you and Jane.  And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”  This is at the very end of the story so it shows that she has completely lost it at this point because she thought that she was stuck inside of the wallpaper.  She became so completely obsessed with the wallpaper that she started noticing imperfections in it – it is smudged in spots and it is torn in spots.  She doesn’t want anyone else to come into the room because she fears that they will ruin it even more, that they will make it less perfect.  Gilman in much of the same way as Hawthorne uses her story to show the point that people often go way too far with their obsessions and what they will do to achieve perfection in their own mind.

On the other hand William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” shows that sometimes obsessing about perfection can be pleasant.  The narrator visits this image that is in his head, and he talks about how he was wandering as a cloud up above and how he could look down and see a field of daffodils next to a lake and how much of a peaceful and soothing image it was to him.  In the last stanza, he says, “For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”  Wordsworth uses the obsession to show that perfection is a good thing.  Perfection is a nice peaceful image that he can see in his mind whenever he is lonely or down and needs a pick me up.

Though these stories and poem are all very different and deal with perfection very differently, one thing is true in all of them.  Obsessing over perfection can consume our thoughts.  In most cases, obsessing over anything leads to negative consequences.  However, we are reminded in “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” that God has achieved perfection in nature.  Perfection is something that many of us strive for and certainly obsess over, but in reality, very few of us will ever achieve it.

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