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Interdependence weaves together a society of individuals. Relationships with other people are important parts of human life, and interdependence is the group-wide dependence every person has for other people, and which groups of people have for that person. This dependence makes each of us part of a great design an intricately woven universe, phenomenal because of the billions of human beings that are its miniscule components. Communication is one of the most important considerations in human interdependence, and literature has some of the most interesting examples and hypotheses of relational interdependence.
The interdependencies in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter include Hester’s dependence on the society even while this society has ostracized her, and the dependence of the society on Hester as a scapegoat. In Mosaic ritual, a scapegoat was a goat on whose head the sins of the people were symbolically placed. Hester knows that she cannot survive on her own, so she has to tolerate the society s treatment of her. On the other hand, the Puritanical society seems to have need of a scapegoat such as Hester in The Scarlet Letter or the witches of Salem in The Crucible. Since the Puritans did not emphasize a forgiving God, they may have subconsciously reverted to the Mosaic tradition of the scapegoat, instead. Also, Arthur Miller’s examples of interdependencies in The Crucible include John and Elizabeth, on one hand, and the whole village of Salem on the other. Most of these Puritans feel a necessity to confess their sins, as Catholics do, without actually confessing, and therefore look to one another. They each either want to find someone they dislike to blame their own sin on, or they want to try to erase their own guilt by accusing the person they have sinned against of witchcraft. This is an excellent example of a group of individuals woven together by their selfishness and greed.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us in The Great Gatsby, the need of one individual for others can position this individual in a dream world, which replaces one’s reality until it becomes reality. Gatsby needs people so much that he becomes another person in his search for the purpose of his interdependence. In the end, he depends on Daisy for remembrance and love, and he depends on Nick Carraway for secrecy, loyalty, and friendship. By sacrificing his own freedom, and selflessly blaming himself for Daisy’s crime, without really concerning himself with the consequences, Gatsby ensures that Daisy will never forget him, and will always remember him with love. However, his sacrifice has to remain a secret to be a sacrifice, and can only remain a secret if he can trust Nick to keep it. In this way, Gatsby is dependent on them both, and in turn, they each depend on Gatsby’s memory for their own hopes, dreams, and strengths.
In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway expresses still another view of interdependence. Hemingway’s views on both love and war suggest that times of trouble and hardship have always been the best times to demonstrate interdependence, because the difficulties of survival heighten the emotions and endurance of everyone. For example, Frederick Henry’s roommate calls Frederick his brother, and kisses him constantly, which symbolizes a great deal of love, but if the two men had not been living together in wartime, chances are they would not have been so close. When we are suffering, we always learn just how much we need the people around us. Love teaches us this dependence, too, but usually in a much sweeter way than war. It’s while Frederick is in danger of being named a deserter, and then in danger of being caught, that he realizes just how much Catherine means to him, and how dependent he is on her. Catherine depends on Frederick for support physically and emotionally, while Frederick depends on Catherine spiritually and emotionally. Frederick is a strong man in body, but unstable in spirit. Catherine, however, is strong in spirit, but very weak physically. Together the two can survive, but alone they stumble, sometimes literally.
Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Managerie demonstrates many examples of positive and negative interdependence. This family is held together by illusions, dreams, and memories. Each family member wants to be happy, but is trapped in his/her situation, whether aware of it or not. Amanda is trapped by her memories of Southern life and gentleman callers, ; she is dependent on Laura for the memories of herself as a Southern belle when she was young, and she is dependent on Tom for financial support as well as the emotional support of having a man around the house to bring in gentleman callers for Laura. Tom depends on his sister to remind him of his responsibility for his family. Laura depends on her family for her glass world she has to have her illusions to survive. Tom’s dependence on Laura makes him stay with the family a lot longer than he would have otherwise, and Amanda’s dependence on her keeps her searching for a husband for her daughter, so that Tom will not have to take care of them forever. In this way, Laura is the cornerstone of her family. Each of them Tom, Laura, and Amanda is extremely different, but their interdependence weaves them closely together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bind them closely enough. With Tom’s departure, the interdependence of the family is broken. Even while he lives away from her, he can’t forget his sister, or his betrayal of her, and because of this he can’t ever be happy or satisfied with the life he has chosen. This is touchingly exemplified in Tom’s last line of the drama:
Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended
to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a
drink, I speak to the nearest stranger – anything that can blow your candles out! For
nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura – and so
With Our Town, Thornton Wilder presents the interdependence of a small town. The citizens of this small town work diligently, and they establish a pattern for themselves. However, no one can truthfully say that Grovers Corners is a boring or dull place. Actually, like any place that is inhabited, there are excitements, scandals, and surprises. For example, excitements include the announcement of George and Emily’s wedding, one example of a scandal is the drunkenness of the choir leader, Simon Stimson, and the birth of the Polish twins in the beginning is definitely a surprise. The truth about a small town is that there are so few people that everyone knows everyone else, so everyone thinks they know everyone else’s secrets. The milkman and the paperboy are two such people. Of course, this is never true, anywhere, because we always have at least one secret that we keep to ourselves, whether big or small, and no matter how close we are to others. Simon Stimson is a good example of this, because he keeps his troubles hidden, though everyone, except Dr. Gibbs, thinks they know why he acts the way he does. The truth is that he is inconsolably oppressed, and this oppression prompts him to commit suicide. The emotions of life love, sorrow, regret, and joy can hardly be called boring or dull. The citizens of Grovers Corners are interdependent on one another for these emotions, and for their pattern of everyday life, love, and death.
Countee Cullen’s “Any Human to Another” is a perfect example of interdependence in literature. In this poem, every stanza expresses how very important and necessary it is to be interdependent. No one can survive alone, and it is by bearing others’ burdens that we earn our own crowns in heaven. By sharing the pain, sorrow, and grief of the people around us, we can live:
Your every grief
Like a blade
Shining and unsheathed
Must strike me down.
Of bitter aloes wreathed,
My sorrow must be laid
On your head like a crown (789).
All people are interdependent, whether consciously or unconsciously, for strength and courage. The saying that “the apple never falls far from the tree” begins when dependency on other people’s opinions becomes constant. In this sense, interdependency is a very necessary part of life, but independence is also very necessary; there is a limit to both. The limit to independence is expressed in this poem in the third stanza, where Cullen says:
Let no man be so proud
To think he is allowed
A little tent
Pitched in a meadow
Of sun and shadow
All his little own (789).
Life is precious, and it should not be wasted, but shared.
In “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Ambrose Bierce presents Peyton Farquhar, who is not a part of the Southern army, but is an ardent supporter of the Southern cause. He sees no service too humble or too perilous for him to perform to help the South. He is an individual who is very tightly woven into the society of the Southern secessionists. The Southern people are so close to each other that in the beginning, when the man they believe to be a Southern officer comes to their porch and asks for some water, Mrs. Farquhar “was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands.” So Farquhar is part of a closely woven society, all dependent on one another for the continuation of the way things are.
Perhaps one of the strongest examples of interdependence can be found in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Here Steinbeck expresses his experiences in California, from the points of view of Tom Joad and Jim Casy. The Joad family is the example family of this experience; they are increasingly a group of individuals, after the loss of their farm, each thinking their own thoughts like Jim Casy, who is constantly expressing his thoughts, and often annoying other people with them but they are woven together eminently tightly by their needs for each other. Like the Joads, all the other families thrown out of their homes are interdependent, but more than this each family camped in a Hooverville, trying to get work to feed themselves and their children, is an individual. On this bigger scale, the families are all woven together by their interdependence on the families around them. Each family is concerned with their own needs, physically, but they are all dependent on the others for comfort, companionship, and the knowledge that none of them are alone in this time of hardship and trouble. As Jim Casy once said to Tom before this story begins:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, the one will lif’ up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone
when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie
together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one
prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not
quickly broken (535-536).
Individuality and interdependence are both necessities of life. The novelist philosopher Joyce Cary says that security and freedom are the two poles between which man is constantly pulled (S. Eberly interview). Interdependency promotes security in life, while individuality promotes freedom. Even while interdependency weaves individuals together, the individuals cannot afford to give up their individuality. Cullen’s point in “Any Human to Another,” is that it is the nature of any society to establish interdependence. However, as seen in The Grapes of Wrath, it is important to have a wholesome, nurturing interdependence, rather than the soul-destroying interdependence shown in The Scarlet Letter. As Tom tells Ma about Jim Casy:
Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he
foun’ he didn’ have no soul that was his’n. Says he foun’ he jus’ got a
little piece of a great big soul. Says a wilderness ain’t no good, ’cause
his little piece of a soul wasn’t no good ‘less it was with the rest, an’
was whole (535).
Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Literature: The American Experience. IV
ed. Ed. Master Teacher Editorial Board. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.
Cullen, Countee. “Any Human to Another.” Literature: The American Experience. IV ed. Ed. Master
Teacher Editorial Board. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. 789.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1962.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Literature: The American Experience. IV ed. Ed. Master Teacher
Editorial Board. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. 1034-1118.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books, 1939.
Wilder, Thornton. Our Town. Thornton Wilder: Three Plays. New York: Bantam Books, 1961.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Managerie. The American Tradition in Literature. IVth ed. Eds. Sculley
Bradley et al. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1974. 1685-1739.
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