DP English Literature 1 – Reflection on “Paradise and Death”

“Paradise and Death”, written by Eric MacKnight, expresses how the main character, Odysseus, pursues the goal of happiness in the book “The Odyssey” (by Homer). MacKnight brings up many points about how “The Odyssey” is a compelling series of books in how it makes you reflect on life and what its meaning is. All good literature contains big questions, and MacKnight’s essay talks about the big question “Who are we?” and provides evidence how this big question makes “The Odyssey” a compelling and insightful book, even to us, in the modern era.

MacKnight talks about how there were “…six opportunities to [for Odysseus] escape from his troubles: the land of the Lotos Eaters; Kirkê’s island; the Seirênês; Kalypso’s island; the three days swimming at sea after his raft is destroyed by Poseidon; and Phaiakìa.” (P.2) He then goes on to explain how each scenario offered a different way for Odysseus to spend the rest of his life. He explains how the Lotos Eaters offered a drug-induced euphoria, Kirke’s island offered a life of banquets and sleeping with Kirke, the Seirenes offered a life of living in the past, the three days at sea offered death, Kalypso’s island offered immortality, and Phaiakia offered a life of comfort and splendor. MacKnight then elaborates how each scenario offers a form of death, as a certain form of pain would be eliminated from Odysseus’ life and because we need pain to feel happiness, Odysseus would cease to be happy. A life without happiness, he argues, is a form of death.

My greatest takeaway from “Paradise and Death” is that underlying literature there are regularly big questions that you wouldn’t realize are there. I would never have thought that Kalypso’s island was a place of death until the class discussion we had talking about how all the plant life on the island was symbolic of death. It also would never have crossed my mind that Phaiakia would be a form of death, even though I understood Odysseus’ reasoning to go back to Ithaka (to see his home). I think MacKnight’s writing is excellent because, even though it uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, it explores really compelling and resonant ideas that I would never have thought of before. These ideas are put plainly by him in his essay, and they benefit from that because they make you clearly understand what “The Odyssey” is really about.

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