Paradise and Death Personal Response

Paradise and Death, by Eric MacKnight is an intriguing interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey. One component that garners my attention is, “the unpleasant constants of the human condition-suffering, aging, and death, and our attempts to understand, escape, or overcome them”(pg.2).  Not only is this a meaningful interpretation of the epic poem, but also a deeply thought-out comparison of what it means to be human, and a common ground to which we can all relate. Further, recognizing that humanity as a whole shares a common experience places the most inflated ego, alongside an innocent and harmless individual. The notion of everyone being shaped by the same constants is not only a deeply personal connection everyone can make to the poem, but is also a remarkably humbling experience by itself. Moreover, after Odysseus’ encounter with Achilles and his late mother in their shade forms, he is offered a new perspective, “The visit to Hades gives Odysseus the strength to resist all temptation ahead of him”(pg. 4). A perspective that is not tainted by his sense glory or incompressible wealth, but a perspective that is choked full of regret, and is wholly self-critical. This encounter with his late mother and fallen comrade is a turning point for Odysseus. This is a personal subject for many. Who hasn’t lost a family member or someone they were close to, after falsely assuming they would be with you forever? In Odysseus’ mind, his mother, son, father, and wife would greet him as he returned home, nothing unchanged. After this point, he realizes that he must get home, and fast, at any cost. This reminds me of something I once read, “A person has two lives, and the second begins when you realize you only have one”. Not only do we witness a rapid transformation of Odysseus’ guiding principles, but through the poem and essay, we are able to relate to exactly what Odysseus is feeling, and complete this change alongside him. This relates to the quotation, “no matter how miserable life may be, it is better than death”(pg. 5). Not only does Odysseus feel a pang a regret, and a need for change regarding what he really wants, but he also grasps at sincere gratitude. After his conversation with Achilles, he recognizes that his time is sacred and precious, as it is representative of how long he has before the remaining people he cares for meet the same fate as Achilles and his mother. For this, he feels gratitude for not only his life, which he previously considered ending to avoid suffering, but also for the time he has, and the potential to spend it with the people who made his suffering worthwhile. This is precisely the reason why Odysseus’ character has been admired for thousands of years. The fact that a fearless soldier, who endured nearly 20 years of hardship on his journey home, can also be vulnerable, and experience the same come-and-go feelings of gratitude, regret, and grief. This humanizes this almost immortal man, and allows us to view him as a “human superhero” in the sense that we can possess strength and perseverance, while still maintaining the piece of us that is essential to the human condition.

Another reason why this essay is riveting is that fact that it clearly demonstrates not only the essential ideas, analyses, and arguments; but also does so in a way that is so easy to follow, easy to comprehend and process, and most importantly, keeps the reader engaged. A personal connection to the clarity of this writing is the structure and organization. Personally, I have always struggled with making my arguments flow neatly and clearly. This can be attributed to my habit of writing with the “quantity over quality” mindset, as well as my lack of usage of transition words. Further, the vocabulary is so broad and varied, while still being precise and easy to understand. Each verb carries an emotional weight that somehow manages to fit the tone of the paragraph or passage perfectly. This phenomenon that the language used in the arguments seems to compliment the mood of not only the poem, but the essay as well. Not only does this make the essay riveting and profoundly engaging as a reader, but additionally contributes to the emotional baggage of each quotation and reference.

Antigone Personal Response

Death, and our relationship with it, is a major theme in Antigone. We as a society possess a duality of attitudes towards death: acceptance and denial.

This scenery perfectly fits the common theme of the play. The way that the tomb was a symbolic reflection of how we as humans perceive death was so complex and well-woven into the story. Antigone’s death wish, such as this exert from page 88, “I gave myself to death,/long ago, so I might serve death (pg.88)”. Further, from page 89, “Commit cruelty on a person long enough/ the mind begins to go (pg. 89)”. The death wish possessed by Antigone is confronted by Antigone herself, and observed and reported by Ismene. Given Antigone’s apparent death wish, her imprisonment in a bridal tomb is fitting, yet ironic. The bridal temple ironically ties itself to the line from page 88. Antigone has been wedded to death. Further, Antigone’s suicide is representative of everything Creon wants to avoid. He wanted her to abstain from death, and be forced to live in misery. However, with her suicide, she officiates her vow to death, within her bridal tomb. This ironic, yet accepted and desired death shows the fearlessness of Antigone. She aligned herself with death, and became content with the idea of life simply ending. The embracing of death is contrary to conventional human nature. The acceptance of death while youthful is courageous and enlightened. Further, this symbolizes one half of the duality towards death: acceptance, the contrarian, yet brave, attitude. The ultimate acceptances are Antigone finding a way to hang herself in an inescapable prison. This action symbolizes two things: the relentlessness of time and eventual death, and 2), taking one’s own life is the ultimate acceptance and embracing of death. This was why I love the setting and scenes of this play, they are symbolic of character’s attitudes towards themes and tones of the play. The scenery forces Antigone to show her true colours and allows us to see how courageous and wise this young girl truly is. Antigone’s courage evokes a few questions, such as, How do personal or cultural experiences shape how we perceive death? Why do we fear death? And, can true satisfaction be achieved, if we refuse to believe that everything is temporary?

The second, more human, side of duality when faced with death is Creon. Whereas Antigone shows an almost inhuman acceptance of death, Creon showed a fear of death. An example of this is on page 125, “harbour of death, so choked, so hard to cleanse!-/Why me? Why are you killing me? (pg. 125)”. The second half of the tone towards death is denial, and this is a shining example. Creon is both terrified and confused at the prospect of simply no longer existing. Death to him has always felt like a far off concept, a fate that he has sealed for many, but he had never been truly affected by the waves of grief. We all know death is the only certainty in life, but we seem to acknowledge it when it’s on our doorstep. We as a society tend to not think about others suffering, until we experience our own. It is nearly impossible to fully empathize without our own experience. This feeling of fear and helplessness that Creon feels is a fundamental part of the human experience. Further, the inability to empathize with something we haven’t experienced is humbling and humanizing for Creon’s previously overly-prideful character. This humanizes Creon in a way that allows me to sympathize with him more than I would with the courageous heroine, Antigone.

Reading Antigone had helped me understand some flaws I didn’t even know I had, and has pushed me to address them in a more serious manner. Anyone who knows me will tell you about my infamous stubbornness. My pride can also go unchecked at times. Before reading Antigone, I never really considered the consequences of the unconscious biases that stem from pride and stubbornness. It sometimes makes it difficult for me to take constructive feedback. This prevents me from embracing a growth-oriented mindset, and materializes as a large obstacle to personal growth. However, after reading this text, I will look into ways to self-regulate my stubbornness and pride, and how to whittle away at biases and fallacies that have taken root because of these oversights.

Oedipus Personal Response

Imagery is an underrated aspect of Oedipus the King. The sequences of vivid and thought-provoking imagery were both disturbing and fascinating. The perfect balance between engaging the reader and painting a visual representation of the story is my favourite feature of this play. My favourite exhibition of this is on page 186, “Cased in armour, Apollo son of the father/lunges on him, lightning-bolts afire!/And the grim unerring furies/closing for the kill(p. 186)”. My interpretation is that I believe this passage to be a metaphor for the tragedy that Oedipus endures. The tragedy first begins when he calls for the persons responsible for the murder of Laius to be ostracized in the kingdom, but unwillingly unleashes his own people’s fury on himself, almost uncanny as to how Apollo seeks to handout justice concerning religious law. This beautiful, haunting, and ironic imagery perfectly fits the tome and theme of the play, in which a seemingly human man, seals his own fate in an attempt to brutally rid his people of suffering. By threatening violence and exile in the name of royal and religious justice, he not only permanently loses the support of his people and gods, but also unleashes the unrelenting desire of his people, and his gods, for justice. This ironic, tragic, and unknowing twist is the best moment in the play. This play is full of small, cryptic-yet-imaginative summaries and metaphors of the play. This subtle foreshadowing kept me engaged as a reader, and prompted me to take a genuine interest in the story.

Another aspect of the play I loved is the variation of diction and variation of the formality of language. One example is a subtle passage of alliteration on page 231, “She was afraid–frightening prophecies”(pg. 231). The reversal when Oedipus unearths the truth of his birth is an intense scene, and the emotional climax of the play. This Shepard’s seemingly simplistic beg for mercy is the quotation that propels us into the most intense and emotion-packed part of the play. This repeating “f” sound in this quotation evokes fear and helplessness, the same emotions overwhelming the Shepard. This fear, defeat, and helplessness mirror what begins to weigh on Oedipus the moment he hears the Shepard’s news. The reason I love this part so much is that the torture victim, the tragic hero, and myself all were experiencing the same emotional distress in unison. This seems almost like a fourth-wall break to me, in the sense that at this one point I was fully immersed in this scene, and all of its grimy details.

The theme of being blind to truth, even though it is in front of your eyes is one myself, and many others, can relate to on a personal level. A few years ago, I had mysteriously misplaced my wallet after leaving it on my bed. I turned my family home upside down looking for it, but to no avail. I then, and this is something I still have guilt about, began accusing one of my siblings of stealing it. This turned to a screaming match, but after I stormed off to my bedroom, have a guess as to what I saw on the ground, poking out from behind my bedside table. I felt horrible, a combination of guilt and shame for berating a loved one for something they didn’t do. The arc from confusion, anger and frustration, and finally, guilt and shame. I had failed to see what was right in front of me, literally. This is the strongest personal connection I have to Oedipus. The confused accusation, the unrelenting effort to unearth the truth, and finally, the weight of guilt on my shoulders. The shame Oedipus feels is so great, that he must gouge out his eyes and exile himself. I didn’t feel like this was necessary, but the feeling of embarrassment, and wanting to disappear to escape from these awful feelings, was something that was all-too-real for me.