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The Suffering of the Outsider, Essay Example

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Essay

The short stories we have read over the course of this class span many different topics and techniques.  While there does not seem to be a thread that could you unite these pieces, the theme of the suffering of an outsider is common to all of these works.  Each work presents a character that has experienced some form of loss and is either isolated as a result of the loss or because of his ethnicity or culture.

In “The Darling,” by Anton Chekov, Olenka suffers the deaths of most major male figures in her life.  These deaths cause suffering because Olenka is “always fond of someone, and could not exist without loving.”  One of the main themes of the work is that women are outcasts of society.  They are unable to establish their own points of view separate from the males with whom they are romantically involved.  They are merely darlings.

In “The Lady with the Little Dog,” also by Anton Chekov, the main characters, Anna and Gurov, are both outsiders.  They engage in an illicit affair that separates them from their respective spouses.  Their suffering comes from being trapped in marriages that are unfulfilling.  Both realize that they have finally found love in “each other like very close, dear people like husband and wife, like tender friends.”  The story ends with the suffering continuing as they are unable to find a way to be together permanently.

In Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible,” the main characters are doubly outsiders.  Lyman is a Native American, which makes him an outsider in American society.  His brother, Henry, is an outsider because he is a Vietnam War veteran and a Native American.  As Lyman describes it, “The whole war was solved in the government’s mind, but for him [Henry] it would keep on going.”  Henry suffers the memories of war that haunt him daily.  Lyman suffers the emotional death of his brother in the war and the physical death of his brother in the river.

“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” by Sherman Alexie, concerns a Native American who is the ultimate outsider.  He is a minority in American society, but because he seeks a college education, he is also a minority in Native American society.  His isolation makes him suffer as he can never truly find home.  The idea is summed up in the quote: “There’s an old Indian poet who said that Indians can reside in the city but they can never live there.”

James Baldwin’s “Battle Royal” the protagonist is black in a time in America in which that makes him an outsider.  He is put into what is essentially a human cockfight with yells of “let me at that big nigger!” He suffers humiliation and degradation in this fight staged for the benefit of white people to enjoy blacks beating one another.

“Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin, Sonny and his brother are both outsiders of their society.  Sonny has exiled himself to the edges of society by developing an addiction to heroin.  He is “in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all.”  His brother is on the margins of society solely because he is black and in a professional occupation.  Both men suffer abuse by their father and pain from discrimination.  Sonny mitigates his pain with drugs, and his brother carries his pain buried deep within his heart.

Zora Neale Hurston’s two stories, “The Gilded Six Bits” and “Sweat,” both center around suffering.  The couple in “The Gilded Six Bits” is black, which makes them outsiders.  They also experience marital problems centered on wealth, a result of their ethnicity and social inequality.  As Missie states, “She couldn’t understand why Joe didn’t leave her.”  In “Sweat,” the main characters are black and outsiders.  Sykes resents his wife for working for white people.  Delia suffers abuse from her husband for her serving of white families.  Eventually, Delia begins to “hates you [Sykes] tuh de same degree dat Ah useter love yuh,” and Sykes suffers the loss of his life due to his affair with Bertha.

“Civil Peace,” by Chinua Achebe, deals with a narrator who has been exiled from his native land by a civil war.  Upon returning, Jonathon finds his house damaged.  After repairing it, he establishes a business.  However, his business is robbed.  Despite all of his suffering, Jonathon believes that God provides him the best.  His optimism is apparent in that he is glad his family still has “five heads on their shoulders.”

Lastly, Ha Jin’s “Saboteur” is persecuted by the government for being a Communist at assaulting a police officer, an unjust charge.  He suffers isolation in prison but manages to exact revenge by spreading hepatitis around the prison when he is released.  All of the deaths due to hepatitis could have been prevented if the police could have seen that “at heart, we are all the same.”

While all of these stories have a wide range of settings and topics, they all deal with characters isolated by society or by their own decisions.  Their isolation leads to suffering that most simply endure.  On occasion, some of the characters get to seek revenge, but that opportunity is rare.

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