Literature with the theme of self-destruction

Published: 2021-06-14 08:05:03
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The act of being self-destructive does not just come to be. It occurs slowly and takes hold in individuals to varying degrees, contingent upon how ‘cold’ they are, and by their level of self-absorption and conceited desires. A combination of these characteristics can be discerned in each of the protagonists from the literary forms I studied. Each character is self-destructive, but the consequences of their actions and the number of people they hurt tends to magnify depending on how many of these characteristics they appear to demonstrate. What unites these characters is their ultimate self-destruction, resulting in the death of three out of four characters studied here. These four characters are Macbeth, from the play ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare; Eddie, from the play ‘A view from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller’; Kenny, in the short-story ‘Hunters in the Snow’ by Tobias Wolff; and, Ben Sanderson in the film ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ directed by Mike Figgis. Macbeth and Kenny are characters who share a connection of becoming increasingly cold which leads them towards self-destruction.
They lack empathy and compassion. Cold characters come across as angry, hostile and oftentimes critical towards others. Macbeth becomes increasingly cold throughout the play as his conscience begins to dissipate. To begin with he has remorse and feels a degree of guilt in killing the King of Scotland. When he later kills Duncan, he feels guilt and remorse however his wife helps him. Over time though, with additional killings, he becomes increasingly apathetic and callous. He shuts himself off from his feelings and becomes increasingly cold. His lack of feeling results in actions that lead him to become self-destructive. The theme of coldness is also seen in the short-story ‘Hunters in the Snow’.
The setting of the story is a snowy forest which symbolises the coldness between three so-called hunting friends. Kenny is a cold-hearted character which is evident in his treatment of Frank, whereby he makes antagonizing comments. He threatens to divulge personal information, saying in front of Tub “I won’t say a word. Like I won’t say anything about a certain babysitter”. He shows a lack empathy towards Frank by taunting him with this cruel statement. Later Kenny exhibits his cold nature towards Tub, making him wait unnecessarily long in freezing conditions before deciding to pick him up and almost overrunning him in the process, as a cruel joke.
Kenny’s lack of empathy towards his hunting friends becomes increasingly obvious to Tub and Frank and takes a destructive turn when Kenny begins a cruel game of identifying objects that he hates and firing at that object with his gun. When Kenny shoots a stranger’s farm dog between the eyes, Frank and Tub realise the ferocity of the game, particularly when Kenny turns towards Tub and states that he hates him. Tub fires a quick shot at Kenny anticipating that his next action was to fire at Tub. Tub’s shot hits Kenny, wounding him in the stomach.
The impact that Kenny’s coldness had on Tub and Frank became evident when Tub and Frank chose to take the longest route to the hospital, placing Kenny in the back of their open ute. They stopped for food and drink along the way, leaving Kenny to suffer further in the freezing conditions. This contrasts with Tub and Frank’s deepening friendship, whereby they confide in each other, sharing their own personal truths. The warm manner in which this is portrayed, over comforting food in a cosy eatery, further emphasises how Kenny’s cold actions justifiably lead to his own downward spiral into self-destruction. In the play ‘Macbeth’ and the short-story ‘Hunters in the Snow’, readers get a sense that coldness and callousness develop over time as emotions become ‘blocked’, shut off, or unrecognised.
Macbeth gradually closed himself off to feelings, like guilt, which is an emotion that has protective value. Tobias Wolf demonstrated a shift in emotion too through the actions of Kenny and Tub’s responses. When Kenny shot at a tree he invoked little emotion in Frank and Tub, however when he shot the dog between the eyes, he invoked some emotion in his friends, sufficient to be a ‘warning’ to him.
When Kenny then turned the gun towards Tub, Tub’s emotions escalated into fear, which had instant consequences for Kenny, as Tub reacted on those emotions, without thinking. Society can learn from these examples. Listening to our feelings and recognising emotions, should be something we are taught to heed. They are a prime source of information, working to keep us safe. Macbeth and Kenny teach us that strong emotions like guilt and fear are therefore important because they have the power to prevent repetition of cruel acts that have negative consequences.
Becoming cold and callous, by blocking access to feelings, is an important teaching tool for society. An additional flaw that facilitates the destruction of the character’s self is the egotistical, conceited self absorption the protagonists Eddie, Ben, and Macbeth have in themselves. This is evident in Eddie Carbone’s inability to compromise when he finds his incongruous desires for his Niece threatened by Rodolfo, an Italian immigrant staying in America with the Carbone family to escape the impoverished conditions in Italy.
As Catherine’s relationship with Rodolfo strengthens, Eddie’s personal desires and feelings towards Catherine become increasingly more obsessive and conspicuous. He voices his resentment and antagonism towards Rodolfo, determined to prevent Catherine from marrying him by mocking Rodolfo’s skills at cooking, sewing and singing, implying he is homosexual and claiming Rodolfo is only using Catherine to gain American citizenship. Eddie exhibits his self absorbed inclinations at the expense of others. He reports Rodolfo and his friend Marco to the Immigration Bureau, as a desperate final attempt to ensure Catherine does not marry him.
This action was motivated purely by Eddie’s self-interest in having Catherine to himself and is what untimely leads to his self destruction. Eddie’s self destruction is symbolised when Eddie falls on his own knife in a duel with Marco who is angered by Eddie’s decision to report Rodolfo and himself to the Immigration Bureau as this meant they would have to return to the impoverished conditions of Italy. The symbolism of Eddie falling on his own knife represents that Eddie and his narcissistic desires, conceited self interests and egocentric decisions were the ultimate cause of his self destruction or death. In connection with Eddie, Ben Sanderson is a suicidal alcoholic who exhibits similar self-interest behaviours, and acts on his own personal desires with little consideration for others who strive to help him.
Ben finds himself fired from his job due to his alcoholic tendencies and flees to Las Vegas, where he intends to drink himself to death, abandoning his family and responsibilities. In Las Vegas Ben meets prostitute Sera, who offers him the chance of redemption along with genuine care and emotional support. However like Eddie, Ben fails to see past his conceited personal desires and continually pushes Sera away, as a true commitment to her would mean eliminating his self-destructive behaviours. His self-destructive desires and self-centred interests are what ultimately influence Ben’s final attempt at suicide, where he succeeds in drinking himself to death. Ben and Eddie both demonstrate conceited characteristics which they allow to dominate their thoughts, consequently affecting their perspective of reality, leading them into negative behaviours which have self-destructive consequences. Furthermore, society can observe that the ability to compromise and take into consideration multiple perspectives protects us from being consumed by intense personal desires and selfish actions.
The ability to look at life from another’s perspective is a fundamental element in obtaining a desire in a healthy way, an element that Ben and Eddie lack. Society can also note that the ramifications for both Eddie and Ben would not have been so detrimental if Eddie could compromise with Catherine and Rudolfo, and Ben with Sara. Like Eddie and Ben, Macbeth discerns personal desires that influence his self-destruction that leads to his death. Throughout the play Macbeth evolves into a megalomaniac character provoked by his excessive ambitions to fulfil his desires and cravings to rule. After three witches prophesise that Macbeth will reign as King, Macbeth’s personal ambitions and cravings to rule spiral out of control. He allows himself to be manipulated into assisting the murder of the King of Scotland, by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s shallow self desires and obsession with power begin to corrupt him as he exhibits callousness by murdering any kinsmen who may threaten Macbeth’s position as King.
These continual ventures into senseless manslaughter lead Macbeth further down a destructive path laid fuelled by his narcissistic desires for power. Consequently Macbeth is slain as a tyrant. The protagonists Eddie, Ben and Macbeth all manifestly demonstrate how easily humans can be seduced by deceptive greed and selfishness. Society can recognise that if the protagonists had exhibited traits of self-discipline they would have continued to gain prestige and honour, and although they might not have obtained their ultimate desires they certainly would have lived a more productive and satisfying life.
A conspicuous connection evident in the compilation of texts mentioned is that all the protagonists lead themselves to their own self-destructive path. They allow themselves to be overcome by shallow pernicious emotions, and conceited personal desires, typically disregarding others. The protagonists exhibit self absorbed characteristics, influenced by their own ambitions and inclinations and are often unable to see their effect on others, who suffer because of this. Through examining the traits and consequences exhibited by Kenny, Macbeth, Eddie and Ben, society can observe that pragmatism; honesty and humility, are needed to successfully fulfil ambitions. Society can also decipher that having personal desires is not bad, but having unrealistic, selfish desires and allowing one to be consumed by them is what will ultimately lead someone along the path of self-destruction.

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