“We can easily forgive
a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are
afraid of the light.” (Plato).
In a time where the truth has never been harder to find, the lesson that not
all facts are created equally is undeniable. In a compilation of Northrop
Frye’s lectures; The Educated Imagination, he raises questions about the
continuity of thought: “Looking into the mirror is the active mind which
struggles for consistency and continuity of outlook”(Frye). Frye asserts
that the reflective mind seeks for coherence between its beliefs and would
rather become ignorant than become inconsistent. However, this is not a flaw of
modern times and has existed in human nature since people’s first capacity for
reason, a fact evident in William Shakespeare’s renowned play: Hamlet.
Human reasoning is based not in empirical proof and deductive logic, but in the
cohesion between an individual’s perception of the world, their ego, and their
emotions. Without cognizance of the innate fallacy of the thought process,
people will act on ephemeral impulse, will continue to be ignorant to lies they
tell themselves and be unable to develop in character.
individuals undergo experiences that challenge their worldview with an
inconvenient truth, the most basic response of the mind is to refute the
evidence and excuse the event as unrelated coincidence. This subconscious does
this to protect the continuity of thought of the conscious so that other
principles relying on these beliefs can remain true, so as to not cause a
psychological crisis. In Hamlet,
Gertrude displays this coping method very clearly: “This the very coinage
of your brain. /This bodiless creation ecstasy /is very cunning in”
(3.4.139-141). Gertrude refutes the authenticity of the misdeeds Hamlet has committed,
most notably murdering Polonius, and his fury against her in act four by
attributing them to his insanity. Gertrude, wanting to believe that Hamlet is
good hearted son, protects her pristine mental image of him by blaming his
homicidal fervor on madness outside of his control, Gertrude would rather
sacrifice truth than sacrifice her optimistic worldview. Seeing unfiltered
reality is dangerous as an excerpt from Thomas C Foster’s How to Read
Literature Like a Professor shows;
faces it. She takes the food, the waste of the party, to the widow in mourning,
she faces the horrible reality of humanity” (Foster 179). The featured short story, The Garden Party by
Katherine Mansfield, ends with Laura being faced with grim reality of her rich
family’s indifference and contempt for the suffering of her grieving lower-class
neighbors. Laura does not excuse the worrying events and subsequently has a
mental breakdown as the ignorant falsehoods she believed are being replaced
with sobering truth.
relationship between mental state and perceived events however is not one-way,
the effects of an emotional disruption can affect how the world is seen, before
the conscious rationalization of such events in the mind. The mental state
could be compared to the lens with which the world is seen through, dirtied,
clouded, distorted or as clear as the mind of the beholder. Hamlet with tainted
sentiments, holds a dim view, disenchanted with life; “What piece of work is a
man, how noble in reason, how /infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express
/and admirable… and yet to me, what is this /quintessence of dust?”
(2.2.299-304). Hamlet is so deeply affected by his feeling of neglect by his
mother and distraught by the court in Denmark that his worldview has changed to
reflect his feelings to that of a disillusioned cynic, and later changes to
full nihilism between Ophelia’s death, the burden of his homicide and his frustrations
with himself. Foster reinforces this claim: “The writer invents him, using such
elements of memory and observation and invention as she needs, and the
reader… reinvents him, using those same elements of his memory.” (Foster 63).
It is asserted that the variable in literature is the emotion invoked in the
reader, it is this which determines how the narrative is rationalized into
meaning in the mind; this emotion curates the perceived world of literature,
just as it determines the perception of the real world.
Moreover, rational approaches to
problems are often dismissed in favor of taking exciting actions driven by
emotion. Logical reasoning frequently begs people to stay inactive for their
own wellbeing, with their emotions forcing often catastrophic action. Hamlet
again is a prime example of someone who struggles with a mind too concerned
with logic; “Now whether be /bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple /of
thinking too precisely on th’event– /A thought which, quarter’d, hath but
one-part wisdom/ and three parts coward”(4.4.40-43). Hamlet suffers from
chronic indecision throughout the play and even recognizes himself that it is a
product of his excessive capacity for true logical reasoning. Having his sense misperceived
as cowardice, Hamlet is the only character who properly rationalizes the weight
of murder until he is overcome with wrathful emotion in the final acts, where
his non-emotional decision making was subsequently diagnosed as madness. How to Read Literature Like a Professor echoes
the same axiom; “In fact, in story and song, book and film, there is generally
no more persuasive reason for revenge, outrage, or prompting to action than the
killing of the best friend” (Foster 62).
The persuasiveness of the offense comes from the slighting of their ego and
emotions, the principle forces behind impulsive action, as affronts to the ego silence
logical thought and instead direct conscious efforts at cathartic retribution.
be recognized that the mind, in its effort to maintain its consistency between
emotions and thought, will become ignorant, act impulsively and alter its own architecture
for the sake of perceptual continuity. Is the mind better off in its ignorance?
Does the individual want to live the double reality they built for themselves,
or do they wish to accept the world as it truly is?