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Appearance vs reality in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Medea by Euripides, Paradise Lost by Joh
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Our society today revolves mostly around appearance and how people view themselves and others. Many people may judge another person by their exterior, which could be very different than their interior. Judging or assuming something about a person just by their physical appearance or even the way they act can be very misleading. This common conception can be described as appearance vs reality. The way something appears and the reality of it is a classic theme that is shown frequently in many novels. The theme of appearance vs reality to me can be defined in one word, “facade”. Appearance vs reality is the false exterior of a situation, person, or event, when in actuality it is something completely different. This is a common theme that can be found in many works of literature, poetry, and films. The central works that I will focus on are, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Medea by Euripides, Paradise Lost by John Milton, Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and Valkyrie directed by Bryan Singer. These all share the theme of appearance vs reality one way or another, through characters, character interactions, or events that take place within the works.
Heart of darkness is a good example of appearance vs reality within a character and event. The novel takes place during a time in which the Belgians are exploiting the Congo in Africa for their rubber. The appearance vs reality theme is ultimately the root of the whole novel. Marlow, the main character and narrator, believes he is going up the Congo to retrieve his friend Kurtz, an advisor who's initial intentions were to help the natives and bring the civilization and progresses. This all turns upside down. Marlow is able to learn more about Mr. Kurtz from a variety of people. The first is from the company manager and his uncle as they talk below Marlow’s steamship at night. They discuss about the amount of power that he has; the manager is worried that Kurtz will be able to take over his job with the amount of, “influence that man must have” (conrad, 28). His tone of voice is very frightened and he obviously knows that Kurtz is a man with great power, and holds that power over others. This intrigues Marlow, as he has always thought of Kurtz as being this type of person, and someone he can admire. He also learns of Kurtz’s supposed work ethic, or so he thinks, that made him return back to his camp instead of leaving Africa. Marlow says, “I did not know the motive.” (28); he chooses to believe, though, that Kurtz could be a regular hardworking person trying to do his best for his employees. Marlow soon finds out, however, that Kurtz is, “pampered and spoiled” (44), by wilderness, and that he is someone who cares for only himself. Everything that he can see belongs to him. This appearance of Kurtz is continuously overturned throughout the novel be the reality of his true nature and intentions.
First impressions are important for character development in Heart of Darkness, as well as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. This thematic element can be seen in the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Elizabeths first impressions of Darcy are seen at the dance in the beginning of the novel. Mr. Darcy declines Elizabeth to a dance because he says (indirectly) that she is ugly except for her eyes. Elizabeth, without consulting friends or family, immediately makes the assumption that Mr. Darcy is very rude and ungentlemanly. Elizabeth’s first impressions of Mr. Darcy are based on an appearance of his actions and the way he carries himself. Before even getting to know his true character she becomes prejudiced toward him. Later on in the novel as Elizabeth starts getting to know Darcy, her views of him change to match the reality of his personality. She finds that he has had a lot of things going on in his family which is the reason for his behavior. The turning point within the novel in which reality begins to overcome appearance is when Elizabeth reads Darcy's letter. And in the end chooses Darcy. Jane Austen did a good job at showing the absurdities of “judging a book by its cover” or strictly first impressions.
The appearance vs reality theme plays a vital role in the Scarlet Letter. In this instance Hester Prynne, the main character, wears a giant letter “A” on her chest to signify that she has committed adultery. She thought that her husband was not returning home from studying abroad for a significant amount of time, so she had a child with another man. Because adultery was shunned upon, she was labeled as an outcast and forced to wear an A on her chest to let people know that she was a sinner. As a result of her punishment she tries to make the best out of it and elaborately creates and decorates the “A” so that it looks appealing to the eye.
“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded
with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of
gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically
done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance
of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting
decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was
of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but
greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations
of the colony” (Hawthorne 50).
After constructing her “A” Hester begins to go about her business and people begin to notice her because of her “A”. People begin to admire her handy work and want her to make clothes for them. This ties indirectly into the appearance vs reality theme. Hesters appearance is that of an adulterous, which is true, but the reality of her character is that she is much more than a criminal. The towns people at first judged her strictly based on seeing the large “A” on her chest, but eventually see her true potential as a clothes maker. Yet again along the same lines as “dont judge a book by its cover”.
Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It is about the prince of Denmark trying to find out the truth about his fathers death. As the play progresses Hamlet finds out his father was murdered by the recently crowned king. The theme that remains constant throughout the play is appearance vs reality. Things within the play appear to be true and honest but in reality are covered in falsehoods, lies, and deceit. Many of the characters within the play hide behind their own cowardice. Claudius, the king of Denmark, appears to be a respectable and honest man to hide his true murderous nature.
“The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
What woudlst thou have, Laertes” (I, 47-50)
This council would see this as a man who greatly respects his subjects and cares for them. This adds to the difficulty of uncovering the truth for Hamlet later. Once Hamlet begins to uncover the truth, Claudius begins to worry and the reality of his true nature comes to light. He knows that Hamlet knows too much and plots to kill him. Claudius makes it even more difficult for Hamlet to find out the truth when Hamlet is next in line for the throne of Denmark. This shows that Claudius would let Hamlet become the next king when he is gone. “You are the most immediate to our throne, And with no less nobility of love than that which dearest father bears his son do I impart toward you.” (119-112). This front that Claudius puts on only further shows the reality of his true nature.
Claudius's use trickery to deceive Hamlet is similar to that of Tonys trickery in She Stoops to Conquer. In this case, tony lying about the Hardcastles mansion being an inn. “Tony.Mum, you fool you. Let themfind that out. (To them.) You have only to keep on straight forward, till you come to a large old house by the road side. You’ll see a pair of large horns over the door. That’s the sign. Drive up the yard, and call stoutly about you” (Goldsmith 1, 136-138). Just as Claudius was lying about giving the throne to Hamlet to make
himself look better, Tony lies about the Harcastles house being an inn simply because its amusing to him, for his own personal gain.
Pulling off of the trickery theme within appearance vs reality we can see that Medea, in an attempt to kill the royal bride plays a slight trick on her. There are a few pieces of evidence that are able to support Medea and the appearance vs realism theme. "On her head the royal bride already wears the poisoned crown."(Euripides 1256-7). Medea has given poisoned gifts in order to kill the “royal bride.” the bracelet she wears has been laced in poison. This is evil trickery and relates back to the theme in the simplest manner. The specified theme for this play is object appearance trickery to create a reality. Medea gives objects that seem to be gifts but mean to alter reality by getting rid of Jason's bride.
In Paradise lost, appearance vs reality plays a key roll in the readers interpretation of Satan as a character. The appearance of Satan throughout history has been that of pure evil and sin. However, in reality if one does not simply look at the top layer of his character and delves deeper into his psyche, Satan could be compared to Hester Prynne. Both characters did “bad” things, so people solely judged them based on their initial look at the character. Now, I know this is a stretch, looking at Satan, the ruler of hell as a not-so-bad guy. But, one cannot deny that God was playing the role of a monarch, and by defying a monarch, Satan was rebelling in the name of equality and democracy. Satan is persistent in following his true beliefs, “The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. What matter where, if I still be the same….”
(Milton, I, 254-256). The appearance of Satan can be seen as dark and evil, but in reality when analyzing the reasons for his actions, the reader can easily change their beliefs.
The poem Richard Cory is about the narrator watching a man by the name of Richard Cory walk down the street and observing what he has, how he walks, and the presence about him. This while poem plays off of appearance vs realism. The appearance of this man is that of an educated, wealthy, happy, gentlemen. The narrator even states at the end “In fine, we thought that he was everything To make us wish that we were in his place.” (Robinson, 11-12). saying that on the outside it appears that everyone wants what he has and wants to look like he looks. In reality however Richard Cory apparently was a miserable man. As the last two lines of the poem state “And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet through his head.”
In Death of a Salesman, the main character Willy has a skewed view on his own life. For Willy, the line between appearance and reality is grayed. Upon hitting rock bottom in his life Willy starts to make himself believe that if he is good looking enough and has a good enough personality the doors will automatically open for him and he will become successful “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.” (Miller,1, 33) Willy then built his life around these beliefs and in doing so built up a habit of telling lies. Even with his own family when he would come home and tell them he made more money than he actually did. Therefore Willy's entire life has been lived according to his self ideals. He never questioned his beliefs and never realized that he lived in a world of
illusions and dreams. He tried to make himself appear to be someone greater than he actually was, when in reality the only person he was fooling was himself.
The best display of the thematic element of appearance vs realism is in the 1994 film the Usual Suspects, directed by Bryan Singer. This film is ultimately about a job gone wrong and the one survivor able to tell about it. The man's name is Verbal, and he is a cripple, thats the appearance part. The reality aspect of this film is that Verbal is really a criminal mastermind who made up an elaborate story to get the cops off his back. This story he makes up spans over a 3 week history time period and the names of people, descriptions of them, and places are all either fabricated within his mind on the spot, or uses an item around the interrogating room as a lead/filler to his story. In the end, his story pulls through. It gets him off the hook (as Verbal) and makes Keyser Soze disappear into thin air. While Verbal is walking out of the police station from being questioned, his limp
in his foot turns to a normal walk and the reality of his character is reavealed.
In conclusion, the theme of realism vs appearances is a flexible topic. One can look at the appearance being a good thing and reality a bad, or, reality a good thing, and having the appearances be bad. This theme not only shows the true nature of people but their fake persona that they hide behind also, which could tell you a lot about a person.
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