* I say semi-polished because this essay’s not exactly a priceless gem – think more along the lines of “diamond in the rough that is not actually a diamond but a sugar crystal, and no one wants a sugar crystal in the rough.” That being said, I tried to redeem myself from the cold critical we wrote in class, where I accidentally left my essay called, “Magical Title That Induces Awe”. Let that sink in for a second.
Any feedback from you geniuses is greatly appreciated! 🙂
Soft as Stone: The Impact of Fear and Fragility on an Individual’s Actions
Prompt: ¨…nature of motivations that direct an individual’s course of action¨
It is a question as ancient as humanity itself, clawing far beyond the labels of division to which society ascribes, foregoing the lines of separation, categorization, until it reaches the intrinsic core of one’s being itself. What does it mean to be human? Perhaps there is no trait that encompasses the epitome of humanity with as much truth as the innate desire to ascribe to one’s motivations in order to guide their actions. The duality of motivation mimics the paradox within humanity itself; it is in nature both visceral and sublime, for it enables one to either succumb to primitive inclinations, or strive for the boundless heights for which they are destined. This reality finds its fruition through the character of Hagar Shipley in Margaret Laurence’s novel, The Stone Angel. Hagar’s actions throughout the course of her life are spurred by a base level of motivation – that is, the selfish desire and continuous struggle for self-preservation owing to her fear of fragility – defined as the willingness to experience vulnerability. This plateau on the lowest rungs of motivation causes her to act out of fear and fierce pride, and thereby forsake her dying brother Dan, her father Jason, and her son Marvin. Through Hagar Shipley, one comes to realize that a base level of motivation centered around self-preservation stunts one from realizing the breadth of the human experience; by encouraging stagnation, individuals who act based on fear will freeze out perspectives centered on what they see as fragility. The realization that such fear has dictated the life they always thought of as their own results in an attempt at independence from the legacy of said fear, and, finally, recognition of the strength motivation provides in the process of self-actualization from fear and the reconciliation with fragility.
The course of human nature is, on an instinctual level, driven by fear. Motivation to act in a greedy pursuit of self-preservation is derived by the fear one holds towards the notion of fragility; therefore, individuals will often deny themselves the right to such vulnerability in an attempt to hide their fear and feign strength. Upon falling into a frozen river, Hagar’s older brother Dan – already frail – is on his deathbed. Hagar’s other brother, Matt, pleads with her to play the part of a mother – as she had passed away – and comfort Dan in his delirium. Hagar, however, thinks only of “…that meek woman [she’d] never seen, the woman Dan was said to resemble so much and from whom he’d inherited a frailty [she] could not help but detest, however much a part of [her] wanted to sympathize. To play at being her – it was beyond [Hagar].” (25) Hagar is unable to comfort her dying brother; she sees her mother as a weak, fragile woman, and the thought of pretending to be her – of action based on selflessness at the expense of her reputation – sickens her. Hagar’s determination towards self-preservation – in this case, the maintenance of her reputation – bars her from realizing that motivation need not be driven by base, survivalist impulse. She is blind to the dimensions of depth that human motivation can allow one to achieve, impervious to the fact that the dynasty that she so proudly claims as her own has done nothing but enslave her. Her ability to experience humanity and motivation on the highest of levels is secondary to the weight of the Currie legacy that she bears on her shoulders – translating through into her years of marriage with her husband Bram, and her sons John and Marvin. In acting on selfish impulse, she freezes – an inability to allow herself to experience fragility results in stagnation that fails to foster growth in herself and in her relationships. Hagar’s relentless pursuit of self preservation and her fear-based motivations stop her from realizing the true nature of those around her, causing her to act only on a superficial level and thereby purposefully blind herself to any tenderness she may experience and act upon. She has induced a separation between herself and the emotional facets of her identity, disillusioning herself in that she believes she is the epitome of practicality when really she is a slave to her faulty self-perception and her fear. When an individual willfully blinds themselves to the strength and dimension their motivations can hold for the sake of self-preservation, they are disillusioned into believing that an absence of fragility offers self-mastery, when in fact, it is their fear that has taken over and uprooted any semblance of self-realization in their hearts.
Upon realizing that a lifetime of pride and acting out of fear has done nothing but decimate one’s claim to the human experience, the layer of delusion that had comforted the individual begins to dissolve. An inability to reconcile with one’s truth – and therefore, one’s fragile, emotional facets – results in said individual acting once again on the age-old impulse of fear. Instead of reaching for dimension and climbing the next rung on the ladder to motivation, they will run in an attempt to claim independence from the fear that has lead them for so long. When Hagar is filled with fear at the prospect of being sent to Silverthreads Nursing Home by Marvin and his wife Doris, she is once more dominated by fear, and it is the realization of her fear – “liv[ing] unfed by air for that seeming eternity” (55) – that causes her to push through and act out of independence. When she steals the cheque from Doris and goes to the bank in order to cash it in, she is terrified that they will realize that she has no claim to be here. She feels like a burden living with Marvin and Doris – with them, she is treated as though she is fragile. When Hagar is all at once forced to confront her reality – the fact that she has lived her whole life in the throes of impracticality and been a slave to fear – and not just a deluded perception of it – she now refuses to come to terms with it. This is seen through her taking leave of the Shipley place, paralleled by her attempts to leave behind John when she left Manawaka. Her fear, however, results in a disillusioned attempt at self-actualization – as fear is all Hagar has known, she assumes that it is through fear she will come to redeem her motivation and will to act. Once again, she has disillusioned herself into believing that what she desires is escape, when what she actually wants is connection, a sense of value – a revival of the reputation to which she so desperately clings, that has left her enslaved in the first place, because if nothing else, it is at least familiar. Hagar pushes herself away once again from her right to vulnerability and fragility, and therefore a course of action directed by selflessness instead of selfishness. By running away from Marvin, she attempts to isolate herself from the legacy of fear – the label of fragility – she never wanted. As she details to Murray Lees, she knows “very well” the impact of her pride – her transition from freeze to flight – “[b]ut [she] can’t stop it” (245). She is slave to the dynasty she once thought she owned, because of her denial of emotional vulnerability. An individual who comes to realize that the life has been directed by fear will turn once more to fear as a means through which their actions transpire. However, this serves only to push them away from self-actualization once more; when visceral instincts become the only means through which one acts, they will seek comfort in such impulses until they attempt reconciliation with their formerly neglected fragility.
Through the reconciliation of fragility and the role motivation plays in freedom from a legacy of fear, one may finally come to redeem their course of actions with a superior brand of motivation via the pursuit of self-actualization. When Hagar has been found by Marvin and Doris, and is nearing the end of her days in a hospital bed, she gains the means to confront the years of her life subject to fear and a false sense of self-preservation through her confession: “I’m – frightened. Marvin, I’m so frightened-” (303). She recoils, realizing that never in her life has she made such an admission – never has she allowed herself the right to be vulnerable, fragile, and open to her own emotions. When she realizes that Tina, her granddaughter, is getting married, she removes her sapphire ring, her last remnants of the dynasty that trails her, and passes on instead a legacy of realization and self-actualization to those who will remain.Her vulnerability in confronting her fear – both in the face of death and in the dynasty she has concurred – gives her the strength to move forward – from freeze to flight to, finally fighting for the right she has to emotional fragility. Hagar is able to reconcile her deluded perspective of a life free from vulnerability and confront, accept, and move past always using fear – a baser level of motivation – as a means through which to dictate her actions. She becomes privy to the depth that fragility provides her when she graces Marvin for the first and last time, acting out of selflessness instead of fear for her reputation – “And I see I am thus strangely cast, and perhaps have been so from the beginning, and can only release myself by releasing him.” (304) In this way, she seeks to reconcile herself with her fragility – represented by Marvin – and therefore reach self-actualization through acknowledging a long-suppressed aspect of herself. When Hagar dies, she is able to do it on her own terms, in that she has freed herself from base motivations driven by fear, and has learned to act instead for causes other than self-preservation and pride. Through the life and death of Hagar Shipley, it can be seen that only when an individual seeks to question and confront the source of their self-isolating motivations – that is, their fear – through the lens of previously neglected fragility will said individual reach a point of self-actualization and fulfillment – both for themselves, and for those around them.
Within every individual, there lies the desire to act with understanding and strength, in order to allow their own individual truths to rise and flourish. The suppression – and subsequent ignorance – of one’s own fragility impairs an individual from fully acknowledging the sublime and baser instincts within them, giving rise to action based off of fear. An individual who remains in the constant pursuit of pride and self-preservation of their reputation will forever be lead on by fear – a shallow outline of the true potential they hold. When they realize the legacy they’ve left behind – faced with the reality that all their lives, they have been subordinate to their own fears instead of their true self – they will act once more on their impulse of fear and run away from it in a delusioned attempt at self-actualization. It is only when they open themselves to the notion of fragility – by way of which actions stem from selflessness and hope instead of false notions of pride – that they will come to reconcile their actions with their truth, releasing themselves from the wilderness of their own delusions.