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Relinquishment of Free Will in The Birthmark and Carnal Knowledge Essay

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    In literature it is common to find main characters that display unusual strength or might. Rarely are major literary characters (with the exception of villains) weak figures. Authors typically create strong roles for their protagonists. This is not the case, however, in the short stories "Carnal Knowledge" by T. Coraghessan Boyle and "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The narrator of "Carnal Knowledge," Jim, and one main character in "The Birthmark," Georgiana, have few outward similarities. They are both slaves by choice, though, willing to ignore their own desires and submerge themselves in another person's will.

On the surface, "The Birthmark" and "Carnal Knowledge" have little in common. One is the story of a man taken in by a young girl's passion for animal rights, the other is the story of a mad scientist whose obsession for perfection results in the death of his wife. Jim and Georgiana are drastically different characters. He is the typical "ordinary guy" who has a boring job and a mediocre social life. He is just waiting for someone to come along and spice things up. Georgiana is a young beauty and a devoted wife. Neither of them are particularly extraordinary, and they are not related in any obvious way.

Despite the major exterior differences, however, there is a strong correlation between the characters of Jim and Georgiana. Both are relatively weak people who allow another person to direct, dominate, and exploit them. In both cases this willingness to submit to a will other than their own is based on some incarnation of love or lust. Jim is immediately attracted to Alena, and that attraction grows into an addiction to the exciting life she leads. In the midst of his narrative he reflects on his feelin...


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...Knowledge" are entirely dissimilar stories, the connections between the characters in them and the situations they find themselves due to their mutual frailty are unmistakable. Jim and Georgiana both allow another person to control them, and they justify that choice with emotional devotion. Both stories describe how this voluntary relinquishment of free will results in misfortune and unhappiness. The use of weak characters in major roles allows the authors to illustrate the dangers of putting oneself in such a position.

WORKS CITED

Boyle, T. Coraghessan. "Carnal Knowledge." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 242-255.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Birthmark." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 277-288.

 


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