lit nerds unite

21 06 2008

(original post:  7/6/06)

Sooo my summer has been spent poolside and reading. Here’s what I’ve read so far…
by John Steinbeck- East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent
by Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5
by Truman Capote- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
by Fedor Dostoevsky- Crime and Punishment
by Alan Paton- Cry, The Beloved Country
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (can’t remember the author)
by David Sedaris – Naked
by F. Scott Fitzgerald- This Side of Paradise

hmmm I feel I’ve read more than 10 books… but alas, perhaps not. So far I’ve liked them all. It took me awhile to get through Crime and Punishment, but I think I was just on a lull from a lot of reading. Any suggestions for further reading? For some reason I’m even more about the books this summer than I normally am, and that’s saying something, because I love love love to read always.

—-
I just finished reading The Winter of Our Discontent, and it made me think. Actually that is somewhat of an understatement, as all books make me think, but I liked the issues that this book in particular brought to my mind.

Basically, the book is about a poor grocery clerk named Ethan Hawley, living somewhere in New England with his wife Mary, and two children Allen and Ellen. To me, the entire book revolved around the idea of morality. Ethan and his family are very poor, as a result of loss of fortune by his father, and lack of vision and/or ambition on his part. His family name is one of greatness, however.

The book meanders through his relationships with his family and people in the town (which is one of the reasons I absolutely adore books by Steinbeck, he spends so much time on the intricacies of social situations and interactions between characters… it paints such a clear picture), but keeps going back to the nagging feeling that Ethan is poor and needs to provide for his family and not be a disgrace to his family name.

A complicated plot to increase the wealth of the family ensues, leading to the deportation of his Italian grocery store owner Marullo, and a plan for a deceivingly simple bank robbery. In the end he aborts his bank robbery plan because of someone unexpectedly visiting the grocery store. This alerts a whole line of questioning to me, mainly about the morals of humans. As humans, do we have an innate sense of what is moralistic or would we abandon societal standards if no one were to find out? Is punishment the only thing keeping us moral?

At work we’ve been on a big kick of talking about religion (mainly because there is a huge chasm of belief systems that I think some of them have never before had to deal with) and I always contemplate the complex relationship of religion and morality. Which came first?

It is evident that religion sets a standard for morality, many of the societal standards for behavior actually stem from the tenets of some religion or another (usually we are only faced with the Christian ones, but I assume this to be true in other countries with different major religions), but would we still have morals if it weren’t for religious beliefs? Coming from a fairly secular standpoint, I would have to say yes. I have morals, and I believe that the morals I have are ones I would have even without the heavy influence of religion on our society. I believe it to be wrong to kill, to steal, to cheat. Why are they wrong, though?

Killing is fairly obvious, people should not be allowed to take the law into their own hands. This relates to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the main character Raskolnikov gets a Napolean-complex and believes himself to be a great man; above the law. After this he kills a woman who is a shady money-lender because A. he is poor and needs money to continue his education and renew his image in the eyes of his family, and B. because he believes her cheating of poor people to be wrong. While his reasons are (for the sake of argument) somewhat just, it is still evident that it is not the place of a common citizen to make this judgement. Still, is it not also a crime that people should be so poor as to feel the need to commit unlawful and immoral crimes? Makes you think, doesn’t it? So what is the bigger crime, killing for money or dying for lack of money…. age old question. Rob the rich to feed the poor, Robin Hood-esque and terribly romantic.

I could spin off for hours on different theories of law and morality and religion but for now I must stop, and sleep. Really, I was lying in bed thinking about all this so I simply had to get up and write it all down.

I think I will forever be nipping at the heels of the answers to my questions about morals, religion, faith, and the human condition. It is frustrating, because it is sure that the answer to everything is deceptively simple, far too simple for the overthinkers of the world to grasp.

Any thoughts?

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2 responses

25 06 2008
lnanderson

If you like David Sedaris I suggest “Me Talk Pretty One Day”
also…I reccommend Augusten Burroughs “Dry” and “Running with Scissors”

There is also a book called “A Million Little Pieces” It’s very interesting…it does have a lot of cursing in it…don’t know if you are against that or not, but it is a great memoir and Oprah recommends it too haha. Good luck with the continued reading!

25 06 2008
hellobabies

Great recommendations! I’ve read the Sedaris book and also Running with Scissors (twice now, because it’s so great!). I keep meaning to look up and read Dry. Did you hear about any of the fall out of ‘A Million Little Pieces”? It seems he fabricated and/or exaggerated a good deal of it! I only read a bit of that, but found it interesting nonetheless.

Cheers!

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