Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Quest for Truth, Faith, and Self

William Shakespeare’s poem, “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun,” John Milton’s poem, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s excerpt, “One Word,” from the novel, Eat, Pray, Love, all have the common theme of a search. “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun” is about the search for the truth in relationships. Wanting to find something stronger than false compliments to prove one’s love. “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” is the search for hope and the power to find faith to keep going through everyday struggles. “One Word,” in Eat, Pray, Love, is about the constant battle of finding oneself and the perfect balance between pleasure and spirituality.

Shakespeare’s sonnet, “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun,” seems to be a list of rude insults to his significant other when he describes how “coral is far more red than (his mistress’) lips' red” (line 2) and that “in some perfumes is there more delight than in the breath that from (his) mistress reeks.” (lines 7 and 8). When looked at more closely, he is describing that a woman’s eyes are not literally brighter than the sun, nor does she actually have the color of roses in her cheeks (lines 1 and 6). Even though he does not tell these lies to his mistress, he does still have everlasting love for her. He does not feel the need to tell her false compliments to keep her happy. He has a relationship based on something much stronger than that—truth. Just as Shakespeare sought for truth, John Milton sought a higher understanding to help him through his struggles.

Milton’s poem, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” is based on his real life experience when he was going blind, all before the age of 43. Instead of getting angry with God for letting this happen to him, he embraces this setback. His faith keeps him strong and keeps him going through each day. Without it, he would not be able to live. He makes light of the serious topic of death when he alludes to killing himself, “and that one talent which is death to hide lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent” (lines 3 and 4). The “useless talent” is his inability to even kill himself. His faith is what keeps him from taking his life. He knows that if he were to commit suicide, he would not go to heaven. When he has to answer to God, he wants to tell him that being blind did not stop him from living his life to the absolute fullest (lines 6-8). His omnipotent God does not need gifts from men, for God has hordes of angels and other helpers to do His bidding; all God cares about is whether or not he tried and gave his all (lines 9-14). The mere thought of knowing that salvation awaits those who wait patiently keeps him going each and every day. When faced with her own struggle of a divorce and the onslaught of an early mid-life crisis, the 30-year-old, Elizabeth Gilbert chooses to take a long examination of her life.

Gilbert’s excerpt, “One Word,” is a short snippet from her book, Eat, Pray, Love that is all about the search for the meaning of life. Gilbert wants to find pleasure, spirituality, and the balance between them. She first travels to Rome where she focuses on the pleasure aspect of her quest. She describes that if there were one word to describe the city of Rome, it would be “SEX” (103). She then goes onto explain that she bought a large quantity of lingerie, yet she is not sure the reason. This makes her reminisce to when a soccer player passed a ball to the middle of the empty field and everyone asked, “Per chi?” meaning, “For whom?” She then asks herself that same question: “For whom, Liz? For whom all this decadent sexiness?” (105). She could have also been asking, “For whom is she doing this whole search?” The answer is, simply, herself. She needs to go on this quest to get a better sense of who she is and what she wants out of life. She wants to be happy, but have a meaningful life, at the same time. Liz finds these contradictory lifestyles tearing her apart when she tries to decide which one will win over the other. However, perhaps there can be the best of both worlds. Like the slogan of the hit HBO series, Entourage, “Maybe you can have it all.” Liz tries to find a good medium between the two, just as college students go through a similar struggle to find where they belong.

When embarking on a new journey, just barely legal adults, and separated from their families for the first time, college students find themselves faced with many choices that, ultimately, will define the rest of their lives. Finding where they belong can be a journey in and of itself. The new students desperately want to fit in, and doing so can be petrifying. It is an experience unlike anything. Decisions of skipping class in order to hang out with new friends look more enticing each time they are presented. Getting out of the library in order to catch a sporting event becomes a battle in deciding which is more important when presented in different lights: work before pleasure, or sanity and school spirit over one homework grade. Growing up, children were told to “do the right thing,” but that is not always easy to decipher. Black and white was left behind back in high school. From here on out, there will be many shades of grey, and that means that there is not always a clear-cut answer. College is not just about learning in the classroom; it is also about the experience along the way.

Whether it is a search for truth in relationships, faith in God, or simply oneself, the journey to finding the answer is half of the lesson. William Shakespeare’s, “My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun,” illustrates that, when in a relationship, honesty is always the way to go. John Milton’s, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” considers how his life can be spent better, by serving God. Elizabeth Gilbert’s, “One Word,” demonstrates that there is not always just one word, rather, there are many words that can characterize a person and his or her many personalities. All three works of literature are about people trying to find the missing link to their lives in order to live in a way that most accurately suits them. It does not matter if it is a confused lover, a blind man, a woman going through a mid-life crisis, or a college student; everyone has their struggles, the complex part is choosing which ones will define them.

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