Egoism Vs. Altruism: Universal Human Traits in Eliot and Kafka Essay

Egoism Vs. Altruism: Universal Human Traits in Eliot and Kafka Essay

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The author Dr. Irwin Edman opens his 1920 book Human Traits and Their Significance by noting that throughout civilization “two factors have remained constant” (ix). One of these factors is “the physical order of the universe”—or Nature—and the other is “the native biological equipment of man”—or human nature (ix). Together these two ideals have formed modern civilization—as Dr. Edman puts it “there is nothing new under the sun. Matter and men remain the same” (ix). Since the beginning of time there have been essential human traits—inborn distinguishing qualities--common to every society and time period. This commonality is shown in no better way than through characters in literature. Literature has the ability to mirror the society that it was written in, and by surveying this literature readers are able to discover universal human traits displayed by the characters.
American-born writer T.S. Eliot became famous in 1922 for his poem The Waste Land. The poem was highly regarded for its “poignant expressions of the alienation and despair” of the time (224). Eliot is viewed as a master of portraying “stagnation and estrangement” (225). In his early masterpiece “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” composed around 1911, Eliot “addresses a middle-aged man’s anxiety over the passing of time and his own aging” while pondering the meaning of human existence (Longman Anthology 225). The main character of Prufrock is critical of his own society and focuses on the passage of time in his own life. Prufrock examines the passage of time in lines 23-34, in a way that is similar to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
And indeed there will be time
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time t...


... middle of paper ...


...end all civilizations.



Works Cited
“altruism.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2011. Merriam-Webster Online. 19 April 2011. .
“egotism.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2011. Merriam-Webster Online. 19 April 2011. .
Eliot, T.S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Volume F. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2004. 224-228.
Hadot, Piere. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. tr. by M. Chase. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Edman, Irwin, PhD. Human Traits and Their Social Significance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Volume F. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2004. 257-288.

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