A Separate Peace, The Natural, The Scarlet Letter, and The Old Man and the Sea

A Separate Peace, The Natural, The Scarlet Letter, and The Old Man and the Sea

In the society-centered world that has existed for thousands of years, Emerson's and Thoreau's recommendation of living as a self-reliant individual can be a difficult task to accomplish. Society puts pressure on its members to conform to its standards. Nonconformists are shunned by society and as a result have difficulty retaining their nonconformist position. According to Emerson's Self-Reliance, though, this nonconformist, independent stance is the only thing that can bring a person peace. Emerson believes a truly great man lives in the world, but at the same time trusts himself, believes in himself, and is, in a word, independent.

Many people have applied the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau not only to their lives, but also to the characters in books they have read, regardless of whether the author intended such interpretation. The ideas of Emerson and Thoreau can be applied to many of the novels we read in class this year, including The Natural, A Separate Peace, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Scarlet Letter. In each of these novels the main character experienced many difficulties in which he either succeeded or failed. The successes and failures of any particular character were a result of his self-reliance or of his society-reliance.

In The Natural, by Bernard Malamud, the main character, Roy, failed to focus on what was best for him because of his reliance on society rather than on himself. This problem became evident early in the story when the woman Roy met on the train shot him. Had Roy focused on his game, perhaps gone out and practiced baseball rather than visited the woman, he never would have gotten shot. Having such skill as he had, he could have easily signed with the Cubs, and he could have had an extraordinary baseball career. Unfortunately for him, Roy put too high a priority on his relationship with the woman from the train. As a result, Roy's baseball career not only didn't start for another 10-15 years, but also was nothing compared to the career he would have had with the Cubs.

Generally, people learn from their mistakes. As Malamud writes on page 217, "He [Roy] thought, I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again." Rather than straightening out his priorities in the years between the time he was shot and the time he actually played baseball, Roy made no change.

More about A Separate Peace, The Natural, The Scarlet Letter, and The Old Man and the Sea

Get Access