The Quest for the Ideal

768 Words4 Pages
Many have sought perfection in their lives, yet few have achieved this goal. The mere notion of a perfect life can be so captivating that it could emotionally consume the aspirant. The concept of perfection, or the ideal, is an unattainable and corrupting concept, yet countless individuals have attempted to strive for this unachievable goal. In literature, the quest for the ideal is commonly represented by the protagonist struggling for perfection with often insurmountable odds. The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Tennyson and Chicken Hips by Catherine Pigott and Constantly Risking Absurdity and Death by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the quest for the ideal is a futile and challenging process which often results in failure and often proves to be damaging to the individual. The artist is one who often must isolate themselves from human contact to achieve the ideal. This is portrayed in The Lady of Shalott by the lady, who is trapped in her eternal realm, cursed to live a life full of alienation and permanent solitude. Her ideal is contact with the outside world. She feels trapped in a realm of shadows, “Or when the moon was overhead, came two young lovers lately wed; “I am half sick of shadows”, said the lady of Shalott” (Tennyson 84). The lady is constantly reminded of her curse as she sits atop her tower, yearning to enter the real, mortal world. One day, the temptation grows to be overwhelming and she leaves her tower to pursue this ideal, taking her first steps towards her ultimate goal of happiness and perfection. Once she has passed into the realm of the moral world, she finds herself in a dilemma, where her ambitions have destroyed her, “All the knights at Camelot but Lancelot mused a little space, he said “she has such a lovely face; Go... ... middle of paper ... ...a little charleychaplin man who may or may not catch her fair eternal form spread eagled in the empty air of existence” (Ferlinghetti 3). Beauty in her ‘fair eternal form’ need be caught by the poet once she makes her leap. Beauty is universally free, but the poet, just a small Charley Chaplin man, will have great difficulty catching her. The poet’s path to perfection is not as dangerous as the life of an acrobat, yet the metaphor successfully represents the fear of falling with the fear of failure in the artist’s quest for the ideal. The quest for the ideal is one of life’s most difficult, unrewarding and demanding undertakings imaginable, which often results in failure and self-sacrifice. Those who attempt the quest for the ideal are often met with hardships and pain. The ideal is nearly unattainable, filled with futile ambitions and self-inflicted destruction.
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