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Comparing “The Egg” by Andy Weir and “Other People” by Neil Gaiman

In Neil Gaiman’s short story “Other People,” a person finds himself in Hell, and his greatest torture is to relive his life through the eyes of those he hurt. It is a circular narrative in the sense that it ends just like it began: an arrogant person enters Hell and meets a demon who will torture him. However, this time the protagonist of the story becomes the torturer after living the pain he caused other people. Andy Weir sends his character to an abyss, in which they meet a god. The god explains to the hero of “The Egg” why there is rebirth rather than afterlife per se and how all humans in the universe are connected. This god essentially describes the meaning of being a god, how a god is developed and born. He or she also educates the story’s character about the nature of the universe and lets them recollect the past life contrasting it to the broader potential of the soul. Eventually, the god sends the hero into a new life. The two short stories have several similarities in themes and context. Firstly, both centers on two characters, one of which is a deceased person, and the other one is a supernatural being. Secondly, both stories imagine the afterlife in which there is an aspect of personal growth for the dead. Thirdly, the authors stress the importance of interpersonal relationships and involve them in character development. Notably, both stories reconceptualize space and time, which probably comes naturally when talking about the afterlife since it supposes a different reality than the one people inhabit. However, the ways the authors address the themes of life after death, the human soul, and the personal effect interactions have on it are different.

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To begin with, the stories’ settings are of the same nature but vastly different. Neil Gaiman sends the reader directly to Hell, which tells one more about his understanding of life than Hell. The demon and the tortured character recognize that the mental pain is more challenging to bear than the physical one: “the physical torture had been kinder” (Gaiman). It seems that at first, it is hard for the protagonist to be truthful and refrain from self-pitying and arrogantly clearing his name in response to the demon’s reiteration of his sins. However, the demon saves the most violent guilt-inducing punishment enforcing reliving the suffering the character was unaware of for last. Having to recite all the pain he caused, the character becomes just as inhuman as the demon he met. He probably looks just like the original one: “was rake-thin, and naked. It was deeply scarred … and its eyes were a demon’s eyes: they had seen too much and gone too far” (Gaiman). The scars are from the physical torment, but they likely pale compared to the inner pain reflected in the demon’s eyes.

It seems that this overwhelming new sympathy for others erases all the humanity from the people who end up in Gaiman’s Hell. Judging by the title, what lands them in Hell rather than Heaven or Limbo is the impact their actions had on other people, and the mental torture of reliving other’s sufferings constitutes their personal Hell. Tara Prescott argues that empathy is central to Neil Gaiman, who encourages it in readers through his work (Prescott 74). Indeed, that can be true for “Other People,” which only has two characters, but derives motivation for all their actions from outsiders. The story contains a moral lesson and reminds the readers of the footprint they leave on the rest of the world. In its shocking and cruel transformation from an arrogant, wealthy human to a non-human sexless shapeless being, “Other People” radically illustrates the idea that hurt people hurt other people. Therefore, it encourages people to break this vicious circle by being kind and empathetic to fellow human beings.

Notably, “The Egg” also promotes empathy and kindness, but in a subtler, yet moralistic way. Andy Weir’s character does not need to undergo horrible pain and teach the reader through their experience. The story’s the god answers questions and lectures the human on how one should live. What makes the moralist tone more apparent is that the god addresses the character in a second person as if speaking directly to the reader. Andy Weir teaches empathy through the idea of a somewhat shared consciousness. The god tells the human that all people in the universe are “different incarnations of you” (Weir). It makes sense, therefore, that “every time you victimized someone…you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself” (Weir). Metaphorically, if all people share one soul, they hurt one another and inflict pain upon themselves. However, it is also how empathy works: one mirrors the other’s feelings, be it joy or hurt. Since in “The Egg’s” universe, everyone shares a soul, it is natural that they will be inclined to do well to one another.

Another exciting idea besides respecting other people’s feelings introduced by Andy Weir is that God encompasses all human experiences and learns from them. It is a unique topic, which Neil Gaiman does not cover in his short story. It is an unorthodox explanation of God’s nature given by these lines: “because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child” (Weir). Here the story’s god explains why a whole universe is created for one human and why it consists only of numerous reincarnations of this individual (Mattadeen). It is a particularly interesting interpretation of the idea that God is within each and every person. Not only God is omnipresent and physically inside of all humans; people’s souls serve as a preliminary stage of God’s development. The universe as a whole is gods’ analogy of an egg in which they grow and mature before emerging in their true form. That is a splendid image, especially in contrast to Gaiman’s dark and violent Hell.

While in Andy Weir’s story, human life has a divine purpose, per Gaiman, it is probably vain and painful. The character, who enters Hell in “Other People,” is well-dressed and self-absorbed. He probably had a successful life but did not consider other people’s feelings enough. However, the fact that the story and the character’s demise happen in Hell leaves hope for a real-life improvement for the readers. Even though fiction mirrors life, “Other People” clearly exaggerates it to deliver a message. It can be seen as a thought exercise on what could happen if time was circular, and people who ignored the consequences of their actions would experience them all at once.

When Neil Gaiman’s character dies, he goes to Hell and meets a creature he thinks is a demon. By contrast, Andy Weir’s hero meets a god after death, but not in Heaven, in a vast nothingness instead (Assefa). The spiritual growth that both humans undergo in the afterlife leads one to become an antagonist, while the other learns to be a smarter, kinder, better person. Finally, the man in the “Other People” is forced to dwell on the past, including the painful imperfect human relations, and is hurt and vilified as a result. Whereas, the god in “The Egg” discourages the character from overthinking the previous lives, but encourages learning from them and growing from interpersonal connections.

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It is reasonable to compare Neil Gaiman’s “Other People” and Andy Weir’s “The Egg” since they have similar settings and core messages. They both take the characters to meet a supernatural being in a reimagined afterlife where space and time are different from the ones in the readers’ universe. Another similarity is that they both encourage their audiences to develop empathy towards others. However, it is essential to note that the two short stories differ in detail. They are first and foremost tonally different since Gaiman’s story is gruesome and motivates the readers through fear, while Weir’s piece of fiction involves a hopeful, calm, solemn, and reserved conversation with a god. Secondly, whereas

“Other People” focuses on the divide between the protagonist and the rest of the world, “The Egg” ties them together into one system and one soul. Finally, Andy Weir develops the theme Neil Gaiman could not cover in his short poem since it does not involve gods. Weir talks about religion and explores what it means to be a god. Taking everything into consideration, the two texts probably deliver similar messages to the readers.

References

Assefa, Winta. “The Egg. A Metaphor for my Early Twenties.” Medium, 2019, Web.

Gaiman, Neil. “Other People.” Holding Hands with Hades, 2012, Web.

Mattadeen, Lysandra. “Other People” Neir Gaiman.” Medium, 2017, Web.

Prescott, Tara. “Neil Gaiman’s Twenty-First-Century Fiction.” Twenty-first-century popular fiction, edited by Bernice Murphy, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, pp. 66-76.

Weir, Andy. “The Egg.” Galactanet, 2009, Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Comparing “The Egg” by Andy Weir and “Other People” by Neil Gaiman." April 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/comparing-the-egg-by-andy-weir-and-other-people-by-neil-gaiman/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Comparing “The Egg” by Andy Weir and “Other People” by Neil Gaiman." April 6, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/comparing-the-egg-by-andy-weir-and-other-people-by-neil-gaiman/.

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