While modern technology and social media have done wonders in terms of connecting people, it can be argued that this integration has come at the price of one of our least celebrated necessities. Time strictly devoted to oneself is time spent analyzing beliefs, values, and the purpose one takes upon themselves. In this new interconnected world, however, time spent to contemplate one’s self has become ever so rare. Social media has allowed a situation where a person can always be in constant communication, even when they are completely by themselves. This means that alone time no longer corresponds with solemn reflection. While the effects can be measured in the rise in aimlessness amongst the youth, true understanding of what society now lacks can be evidenced in literature (Hagberg, p. 68). “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” are two works that have subtly demonstrated the need for self-reflection. In each of these stories, the main characters spend time by themselves to contemplate the actions they want to take and the mission they want to accept. To grasp what the alternative offers, Ishmael Beah’s memoir, “A Long Way Gone,” is a true story that allows insight to one who is denied the time to reflect on their actions and purpose. Each of the stated works of literature teaches valuable lessons regarding the human condition of the need for self-reflection.
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The development of self-contemplation abilities in “Hamlet”
The development of self-contemplation abilities and the engagement in an internal dialogue, however, do not guarantee the resolution of the external conflict, as the narratives under analysis shows. For instance, taking “Hamlet” as an example, one will realize that the personal growth occurring to the character as a result of self-contemplation leads to emotional catharsis, yet it also drives Hamlet to his ultimate demise. The evolution of the character and the role of self-contemplation in it becomes particularly evident when considering the famous monologue. Hamlet analyzes the grim consolation of the knowledge that self-reflection gives:
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. (Shakespeare lines 1758-1762)
The introduction of the elements of self-contemplations in “Hamlet” also allowed the author to turn the play into a sharp social satire. By using the elements of the meta-analysis, Shakespeare turned his drama into a combination of a personal tragedy of its characters and a skewering of the social standards and stereotypes that persisted at the time (Zamir, p. 226). With the integration of the elements of graphic burlesque, which become evident as the titular character stages a play within the play, the idea of self-mockery as the ultimate source of catharsis for the lead characters and viewers becomes entirely visible.
The development of self-contemplation abilities in “The Great Gatsby”
The idea of using self-contemplation as the tool for exposing the falsehood of social standards and the tool for challenging society turns even more apparent in “The Great Gatsby” Being a meta-analysis of the American society in itself, the novel points to the significance of self-contemplation as one of the few redeemable abilities that the humankind possesses (s). Jay Gatsby, the titular character, rarely takes time to consider either his personal growth or the outcomes and the weight that his actions have, especially regarding the effect that they produce on other people (Way). The only person that shows exemplary self-contemplation is Nick, who personifies the narrator in the novel. Unlike in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in “great Gatsby,” the ability to perform a self-reflection is, therefore, deemed as both a healthy practice and a step toward improving oneself and one’s relationships with others, thus becoming a better person. Specifically, the significance of understanding as the ultimate result of self-reflection is shown in the following lines:
It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey (Fitzgerald, p. 32).
Thus, the lack of self-reflection not only leads to the demise of the main character but also causes him suffering and pain, ruining his relationships with a range of significant people in his life and eventually rendering his life meaningless (Way). Consequently, Fitzgerald takes the idea of self-contemplation as suggested by Shakespeare and takes it to a new level by pointing to the fact that it can serve not only as a cathartic revelation but also as the tool for improving one’s relationships. In “Great Gatsby,” the meticulous self-contemplation offered by the narrator and the lack thereof on the side of the main protagonist shows the need to engage in a discourse that is directed inward to discover important facts about oneself and reconcile with one’s personality and needs. In “the Great Gatsby,” the fall of the titular character and his decision to end his life are likely to come from the lack of self-contemplation and the unwillingness to focus on the things that made him miserable.
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As a result, Jay Gatsby yielded under the pressure of the problems that accumulated throughout his entire life. In a certain sense, the resolution of “The Great Gatsby” is similar to the one of “Hamlet,” with both main characters realizing the futility of their efforts. However, while in the latter, self-contemplation was seen as the cathartic revelation that led to personal discovery, in “The Great Gatsby,” the protagonist erroneously avoids it. Instead, he focuses on the consistent “self-reinvention”, which causes him to lose the very idea of his personality, striving to return to the point in his life when he was content. As a result, his endeavors at rekindling his romance and starting his life anew result in his suicide.
Although “The Great Gatsby” can be seen as the continuation of the idea of self-contemplation started and developed so vastly in “Hamlet,” “A Long Way Gone” takes the notion of personal reflection to an even greater extent by setting the novel in the harsh environment of war. One might argue that the change in the genre makes the comparison slightly unfair. Indeed, given the extensive opportunities for self-analysis that a memoir provides, Ishmael Beah’s narrative has a clear advantage regarding the exploration of self-contemplation as a tool for character development. The importance of self-reflection as the means of exploring social controversies and seeking one’s place in the context of a particular environment is crystallized in an especially poignant way due to the presence of the consistent threat to the protagonist’s life. As a result, personal reflections gain additional depth (Meyers, p. 107). However, in the narrative, the role thereof has been expanded significantly.
The development of self-contemplation abilities in “A Long Way Gone”
The significance of self-reflection as the method of keeping one’s sanity intact amidst war is one of the central ideas of “A Long Way Gone.” Thus, the novel makes the concept of self-contemplation reach a new level, making it an intrinsic and distinctive feature of the human mind. More importantly, the author emphasizes that the ability to engage in personal reflections cab be used as the last resort of remaining sane: “We needed the violence to cheer us after a day of boring traveling and contemplation about why our superiors had let us go” (Beah, p. 136). Therefore, while in the two other narrations, the idea of self-contemplation was viewed as the state of mind to which one has to come to reconcile with oneself, Beah represents self-contemplation as the desperate attempt to cling to the remnants of one’s humanity and consciousness. In the context of the three narratives, Beah’s notion of self-reflection implies the ability to reconsider and accept one’s purpose and goals (Meyers, p. 107). Placed in the extreme environment of military actions and scarce resources, the narrator shows explicitly and vividly that self-contemplation is the facet of humanity that one will keep even after being stripped of the rest of the characteristics that comprise one’s identity.
Although there are significant differences in the plot, narrative, and setting between “Hamlet,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “A Long Way Gone,” ach of the three stories represents the necessity for self-contemplation as the ultimate path to reconciliation with one’s internalized conflicts. Each of the stories renders the idea of a conversation with one’s self-being the essential aspect of personal growth and the relationships between an individual and society.
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone. Thomas Nelson, 2016.
Fitzgerald, Scott. The Great Gatsby. Wordsworth Editions, 1993.
Hagberg, Garry L. Fictional Characters, Real Problems: The Search for Ethical Content in Literature. OUP, 2016.
Meyers, Diana Tietjens. Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights. OUP, 2016.
Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” OpenSourceShakespeare.com, n.d.
Way, Brian. “The Great Gatsby.” 2018. Bloom’s Literature.