Individualism Essay, Research Paper
Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, and Zalman King’s In God’s Hands, share a common theme of individualism.
Every society has certain values and generally accepted ways of living that are considered normal. These principles are what keep societies organized and orderly. Conforming to these principles, however, is not necessarily the road to happiness for every individual. The main character, Shane, in In God’s Hands, Sonny, in Sonny’s Blues, and the speaker in The Road Not Taken, all choose not to live by what is considered normal, or popular, and are able to find happiness by living as individuals.
Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken is a poem about the choices every person must make in their life. The first line of this poem, “Two Roads diverged in a yellow wood”, though only seven words long, can be interpreted to mean several things. First, the color of the trees being yellow, meaning that it is fall, represents a time of change. Second, the “two roads diverged” signify a choice which must be made. In this first line Frost has metaphorically depicted a person who must make a decision that will greatly change his life. The second stanza describes the road that is chosen as grassy and wanting wear. The second to last line of the poem also says that the speaker took the “road less traveled by”. These two lines can be interpreted to mean that the choice that was made was not the popular choice. The speaker in the poem has made his decision based on individual preference, rather than what others would consider normal.
The character of Sonny, in Sonny’s Blues, lives a life that would not be considered normal in any society. He is a heroin addict who has spent time in prison, and centers his life on playing the blues. Sonny’s lifestyle is contrasted by the character of his brother, who is a married high school teach, who lives a very conventional life. Though it would seem that Sonny’s life would be miserable compared to that of his brother, he is able to find happiness with his unusual lifestyle. Throughout most of the story Sonny seems to be out of place. He is not accepted by society, and not understood by his family. At the end of the story, however, when Sonny takes his brother to a blues club to see him perform, Sonny becomes the successful and popular one, while his brother is the outsider. When Sonny’s brother first gets to the club he realizes that “everyone at the bar knew Sonny”. The line, “Here, I was in Sonny’s world. Or, rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood”, shows that Sonny was happy and respected by the people at the club. Though the life of a heroin addict is certainly not considered normal, and should not be glorified, Sonny is still able to find happiness in his individuality.
Zalman King’s In God’s Hands is a movie about three surfers who are traveling around the world training to become big wave surfers (meaning that they will use jet skis to be towed into waves in excess of forty feet). The main character of this story is Shane, who is the best surfer out of the three, but whose personality is very different from his two companions. Shane is a spiritual loner, who has made surfing his entire life. While his friends spend much of their lives partying, and chasing women, Shane spends his entire life training and chasing only the dream of surfing the ultimate wave. The first scene of the movie shows Shane on a train sitting next to a beautiful woman who is obviously attracted to him. When she talks to him, however, he hardly even notices her, and only talks to her about surfing. Shane says to the women that he has made surfing his “whole life.” One of Shane’s companions is Keoni, who is a teenager, who only wants to become a great surfer so that he can join the pro tour and make money. Shane however, has no interest in joining the tour and making money, even though he is probably the best surfer in the world. Shane’s other companion is Mickey, who was the second best surfer in the world eight years prior, but “lost a step or two in his old age.” Through out the story both Mickey and Keoni try to convince Shane to join the tour, but he refuses. Mickey even punches Shane at one point and virtually starts a fistfight with him, saying “get on the tour and make some money while you still can.” Shane is not driven by money and success, like his friends, and thrives only on his love of surfing. At the end of the story Mickey is killed trying to surf a wave that is to big to be surfed, and Keoni gives up on traveling and returns home to his parents. Shane, however, continues his travels, and in the end is able to find what he is looking for. He fins his ultimate wave, and surfs it with no one else around, proving to himself that he is the best surfer in the world.
Though these three works differ in many ways, they all share a common theme about individuality. The idea that happiness can be found without conforming to popular opinions is expressed in each of these literary pieces. The speaker in The Road Not Taken, Sonny, and Shane all achieve personal success by living life in their own way.