– Suffering Essay, Research Paper
It is inevitable that everyone suffers. No one has a perfect life, so at one point or another, every person in the world will have a bad day, week, or year. Everyone experiences their own losses, but the way we react to those losses determines what happens to the rest of our lives. In The Book of Ruth, all the characters deal with events that hurt and scare them. Most characters have little problems that scar them forever, or big problems that they sometimes don’t even detect. While some of these characters let these problems ruin their lives, others rose above their everyday struggles to find a better life. Ruth, Matt, Daisy and May all took very different approaches on their suffering. Some of the characters use their suffering to motivate them, while others let their suffering wear them down.
Throughout the book, Ruth is exposed to many forms of verbal and physical abuse. These abuses hurt her, but she is just as hurt by the little things as well. She is forced to deal with problems, like when her own mother doesn’t buy her a brassiere, or when all the kids at school look up her skirt and tell her they will be her “best friend”. She suffers many embarrassing moments throughout the book. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t enjoy herself at times. During her childhood, she specifically remembers one good day, when she ate ice cream in July with her family.
“It took me several years to figure out that on that July night we were actually experiencing the gladness some people feel everyday, not just once a summer. I saw how it was with other people, because I watched the children in church, running to their mothers after Sunday school. I saw it every Sunday, week after week, year after year. The mothers swept the children off their feet and kissed them on their cheeks, and both mother and child laughed. They didn’t need to say words because they had this gladness inside, just the same as if for a few minutes, they all had a splat of ice cream dripping down into their mouths, and it’s the hottest day on Earth.”(p.11)
Ruth is aware that life isn’t perfect, but she knows she can find the feeling of being happy if she relishes every moment. She could have easily overlooked her ice cream outing with her family, but she absorbed the moment and realized what real happiness was-being with the people who you love. When the people who were suppose to love her hurt her feelings, it caused pain and suffering. As May and Ruth are dancing in their living room joyfully, Matt walks in and shakes his head at them. He sends their brief moment of enjoyment out the window. Ruth says,
“Sometimes, I feel that I’m only just ready to start my life. I know what I need to do to live it a hundred times better. As far as I can see, no one is out there waiting for me with a ticket that says, ‘Try it again.’ I’ll probably really figure out exactly how to be alive right when I’m gasping for my last breath.”(p.78)
Ruth wants her life to be happier, like the day in July. She knows only one person can make her days better: herself. She will determine how happy she is, no matter what anyone else does to her. So, using this attitude, she makes the best of her job at the Trim ‘N Tidy. She is aware that it isn’t a high quality job, but she is aiming for something bigger, something better.
“If I didn’t keep my hand so busy I had to think, here goes my life; I am going to spend the rest of my days working at Trim ‘N Tidy. I couldn’t stand thinking there wasn’t anything more left for me, so I worked at a frantic pace to keep my mind still.”(p.91)
Ruth wants to do more with her life, but she hasn’t yet been offered the opportunities. She is still waiting anxiously for that opportunity to arise. As the book goes on, Ruth meets and falls in love with Ruby. Her love for him causes her blindness to the ways that he is hurting her. Ruby rapes her on the first date, lashes out at her when he is drunk, and nearly kills her. Yet she still loves him. After he is put in jail, Ruth states her life philosophy.
“We’re only passers-by, and all you can do is love what you have in your life. A person has to fight the meanness that sometimes comes with you when you are born, sometimes grows if you aren’t in lucky surroundings. It’s our challenge to fend it off, leave it behind us choking and gasping for breath in the mud. It’s our task to seek out something with truth for us, no matter if there is a hundred-mile obstacle course in the way, or a ramshackle old farmhouse that binds and binds. The Bible is right on one score: it doesn’t do one bit of good to render evil for evil.”(p.326)
Even though Ruby and May hurt her in many ways, they taught Ruth a lesson. Ruth uses the death of her mother and the imprisonment of her husband as a motivator. This will help her recover from the tragic events that had occurred to make her a stronger woman.
Ruth’s brother, Matt, led a different life than his sister. Although the same woman raised them both, and both lived in the same house, they ended up being two completely different people. Ruth talked about leaving and finding something better, but it was only Matt that actually left and found something better. During his childhood, Ruth repeatedly beat him up and made fun of him. This can be very painful for a kid the age of nine. But Matt ignores his bothersome sister and went to May, which was not the reaction that Ruth had expected. Ruth explains,
“He never mentioned the stings to me. He went straight to May to tell. Naturally she petted him-she always wanted to stroke his silky hair that covered up where his quick thoughts were made. Sometimes, when I had to be in my room for the salt I put in Matt’s milk, the tacks in his brownie, I cried, because the real punishment was Matt never noticing I was alive, like the numbers he’s always looking at breathe the air and I don’t.”(p. 14)
All the pain that Ruth imposed on Matt was shot right back at her because Matt didn’t give her the attention she wanted. For this reason, Matt became stronger and more successful, because he ignored the people trying to make him fail.
“Matt came home each day with a calculator attached to his belt, in case he needed to figure something out quickly, I guess, like in an emergency. He went to his room, came out for dinner, and then went back to his desk to his desk.”(p. 75)
Matt knew he could succeed, so he didn’t let Ruth get to him. He continued to study, and became valedictorian of his class. He left the house immediately after high school to pursue a career in astronomy. He got out of his house as fast as he could. Yet when his sister, who had verbally abused him through their childhood, was almost killed by her husband, Matt was there for her. He helped her when she needed him most. Although she was cruel to him even when he came to visit her in the hospital, he forgave her, without words, for all the pain she had put him through. He wrote Aunt Sid a letter that Ruth found in which he explained his view of his childhood and family. He writes,
“I don’t know much about them (his family) and their situation. It is always strange, going home, facing people and a place with which I have nothing in common. I won’t bore you with the difficulties of my childhood, but to be honest, my main preoccupation was trying to figure out who was worse, my mother or my sister. Which one to avoid more strenuously. I must have realized early on that my inquiring mind differentiated me from them, and would lead me away from their household.”(p. 318)
Matt knew from the beginning that he would escape the life he had learned to hate so much. He did escape, and the outcome of his attitude was that he lived a happy life for the years after he left, unlike May and Ruth.
Ruth’s friend Daisy dealt with many problems and interesting situations. Her father was ill most of her life, and she was even more poverty-stricken than Ruth and her family. Daisy had a drinking problem that she couldn’t seem to shake loose and she slept around frequently. At one point, she decided the best way to deal with her problems was to run away from them.
“Daisy was gone. They couldn’t find her. It was four in the morning, Mrs. Foote was having a fit; the flab on her arms was quivering even when the rest of her was quiet. When we woke up at about ten the next morning, Daisy was in our kitchen eating cereal. Daisy wouldn’t say much. She told Randall to lay off her. There was something about a trucker at the truck stop near the highway, and how she went clear to Kentucky with him.”(p. 82-83)
But running away from her problems didn’t solve them, so she realized she would have to take a different approach. Instead of sitting around and crying about all the things going wrong in her life, she was determined to move away from them, to Hollywood or New York. She wanted to become a beautician and do makeup for the stars. Yet even her best friend, Ruth, failed to believe that she could actually be happy and successful one day.
“It wasn’t nice to say of my best friend, but I knew Daisy was a cheap girl. There wasn’t anyone who truly loved her. She didn’t have strong attachments to her partners either. She used her men for their money and their certain body parts, and if she was lucky, she was finished with them before they got tired of her.”(p. 199)
It came as a surprise to everyone that knew her when Daisy got married. She found a nice man who loved her and whom she loved back. This was exactly what everyone thought she would never be able to do. But at one point in her life, Daisy decided that she wasn’t happy with the way she was, so she changed it.
“The real news from Honey Creek that summer was Daisy’s marriage. It knocked us all off our stumps. One minute she’s on the loose, the next she’s promising forever as if she truly understood the meaning of the words. I guess she knew in her mind instantly, and didn’t need to dwell on her past or future life.”(p.242)
Daisy’s personality made her strong, and it kept anyone from telling her what she could and could not do.
“She always makes a mess sound easy. There aren’t any problems for Daisy. If she doesn’t like someone she says, ‘Go to hell.’ Then she wipes her hands and walks away.”(p. 248)
Daisy’s approach on her suffering was just like that of the approach on people she doesn’t like. If she was faced with a problem or something painful happened to her, she simple said, “Go to hell,” and moved on.
May had trouble moving on from her defeats and losses. She tended to dwell in her misery and deny any problems she had. She figured her life would always be miserable, and since she had that attitude, the majority of her life was full of sadness and anguish. Her childhood was strenuous and busy. She worked for her parents and helped take care of all her younger siblings. All of the work wore her down and she looked forward to getting away from it all.
“Someday, I’m going to find a man who doesn’t know one thing about seed corn, and I’ll follow him away and never come back to Honey Creek.”(p. 31)
She wasn’t happy with her life, and she wanted someone to come and make it better for her. That someone was Willard Jenson. Hey was May’s whole world and more. Then he was gone. The death of her first husband was one that seemed to lie in the back of her mind forever.
“May figured that officials in the government who had the lists of dead people had made a mistake. She told Sid she knew it was a simple mistake and that after the war was over Willard would come home. He was hiding under all the carnage so the enemy wouldn’t notice he was alive.”(p.40-41)
After Willard died, May saw everything differently. Nothing made her happy and she constantly snapped at others. She even failed to love her daughter at times. When Ruth picked the tulip bulbs instead of the onions, her mother laughed in her face.
“When I pointed them out, she laughed uproariously, with her hand to her bosom and her eyes closed. She laughed, not out of happiness, but because what I had done proved to her that I was without one sign of intelligence.”(p. 79)
Ruth was just a child who made a simple mistake, but May had so much anger inside of her that she was even cruel to her own daughter. This created a hostile relationship between May and Ruth, one that stayed with them until the day May died. She constantly put Ruth down and told her how dumb she was. In May’s eyes, nothing compared to Matt, the perfect son. When he left, another man who meant so much to her was gone. This contributed to May’s suffering. Although Matt did come back for Ruth’s wedding and certain holidays, he had his own life. His life did not include his mother and his sister. Her perfect child, who was supposed to love and look up to her, did not follow her plans. So when Justy was born, she thought she could make him fit the job. Ruth describes May’s reaction when she holds Justy for the first time.
“She petted his cheek. She didn’t say anything except “Bless you” to him, in a thin, wavering voice, one I had never heard her use before. She couldn’t believe that here in the flesh was another chance for her; here was a baby coming to live and grow at her house. She was listening, already, to the stories Justy was going to tell about his grandmother, how she leaped up on the roof when the house was burning and pulled him from the fire.”(p. 213)
May’s last years were made happy by Justy, but because of her constant nagging of Ruby and every move that he made, she sent her son-in-law off the deep end. The events that shaped May also killed her. If she hadn’t been so negative to Ruby, he wouldn’t have lashed out at her and brutally murdered her.
The characters in The Book of Ruth all dealt with their suffering in different ways. Ruth, Daisy, and Matt chose to do something about it. May chose to let it ruin her. So it is only appropriate that the one character that let the suffering overtake her, is the one character that is dead at the conclusion of the novel.