The Choices We Make Essay, Research Paper
THE CHOICES WE MAKE
Tabula rassa, a Latin fraise that literally means cleans slate, is often discussed in schools of psychology during debates over whether or not a person is born good or evil. Some believe that we are born good, and from day one we choose how our life is to be dictated. Others will tell you that we are an evil species and are not capable of a life without sin. A third school of thought is a shared idea that we are born with an unbiased disposition or a “clean slate” and we are affected by the world around us. My belief is much the same; I believe that the choices we make dictate the lives we lead; yet the lives we lead dictate our choices. Our environment and the choices we make coexist, they feed off of each other yet neither is totally controlled by the other.
The story of the poor Frenchman, Claude Gueux, written by Victor Hugo, tells the life altering decisions that this man was forced to make. From the beginning to the end, it follows him as his criminal acts thicken and become more volatile. This however is not the story of a common criminal in modern day America; this tale tells of a man in the time of the French depression and had no option other than resorting to a life of crime. It dictates what happens when society plays too much of a part in a persons’ life. Some of the time this is good, but all too often it is disastrous and leads to the demise of a person.
When we are born there is an opportunity for us to choose a path, a path in which dictates our life. While this path may not make our decisions for us it will affect us because we are confined to act within its boundaries. This path will sometimes cross another allowing us to choose between the two, but other than these crossings there is little chance for us to deviate from our chosen direction of our life.
I believe that we can choose to walk on the left or right side; walk fast or slow; but we may not choose the direction or terrain. Much like life, we often make choices, but these choices are made within a specific set of parameters. If a man was walking on a trail in the woods and he was faced with a sharp drop off, he could choose what side to go down, to wait at the top, or to jump; he could not, however make the decision of how the path continues. He only has the choice of how he is going to react to the adversity, and his reaction is going to dictate the rest of his life.
Gueux, much like the man at the edge of the cliff, had the decision on what his actions were when faced with adversity. Gueux was a man that was responsible for the care and well being of his family and he was having trouble finding work to support his family. With these barriers in his way Gueux made the choice to resort to a life of crime in order to support his family. The crime was not severe or damaging to any other human, but it was wrong nonetheless and he was caught and punished accordingly.
Gueux was not forced by his environment to make the decision to steal, but he had few, if any, alternative choices that would feed his family. He made the decision to take the piece of bread and the coal; he however made this decision with a clear and conscious mind. This situation is commonly argued among psychologists who share opposite views; one believing that man makes his own decisions, and the other believing that people are molded by society. Who is right? Both are, no man is ever drawn into making a decision by outside forces, yet these forces can make an influence on the decision.
As the path that Gueux travels upon gets more coarse, he is faced with more difficult and life altering choices. After he is incarcerated for larceny, he had to make due with his surroundings and make choices that would allow him to survive in the prison. Eventually he finds a man that befriends him; Gueux was able to make his life a little more placid with his companion. These two however were too open about their camaraderie and were separated. This event proved to be another trying time for Gueux; he was faced with one of the most imperative decisions of his life.
Gueux saw no option but to fight for the right to be reunited with his companion. He tried reasoning with the warden by expressing his deep desire to rejoin his comrade, but this proved to be futile, for the warden was the one who originally sought for the two to be separated. After trying relentlessly, Gueux had two decisions; one, let the wardens’ decision stand and wait his time out; two, force the warden to see his view regardless of the means. Much like Gueuxs’ reasoning the first time he chose to commit an act of crime, this time he saw very few choices. While there are other ways of getting what one wants, Gueux was left with the solitary choice to threaten the warden and if he did not conform he would be killed.
Was Gueux in his right mind when he killed the warden? Yes, Gueux was perfectly sane; he made the choice to kill due to the fact that all that he had known and valued in his life was gone. His family had fallen apart after his incarceration and he was now lonely once again with his dearest companion torn away from him.
I believe that when humans are placed in such a strenuous situations, and have had a life full of strife, they hold their only assets very close and dear to the heart. Thus making the sacrifice all the more great in order to retain them. In the case of Claude Gueux, he had nothing left in his life except for his fellow inmate. When this was taken away, so was his drive and desire for life. This is the reasoning that led him to kill the warden; he would rather die than live without his companion.
Hugos’ stance of a man and his natural disposition, good or evil, is much like the one I express. He drives this point in at the end when Gueux tells the jury, “I am a murderer, I am a thief; but I ask you, gentlemen of the jury, why did I kill? Why did I steal?” Hugo intended to give the reader the feeling that Gueux was not remorseful and took responsibility for his actions, but he wanted the jury to think long and hard as to why he has committed those actions. He committed them out of necessity and not insanity.
In life we are faced with adversity, and this adversity has to be overcome with confidence and determination in order to be successful. If we choose the path less traveled we are bound to face problems and tough decisions, yet we will never have these decisions made for us by our surroundings. We choose the lives that we lead and try to do the best we can to achieve total happiness. Like the case of Gueux, the decisions he made were not the best according to society, but at the time they were the ones that made him content and the ones that he felt that would better his life.
When someone like Gueux has a hard life that is dismally ended, people look on and say that he was puppeteered by his environment and his actions were a product of society. Ironically if Gueux would have taken his situation and turned it around for the better and became ludicrously successful, many would say that everything he has was earned by sweat and blood and not by any outside influence. Why does society have a double standard? This double standard is just an excuse for the vagrants and the misfits; they blame it on their surroundings and say that they had no choice. But they do, every person has a choice in every action he or she commits and has to live with the consequences, both positive and negative.
Hugo witnessed the atrocities of the French depression and all the poverty that the citizens had to incur. He noticed that many people were resorting to a life of crime and malice due to the lack of opportunities, yet he noticed something much more important. No matter how hard times were and how bad the environment was, people always made decisions on their own free will.