Nikolay's Irrational Mind Born from His Pathology Or the Other Way Around?
Nikolay suffers from the most extreme form of egotism, called solipsism. Solipsism can be defined in many ways:
Only one's mind exists.
No one exists as humans, only a two-dimensional, fawning audience.
The self can never know others, only its own self.
The solipsist can attach no meaning to others, only to himself.
The solipsist lives in an insular, private world disconnected from others. We could argue therefore that smart phones are a form of solipsism.
Ludwig Wittgenstein writes of solipsism: "Hell is not other people. Hell is yourself." And he writes, "I am my own world."
Nikolay's second pathology is self-complacency.
Complacency is being satisfied with mediocrity.
Complacency is being content without new challenges.
Complacency is being soothed and medicated on routine and the comfort of monotony.
Complacency dulls one's appetite for life.
Complacency is a form of the Jahiliyyah, a long period of ignorance and darkness.
Nikolay's third pathology is the spiritual death resulting from cocooning or contracting rather than expanding in life.
Cocooning is retreating into the home and creating a safe place while avoiding the challenges and anxieties produced by interacting with the outside world.
Cocooning in the modern age is constructing elaborate home entertainment systems and personal chefs that allow us to never leave the home.
Sample Thesis Structure
Reading Chekhov's stories, we begin to see that we all have limited free will, but it eventually vanishes as we surrender to our Irrational Mind, which includes, ____________________, _________________________, _______________________, _________________, and _________________________.
Using an Analogy Or Extended Comparison As an Introduction:
During my first marriage I lived in a five-bedroom house, had four kids, the whole works. Then I got a divorce, remarried, and with the kids all grown up, I got into a three-bedroom house. I got divorced again, remarried and with all the alimony I had to fork out, I found it more practical for my third wife and me to live in a modest two-bedroom bungalow. I got divorced again and now I find myself living alone in a one-bedroom condo. The thing is the condo feels too big for me and I really hate doing housework. I prefer to drive my BMW up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. It relaxes me. Going back to the empty condo, however, is completely depressing. It’s a mess. I hate doing house chores. I’m sorry but at my age I’m simply not motivated to clean up around the house. That’s when I decided to say the hell with making mortgage payments. I sold the condo and moved into my Beamer. What a difference this has made in my life. For one, sleeping inside my car means I don’t have to get up at all hours of the night to make sure thieves haven’t stolen the rims or to wipe bird crap off the roof before it calcifies on the paint. You know how it is, getting up at four A.M. because you remember you forgot to vacuum the corn nut that your buddy got lodged underneath the passenger seat.
As I’ve indicated, I never spent time in my condo anyway. I don’t cook so my car doesn’t need an oven, just a toaster inside the glove box. I haul a port-a-potty so I don’t have to keep doing my business at restaurants. As far as showers go, I work-out at a gym three days a week. That’s more showering than any man needs.
As far as my car’s limited “closet space” goes, I don’t use a closet anyway. Then there’s your car clean-up, which inside a car is a helluva lot easier. There are fewer square inches in a car than your smallest apartment by a long-shot. Besides, I’d rather detail my car than vacuum and mop my condo any day of the week.
Living inside my car seems kind of cozy. Like when I was a little kid and I took my baths inside the sink. Yeah, I’m talking about being a baby again. Feeling safe, comforted, and insulated inside the womb. I’m talking about the days when life was simple and I had a minimum of responsibilities.
This is it for me. Inside my car, I have found paradise.
The narrator of the above is a misguided soul who has stumbled across a false paradise based on cocooning inside his car. Similarly, we see that Nikolay has retreated into his own cocoon, the false paradise of his small country town in which he feeds his ego and disappears into a world of solipsism. This human tendency to retreat back into the womb is one of the major components of The Irrational Mind, which also includes _____________, _____________, ________________, and _________________.
“The Lady with the Dog” Lesson
Sample Thesis from McMahon Imagining a Student Writing an Essay
As McMahon interprets Chekhov's stories, I see that we are a diseased, miserable lot, a race doomed to misery and self-destruction. Contrary to what I assumed before taking McMahon's 1C class, I see that the idea of free will is an illusion, pure foolishness. In fact, the characters in Chekhov's stories are slaves to their irrational minds, which are sodden with a variety of pathologies, chimeras, self-delusions, narcissism, self-centered rage, and the irresolvable conflict between private desire and public duty.
So far we've looked at "A Misfortune" to see self-delusion and orchestrating self-demise (unconsciously or not) as part of The Irrational Mind.
In "Enemies" we see how ego-driven anger or self-righteous certitude results in the death of empathy and a form of insanity, perhaps the form of insanity: solipsism.
Today we examine a cipher or nobody who tries to fill the void with celebrity and image, but the more she tries to fill the void with these foolish errands the more empty she becomes. We call this part of The Irrational Mind something called impoverishment through subsitution.
Olga is an archetype, a type of person who has existed since the beginning of time and will always exist. There are many words to describe her particular archetype. Here are some, but not all:
Energy Vampire (or simply Vampire)
sycophant (also known as a "butt kisser")
The Story Shows the Linke Between BS and Narcissism
The story is about the dangers of being a B.S. Artist or a BE-ESSER
See the book On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt in which he says that bullshit is worse than lying, that bullshit is defined by pretentiousness, misrepresentation and all the insidious things we use to puff ourselves up such as false modesty, sycophantism, omission of certain facts, slight exaggeration, etc. Write these characteristics on the board.
Sample A Introduction, Transition, and Thesis
Show how a narcissist must be punished to be awakened from his narcissistic ways. Then transition to your thesis.
Recently, my gardner Francisco told me that one of his customers, John, espied his neighbor walking his dog to dump crap on his lawn. For six months this victim of having his front lawn being used as a dog dumping ground saved the dog crap in a huge plastic garden bag. When the bag was stuffed, John walked to the culprit's front lawn and dumped 3 months' of accrued crap on the lawn.
Since then, the guilty party does not even walk his dog in front of his neighbor's house. Not only does he live in fear of his neighbor, he suffers the ignominy of knowing his disgusting, insidious violation of neighborly etiquette has been exposed.
After Francisco shared this story with me, I felt bathed in warmth. My wife noticed a glow in my demeanor and said I looked "different," before asking me why I was so happy.
"Because," I answered, "a filthy narcissist has been put in his place and perhaps now he'll think again before leaving dog crap on someone's lawn."
Another person who leaves her crap everywhere she goes is that pathetic narcissist Olga and other characters from Chekhov's collection who are quintessential embodiments of the Irrational Mind, evidenced by narcissism, self-delusion, ego-driven anger, and solipsism.
Write about a narcisssit who "spreads his crap" around, metaphorically speaking, and transition this example to Olga.
Who said revenge--even the mere story of revenge and its vicarious effects--is not a holy gift from the gods? Francisco's story is indeed delicious, a morsel sweeter than any pumpkin pie I will eat tomorrow.
“Enemies” Is a Story about Anger That Never Dies
Examples of Anger Responses:
1. Telemarketer calls you every night.
2. Your neighbor's dog barks whenever you're trying to sleep.
3. You lose your job and find out the boss replaced you with his wife's son, who happens to be a worthless jerk.
4. You spend a bunch a money on an online dating service and it sets you up with your ex.
5. Your husband cheats on you and then gives you herpes.
6. You bring your groceries home and you realize you bought moldy blueberries.
The problem with anger is that it's addictive. You can't shut it off. It becomes a way of being. We lose a sense of proportion. We only know anger for all situations so that anger makes us boring. "He's that guy who's angry all the time." We don't want to be that angry nutcase of a guy.
Always Know the Difference Between Healthy Anger and Self-Destructive Anger
Healthy anger is a normal reaction to something that is detrimental to your daily operation. You let off steam, you address the situation as best you can, and then you move on.
Healthy anger has these qualities:
It is motivational (mad at yourself for failing a test and using that anger as fuel to improve),
It is modulated (controlled)
It is temporary (you let go of it and move on).
However, self-destructive anger is a disease. Self-destructive anger has these qualities:
You don't or can't or are not willing to let go of it (you enjoy it in a perverse way and allow it to become your identity;
You love the drama of being angry because it fills the void in your life),
You let your anger control you (road rage, swearing in front of children, becoming a bitter person with the soul of an old man even though you may be in your early twenties)
You let your anger grow out of proportion to the original problem so that the anger is WORSE than the original source of your anger (TV commercials are bad but if you throw a brick through your TV because you're sick of the commercials, your rage just cost you a TV)
You misapply your anger to the wrong targets so that it is inappropriate (relationships and friendships, reciprocity; your talent level, resenting people who are more talented than you are)
You are blind to the manner in which the anger is destroying you (you become ugly and unpleasant around others and you don't even realize it).
All these self-destructive components of anger are evident in Kirilov.
Major Thematic Points
A doctor has just lost his child. Before he can even go through the grieving process, the stricken man shows up to the grieving doctor because, he believes, his wife his ill. Is he acting out of self-interest or narcissism?
Explain. Self-interest is natural. We are all naturally selfish, especially if we’re talented because we believe the world is about us. The stricken man Abogin believes his wife is ill, but he has been a actor to a world in which most of the dramas are just that, dramas; therefore, much of the urgency is a reaction to a false situation. The man's life is false.
Abogin most likely had plenty of evidence that his wife was having an affair and that she made up her illness as a ruse to get away with her lover. Abogin is a deluded man and he approaches a doctor whose life is far more real and his grief is as real as life gets and the stricken man violates the doctor's private space, sucking him into his drama.
The doctor is right to be angry. The question isn't whether or not we should be angry. It's HOW angry given the circumstances because there's a point in which even justified anger, if out of control, becomes self-destructive.
The real theme of this story is NOT whether we should be angry when jerks suck us into their dramas. The theme is our overreacting to a situation and asserting how "right" we are to be angry.
Being right isn’t always right, especially when we overreact.
"You used my bathroom and clogged my toilet and I had to pay $500 for a plumber to fix it. I'll never be your friend again."
"You took the last slice of pie. Now you are my enemy."
"You dated my ex-girlfriend. You back-stabbed me. Now we are enemies."
"You stole my credit card and my identity and I had to spend almost $2,000 to regain my credit. I will hunt you down and kill you."
Abogin the odious narcissist who believes his dramas are of paramount importance even in the face of the doctor’s dead child. Dr. Kirilov, and we too, can be angry at Abogin and all the Abogins of the world. The question is HOW mad. Too often we obsess over our anger to distract ourselves from something about ourselves we don't like, something in ourselves that makes us unhappy.
Abogin needs to believe that his wife has fallen of ill health because this catastrophe is better than the real one: She does not love him. This is Abogin's ego talking: "It is inconceivable that my wife does not love me."
Abogin’s self-interest wills him to use tenacious persuasion to get the doctor to come with him even though the doctor’s son died just 5 minutes earlier.
Abogin is a liar. He says, “I am not asking for myself” but in fact he is, sucking the doctor into a psychological drama that has nothing to do with the urgency Abogin claims. Abogin is a hysterical narcissist who uses hysteria to make him the center of attention. Abogin follows the mourning doctor throughout the house like a demon and says “Let us go” as if the doctor were a servant.
One of the story’s cruel ironies is that the doctor feels morally compelled, even in the agony of his loss, to help Abogin even though it turns out Abogin’s motives are a lie. This irony only feeds Kirilov's appetite to hate Abogin all the more.
Adding to Abogin's descpicable ego is that once he realizes his wife betrayed him, he does not—as he should do—transition his attention to helping the doctor get back home. Rather, Abogin, being a narcissist, is still fixated on his pain, his victimization while paying no attention to his role in inflicting injustice against the doctor. Abogin continues his self-pitying adolescent monologue even as the doctor berates him.
We can interpret the narrator’s account of the doctor’s failure to listen as a moral failure in which the doctor fails both Abogin and himself. What is the controversy of such an interpretation? See the bottom of page 47. “Who knows, if the doctor had listened to him and had sympathized with him like a friend, he might perhaps, as often happens, have reconciled himself to his trouble without protest, without doing anything needless and absurd . . . .” But the doctor becomes grotesque with bitterness and consumed by rage.
Sympathy for the fool was the window of opportunity Kirilov needed to heal his pain, from the loss of his child and for his propensity to rage against his perceive injustices.
The doctor hates Abogin, not just for dragging him into his drama, but for being of a higher class, of enjoying middle-class comforts, of representing a particular type of evil: the pretentious wealthy narcissist who makes everyone else clean up his mess. The narrator seems to criticize the doctor for reducing Abogin to a stereotype rather than showing empathy for him as a human being.
On page 49, the narrator admonishes both Abogin and the doctor as being unhappy and cruel, failing to seize the moment of shared pain for shared understanding. At heart, they are both misanthropes. Their failure to understand others, and themselves, makes them their own worst enemy. They are both slaves to their ego or “egoism,” as we read in the story.
Mental health isn’t how we act in life; it’s how we react. Both Abogin and the doctor overreact in part because of their egotism and misanthropy and unhappiness. Think of how people over-grieve after a divorce or romantic betrayal. You must grieve, for that is natural, but you can over-grieve.
We are often addicted to self-righteous indignation ("self-centered anger") rather than coming to an understanding.
The Irrational Mind Is Built on Self-Centered Anger
One. We learn that the scary thing about the ego is that often the ego asserts itself without our knowing it. Kirilov thinks his anger for Abogin is justified, but Kirilov's anger is an overreaction poisoned with class envy and self-centered egotism.
One way the ego asserts itself is by adding up grievances. "I've been wronged many times and I need to get even. I need to find justice. I need to find vindication. I need to find vengeance."
We learn that the ego says, "I'm right" and "My suffering is of greater depth than yours" and the implicit "therefore I'm a superior person."
We also learn that the ego says, "My pain is so important no circumstance should impede me from finding relief even if the person in question is suffering the loss of a child."
We also learn that the ego says, "Screw forgiveness of Abogin and his pathetic ways. Anger defines who I am."
We also learn that ego (from Abogin's point of views) says, "Screw the doctor's pain from the death of his child. I need his help. Now."
Anger is often born of the ego, especially when the anger is relentless and self-centered, and lacks proportion. Both Kirilov and Abogin lose proportion of their grievances and as such they become eternal enemies to each other.
Not all anger is bad, but the kind that impedes your growth, makes you lose proportion, renders you self-centered, and gnaws at you resulting in a slow self-destruction is a poison directed toward yourself.
But even if you understand this, your ego will not allow you to let go. Your ego doesn't care if you are destroyed. Your ego only lives to perpetuate itself.
So far we've learned that the Irrational Mind is comprised of self-deceit, addictive rage, and the self-destructive ego.
Example of Self-Centered Anger Making Us Lose Proportion Used as an Introduction and Followed by a Thesis
So your ego’s been damaged. Your girlfriend told you that you both “need to take a breather” and get some “quality alone time” so you can get back together and both be the better for it. But that time never comes. When you start calling her again, she’s more determined about breaking up than before. She starts giving you clues, like “I think we need to start seeing other people.” And “Since getting away from you, I feel like I’ve been given my life back.” And worse, “I think being your girlfriend was like dying a slow painful death.” And then the final nail in the coffin: “I’m seeing someone. It’s serious, so you’ll need to stop calling me—indefinitely.”
At this point, any man with half a brain realizes the relationship is officially over. If you’re a healthy-minded dude, you wish her well and hope she finds the happiness and romantic bliss she couldn’t find with you. But needless to say, you’re not that dude. You’re a spiteful SOB whose ego needs to see her life miserable in your absence. To see her squirm and fail as she tries to make it in the world without you gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Her lowly existence “proves” that indeed you were the best thing that ever happened to her. Needing to believe this about yourself, you long to see her languish through a life of unending agony. You need to hear through the grapevine that she’s unhappy with her “dating life” and that she has a dead-end job with an obnoxious, penny-pinching boss who micromanages her every move. You need to know that her credit card bills and other expenses were just too great and she had to move back with her parents.
And then you get what you’ve been craving more than anything—the Surprise Meeting. These Surprise Meetings usually happen at a party. You see her standing all alone by a bowl of potato chips and onion dip. She’s overweight, needy, makeup running down her face. At which time you walk a circle around her, shake your head in disdain, puff on your Cuban cigar, and say, “Look at you now, sweetheart. Look at you now.” And then with a sneer you walk away from her as you make your grand exit from the party. Of course, you’re flanked by your eye-catching entourage—two slender scandalously dressed super models who accompany you as you get inside your silver Ferrari Barchetta Pininfarina you bought with the riches afforded by your new Fortune 500 company. As you sit in your three-hundred-thousand-dollar Italian sports car and your “girls” run their sensuous fingers through your thick head of hair, you see your ex-girlfriend, still alone at the party, now looking at you through the parted curtains and she’s shaking her head, her eyes full of sadness and regret. You can read her mind. She’s saying to herself, “Now that is one studly dude I should have stayed with. Just look how incredible his life is, and look how crappy mine turned out to be. If only I had listened to him I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life wondering how amazing it would have been to spend my life with a man of such incomprehensible greatness.”
This gratifying scenario would have lasted longer, only your three-hundred-pound mother in a muumuu wakes you from your dream and tells you to get off your fat ass. You promised her you’d find a job by now and you’ve got less than an hour before your interview at Toys R Us. As you lay on your filthy bare mattress and look at your mother shaking her finger at you while spitting a venomous lecture about what a lazy thirty-seven-year-old loser you turned out to be, you wonder what your ex-girlfriend is up to these days and you feel the urge to call her, but you know that’s impossible. Your pathetic existence would only vindicate her decision to have left you many years before.
You are like the characters from Chekhov's short story "Enemies" and you've allowed your life to be ruined by the Irrational Mind evidenced by __________, __________, _____________, and _______________.
Introduction to today's topic, The Irrational Mind:
We all have an infinite capacity to be irrational, but some of us are more irrational than others. Why? Because some of us have more free will and more of the Third Eye than others.
It's an over simplification to say we have absolute free will or are absolutely helpless to our Irrational Mind.
Free will or a lack of it is a matter of degree. A person who has a healthy lifestyle, full of daily exercise and healthy eating may not be completely free to curb the temptation to eat rich desserts, but this person has more freedom than inert, morbidly obese people who eat buckets for fried chicken and several cases of Hot Pockets throughout the day.
There's a free will scale.
Some people have a tiny degree free will. For example, take Alexis from The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Alexis amazingly outdoes the others on the obnoxious scale. She's from Orange County and she plays richer and smarter than she really is.
She drives to San Diego to do a TV show called "Dr. Booty" and the producers and staff of the show roll their eyes in disgust at how incompetent this woman is.
Think about it. When the staff of a show called "Dr. Booty" thinks you're stupid, you've got serious problems.
The woman is not glamorous and talented as she believes she is. In truth, she is a small-brained narcissist. The main feature of her life is the disparity or gulf between her grossly inflated self-image and who she really is.
This disparity who we are and who we think we are is the theme in the story "A Misfortune." This misfortune is that we may not be as civilized as we think we are and we may not have as much free will as we think have.
Contemplating these themes, the story is not so much a "misfortune" (an ironic understatement perhaps) but a colossal catastrophe.
If you think about what I just said, you'll realize the story is extremely dark and pessimistic. I almost feel guilty for teaching it, but we shouldn't flinch from the truth.
You don't have to agree or not; simply examine the evidence.
Does Sofya Have Free Will Or Is She a Slave to Her Irrational Passions?
One. Is she really helpless to the flirtations of her forbidden lover?
In a story about self-deception, can we believe Sofya (can she believe herself) when she says to her prospective lover Ilyin (also Ivan), “I did not expect to meet you here.” Did her unconscious bring her there? After all, we read that she has many “chance” meetings with Ilyin. Her sincerity and moralizing are useless in the face of self-deception, desire, and vanity.
She is sincere in her belief that she had no intention of meeting her future lover, but she is both deluded and willfully ignorant. She denies her desire for Ilyin because such a desire offends her self-image as a moral person, but her denial, that is her dishonesty, makes her more vulnerable to giving into her desires.
Willful ignorance is a feeble attempt at control and results in a loss of self-control.
We like to think of ourselves as being armed and protected with willpower but too often the idea of “willpower” is a myth, a fairy tale, a gun that shoots a blank or a flower at the monster.
Here lies the root of the story: We wish to believe we are autonomous, enjoying self-control, and free will. We build a life on decency and morals to achieve this end, but the vain wife, in spite of her protective measures, ends up helpless to forbidden passion. She is stripped of everything that has established her identity.
Sofya thinks she is Person A but really she is Person B.
Free Will Position
She is not as helpless as she may think. She orchestrates (yes, she wills) the flirtations and encourages them evidenced by the fact that she allows herself to be alone with the forbidden man.
Few of us can resist temptation, but we can stay away from temptation in the first place. I don't have pizza and ice cream in my house. It's easier than resisting them. Likewise, the woman can NEVER be alone with the forbidden man.
Two. Is Ivan more helpless than Sofya?
Was Ivan merely a friend for five years before erupting into her possessed love demon? Is that plausible? Perhaps the feelings have always been there. Maybe he doesn't know. Again, something has triggered the unconscious and once this force triggers it becomes unstoppable rendering the principal characters helpless.
I'm reminded of a car ad from around 1999 for the Volkswagen Beetle; a husband grows a tumor on his head in the shape of the Beetle and the tumor grows and grows until the man finally surrenders to his desire and buys one.
Sometimes desires never go away. There is a saying, "The heart wants what the heart wants."
Three. Is Sofya a hypocrite?
All her moralizing seems like a desperate attempt to suppress her feelings.
Lust for a man other than her husband offends her moral self-image, but denial is not making her stronger. If anything, denial is making her more vulnerable because in part she is suppressing her desires, which go “underground” into her unconscious and once the desires are in her unconscious they can control her more.
Perhaps she is simply not honest with herself. She loves the man's flirtations and won't admit it because to do so would compromise her self-image as a moral person.
She is guilty of the sin of dishonesty, about what she really wants.
Four. Why is Ilyin so full of hate and rage against himself and Sofya?
He hates Sofya for the power she holds over him as someone he helplessly loves. He hates himself for being so powerless in spite of all his efforts to kill the love. We even read that Sofya enjoys feeling superior to the helpess Ilyin. Perhaps she cannot admit she is drawn to the drama and ego rush she enjoys.
Perhaps he loves the drama and knows his life would be empty if he was not madly in love with a married woman.
Also there is a stark contrast with her power over Ilyin and her powerless feelings in the face of her husband who is described, implicitly, as a corpulent eunuch who’s given himself over to comfort and complacency instead of domestic passion.
Her husband cuts deeper into her pain. It would be one thing if she was in a happy marriage and tempted by adultery, but she is in a dead, boring marriage with a rotund eunuch.
Five. What does Ilyin mean when he says to Sofya that her insincerity is natural and that if the world were sincere, we’d all go to the devil?
Civilization is based on the denial of our primal desires. If we give in to our desires in the name of sincerity, all hell will break loose.
We cannot express our raw desires and emotions. We must put up a facade of propriety.
Maturity requires a certain self-containment of emotion and denial. We often pepper our lives with homilies and maxims to make our moral life of insincerity more easy on ourselves.
If your girlfriend makes you dinner for Valentine's Day and it tastes like mildewed cardboard, you have to pretend to love it.
If you hate your boss, you have to be polite to him.
We also create all sorts of rituals to appear civilized.
We create marriage even though most marriages end in divorce.
We have Christmas to celebrate our love for humanity but people get trampled to death in stores during Christmas sales and others fight, often with guns, for a last doll on the shelf.
We're only civilized when we have cheap food and water. Stop access to food and water and you've got chaos that no tyrannical leader can pacify.
Six. When Sofya returns home, how does she reorient to domestic life? She is propelled by guilt and fear (fear of losing her self-possession and self-control) to be a good wife, but her husband Andrey is a noisy slob at the dinner table who repulses her and generates no emotions of arousal and passion whatsoever. He is a castrato, metaphorically speaking, his emasculated image made stark by the tassels on his slippers and the threads hanging from his socks.
She's trying to be attracted to her husband and she is in fact repulsed by him.
Then at the party guilt, shame, and despair seem to fuel this ecstatic, egotistical mania, this manic rush, as she plays the piano recklessly. Often euphoria is a falsity, a disguise for our despair.
Seven. What does it mean when we read that there is no longer a “tangle” in Sofya’s head? Why does she hate herself now? Everything she has worked on, her title, her birth, her status, her moralizing is all for nothing. She is taken over by desire and everything that she relies on to build her identity is useless.
Eight. How does the story end?
Fatalism, the death of free will; the unruly passions take over the civilized woman devoted to social convention. Her devotion is useless.
Nine. In what ways is Ilyin a satanic, sociopathic manipulator of Sofya? Or is he is helpless soul? Or both?
Ten. What dark, pessimistic theme is rendered regarding self-knowledge, truth, and free will?
Eleven. Explain the story's title: The misfortune is realizing you're not the person you thought you were; it's also falling in love with a life you don't have; it's also being repulsed by the life you do have.
As Sofya realizes her passions for the lawyer, she becomes disenchanted with her husband whom she sees as a dud, a cipher, a loser, a bump on a log, a nonentity, a self-complacent functionery, a decent albeit self-satisfied mediocrity, a lame duck who will never understand her the way the lawyer does.
What a misfortune indeed.
Part Two. What Does “The Misfortune” Tell Us About the Human Condition?
One. Sincerity and moralizing are useless in penetrating the human heart and making us live moral lives.
Two. There are layers and layers of deceit and unconscious subterfuge that cannot be detected even by the most intelligent, earnest human beings. We seem to be hard-wired for self-deception.
Three. Even the most “moral” people have weaknesses such as vanity that can render them seemingly helpless to forbidden desires.
Four. People who portray themselves as helplessly innocent may be sincere while at the same time behave like manipulating sociopaths.
Five. Willful ignorance is a feeble attempt at control and always results in a loss of self-control.
Six. There is a huge disparity between our self-image and who we really are. Our self-image is more flattering than the reality. Thus, we are delusional.
Seven. We cannot comprehend other people's motives or our own when we hide behind a screen of moral truisms, image, and vanity.
Eight. Failure to know who we really are (disrobed of our status and moralizing) will result in our demise.
Nine. Free will is an illusion. "The heart wants what the heart wants."
Ten. The moralizing and status that hold up proper society are flimsy and precariously positioned so that these moral beams can be dislodged more easily than we think.
Part Three. Your Essay Assignment
Drawing from no fewer than three Chekhov stories, develop a thesis in which you write an extended definition of The Irrational Mind. Be sure to include at least 4 distinguishing characteristics and use concrete examples, both from the stories and your life, to illustrate your points. Essay should be five pages with a sixth page, your Works Cited page, which should have no fewer than 3 sources, the book, my blog, and source of your choice. You must use MLA format.
Sample A Introduction and Thesis
I used to gleefully ridicule the gluttons who would eat countless platters of inedible slop at HomeTown Buffet, gorging until their bellies were so full their brains were drained of all nutritious blood supply rendering these overeaters brainless zombies.
But my mockery of these incontinent eaters was stopped in its tracks in the summer of 2003. My wife Carrie and I were walking back from the brunch buffet at the Sheraton Inn in Kauai where I had just ingested a 5,000-calorie breakfast of macadamia nut pancakes slathered with thick maple syrup, French toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread, turkey sausage patties, and scrambled eggs with melted cheddar, pecan-raisin cinnamon rolls, all washed down with several tall pitchers of freshly-squeezed orange juice.
With a self-complacent belch, I staggered up from the buffet and stumbled outside orienting myself to the sunlight. As I strutted my 259-pounds outside the buffet room and past a hotel window, I saw the reflection of a portly, unsightly gentleman, dressed in safari shorts and a turquoise tank top, which sported the striking image of the iconic sea turtle. This disheveled, unattractive man I gazed upon looked like the stereotype of a fat, shameless, overfed American.
I walked closer toward the bloated image of shame and disgust and I was overcome by the shock and anxiety that the reflection was not some other guy for whom I could judge with gleeful ridicule but was in fact me. Holy crap! I was that dude, the type of person that I had mocked and scorned all of my life.
This was a huge moment for me, what literary people might call an “epiphany,” and I was fortunate to have experienced it. Most people are denied, or deny themselves, such moments of clarity. It is my belief that something like 95% of the human race walk around Planet Earth with their heads up their butts and this is how they die—never knowing what the hell is really going on.
Indeed, the characters in Chekov's fiction suffer a similar malady, what we might call the Irrational Mind evidenced by their denial of their shortcomings; their overwhelming passions that render them out of control; their gulf between who they think they are and who they really are; and the irresolvable conflict between their private desire and public duty.
A Contrarian Thesis That Argues People Are Not Helpless to the Irrational Mind but Rather Are Responsible for Their Actions
I am troubled by McMahon's emphasis on the Irrational Mind and how this mind renders us helpless and without free will. To the contrary, a close examination of the characters in Chekhov's stories purported to be helpless are actually in full power of their actions. Their self-destructive behavior could have been avoided but they made several wrong choices, not the least which were to choose to be in a place of temptation; to choose to lie about their weaknesses, rendering them more vulnerable to temptation; to choose to be willfully ignorant of dangerous behavior they had a history of committing; and to choose to coddle and nurture a forbidden emotion until it grew beyond their control.