There are different kinds of peril that a person can find himself (in this case) in, and Macready and Macon Detornay find themselves embedded in several of them, in large measure because of their own actions, including their own attitudes about the position that they hold in the world in which they spend their lives. Detornay is more clearly culpable for the problems in which he finds himself because these are dangers into which he places himself. Lacking what he perceives to be an authentic life, he casts off the superficial markers of the community in which he has been raised and to which his life has accommodated him, he pretends that he can live a more authentic life by becoming what he sees as an urban black. Not only does this place him at occasional physical risk but on a consistent basis in moral and psychological peril. As his college roommate point out to him, a Jew who intentionally tattoos numbers on his arm -- and for a reason that has almost nothing to do with him personally -- is a man who has lost his soul. He has given away, even thrust away, an identity that for many people, and for him, if he wanted, would anchor in him in his past and guide him in his future. But this seems too easy for him, this true authenticity.
Levy too is mostly in psychological and emotional peril because he is on a quest for someone who he is not. And, as for Detornay, we are never entirely clear as to why he should want to do this. His own self is not enough, perhaps because he has no clear focus for the anger that he feels. Both characters create for themselves a new identity that allows them to be angrier than they would otherwise feel entitled to be. For both, it is a losing strategy.
10. Borges, more than is even typical of most writers, tends to tell the same story over and over again because he never (or so it seems to his readers) quite comes to terms with the themes that haunt him. Taking on different perspectives, as told from the perspectives from different narrators at different points in history, he asks the same questions again and again until he hopes that even if he cannot answer his questions, and even if his narrators cannot answer his questions, then perhaps his readers can answer them.
The Aleph's narrator is very clearly a version of Borges himself, indeed perhaps one of the most honest intra-narrative versions of himself that he has created perhaps it portrays the author as someone who is trying to engage the world with a story that engages all possible points-of-view. The Aleph can be seen as both a tribute and a parody of the way in which the way he has written over his life has created the expectation that he will be able to tell a story from every side.
Borges himself has said that the protagonist of The Congress is the most autobiographical protagonist that he has ever written. He may see this in part because this is one of his earlier stories but also in part because the novelist may want to see himself as a journalist. A journalist, especially in Latin America, has a robustness that the novelist lacks, an engagement with the world that is missing from the Aleph.
The kinds of frustrations that the two protagonists face reflect in which the way that Borges has chosen to depict the ideal writer, the writer that he apparently wishes that he could be. These frustrations reflect the kinds of courage that Borges wishes that he could have, that he wishes that he could lay claim to.
11. Each of these writers and their characters face a moment when their designs for their own lives go astray. Rather than seeing these diverges as something that must simply be dealt with as a part of the process of life, each of the protagonists sees what happens as the hand of fate interfering with them. None of them seems to have an understanding of the ways in which fate does not intercede in our lives, but rather how fate and life are essentially the same. Both Henderson and the protagonist of "Angry Black White Boy" fall off the plan that they have for their lives by attempting to slip into an identity that is defined by becoming a different race. They literally attempt to redefine who it is that they might be, or that they could be, by slipping in to the skin of someone else. Like the rhinoceros in Kipling's Just-So stories, they find that once they try on this skin, it is something that cannot ever be healed.
The narrator of The Congress has the major goal of his life (as he sees it originally) destroyed. He believes originally that all of the texts that define us as humans can be gathered into a library that provides a sense of who we are and thus what we are capable of. In the end, what people are capable of, he discovers, is only destruction. The conjurer in The Conjure-Man Dies is also the agent of his own destruction, although in this case it is even more direct. He becomes the man who is responsible to solve his own murder, a task that necessarily makes him the detective, the murderer, and the victim.
In The Interpreter of Maladies, the key "mistake" is that the female protagonist has had an adulterous affair that has produced a child that is himself a "mistake," a child who should never have existed. In many ways, this is the most obvious of the mistakes in these stories, but he is also the one whose existence is the most unambitiously good.
12. Arguably all stories are inspired by other older stories because, arguably, all stories tell the same story, which is that of the quest. In every story, at least one of the characters is trying to find something or on a negative quest, attempting to lose something -- as are the characters in Tolkien's quest to destroy the Ring of Power.
Superficially the Interpreter of Maladies is about a negative quest, an attempt to get rid of something that is doing harm to the protagonists. A child who is the result of adultery is something that is hidden away, something that is shameful. But there is a vibrancy of to the child that, despite the darkness of its conception and even the darkness of his whole life, is constantly also being dispersed by the brightness of new life.
Hemingway's story, on the other hand, is a story of men and death. Despite the fact that it is Margot who delivers the final and most lethal shot, the story remains one of men and the ways in which they, deprived the potential to create life, must content themselves with dispensing death. For Hemingway, it is no surprise either at the fact that this is a story about men and how they can be attracted in a fit of drunken fashion to the blood of death (rather than the blood of life). Nor is it surprising that it is it a woman who ends of killing, whom Hemingway cheats of giving birth by forcing to become a murderer. Even more misogyny: Women are incapable of taking the right life, and even when they do kill in mistake, they cannot contain themselves and begin to cry.
The newer story does not strip away the power of women. The woman is allowed to remain herself, allowed to be defined by life rather than death, even if she is thereby reduced to childishness.
13. What we find when we go on a quest is often less important than the meaning of that success to us, if we still mean it to be a success in our lives, and the reason that we decided to go on a quest to begin with. The characters in these stories have an ambiguous relationship between the protagonist and what he finds and how he finds himself to be in the aftermath of the quest. Henderson is an excellent example of the ambivalence of both quest and quester. We are never entirely sure as his witnesses exactly what has impelled him to go on a quest. There is some vague disease that he feels, but nothing like the degree of existential challenge that we might expect to feel ourselves if we were to set off to lose and find ourselves. When he finds what he has convinced himself that he wants, even that he is in need of, he realizes that it is at best boring and potentially must worse, so that he must retreat from what once compelled him forward.
Pym -- based on Poe's older and more conflicted narrator -- is a far more cynical narrator than most of the…