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Psychological and Material Reality in Literature Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 26th, 2020

What one person considers his or her reality may not necessarily be the actual reality. Several factors play a central role in the development of a view of reality for different individuals. The most common determinants of the various perspectives of reality are social, geographical, temporal, ethical, racial, sexual, and cultural contexts. These factors form attitudes that individuals adopt from their childhood. Most of the time people are forced to accept realities that differ with their beliefs. Material reality is the tangible existence of something, and many people agree with its existence. On the other hand, psychological reality only exists in the mind of every individual: it is what one believes to be correct. This paper specifically explores the contrast between material and psychological reality of the main characters in a Death in Venice, Death of Ivan Ilych, Punishment and the Tattooer as influenced by social class, geographical location, and temporal contexts.

The effect of the temporal effect is evident in the central themes of a Death in Venice. These central topics are homosexuality and obsession with beauty. Precisely, Aschenbach is obsessed with the beauty of a young Polish boy to the extent of accepting to die of cholera. He does not leave town even when he knows there is an outbreak of cholera. He stays around and stares at the boy whenever he comes out to play: “He felt a sudden, strange expansion of his inner space, rambling unrest, a youthful thirst for a faraway place, a feeling so intense…” (Mann 89). This statement shows how he feels when he first sees the boy. This obsession with beauty was a common theme in the 20th Century Romanticism.

Therefore, Aschenbach is a typical 20th-Century character. He suppresses his sexual attraction to the boy because homosexuality was considered immoral in the 20th-Century. He cannot openly show it because it is not allowed in the society and might shame him before members of his class (Mann 83). He belongs to the German high class and would rather suppress his sexual desires than lose respect. He disguises his attraction to Tadzio in artistic love for esthetics. His psychological reality contrasts with his material reality such that he does not practice his homosexuality just because of his class and the social attitudes at the time.

In Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilych, contrary to his psychological reality, Ilych is obsessed with decency and decorum for the purpose of fitting in the class of aristocrats. He also looks for a wife to marry because his position as a legal officer demands that he marries. Worse still, he is preoccupied with material possession. He buys a house and paints it like the aristocrats (Tolstoy 760). Therefore, his material reality does not agree with his psychological reality. He does not believe in decorum and marriage but does them because his class demands them. Because of this difference in reality, he ends up forgetting about his family. Eventually, he becomes ill, and this is the time he realizes his mistakes in his perception of reality: he realizes that the most important virtues in life are love and compassion. He dies before actualizing his psychological reality.

The effects of social class, geographical and temporal contexts on the understanding of reality are also evident in Ichiro’s the Tattooer. The Japanese consider tattoos as marks of class. Therefore, everybody wants his or her body tattooed in order to identify with his or her colleagues. Apart from class, the work also depicts the Japanese perception of women as men’s property. In the story, Seikichi captures the young woman and makes her his slave, whom he intends to use as a masterpiece canvas for tattooing. Seikichi’s psychological and material reality develops from the Japanese view of women and the 20th-Century obsession with beauty. He is always preoccupied with the need for a beautiful masterpiece: “For a long time, Seikichi had cherished the desire to create a masterpiece on the skin of a beautiful woman” (Jun’ Ichiro 81). He does not rest until when he finds the woman he believes has the qualities he wants. There is also a contrast between his psychological reality and his material reality. Many people think he feels happy when he sees the beauty he creates as everybody does. However, he feels happy when his customers feel the pain of his needles.

Tagore’s Punishment is also not deficient of the contrast between psychological and material reality as influenced by geographical and temporal contexts. In the story, Chandara believes one should love his or her marriage partner more than his or her brother. However, the reality in their community is that one can marry another wife but cannot get another brother (Tagore 895). She refuses to see her husband before her execution after discovering the material reality in her community. Instead, she prefers seeing her mother. The temporal effect is also evident in the story. At the time Tagore wrote the story, men respected fellow men more than they respected women. However, Chandara decides to follow her psychological reality, which is against the traditions of the time. She ignores her husband’s advice and confesses to having killed Radha.

The different works used in this essay show contrast between characters’ psychological reality and material reality as influenced by social class, geographical set up and time setting. These forces shape the understanding of reality by the main characters in these works. Aschnebac, Seikichi, Illych and Chandara are all good case studies of the contrast between material and psychological reality.

Works Cited

Jun’ Ichiro, Tanizaki. “The Tattooer.” The Norton Anthology, World Literature. n.p. : 80-84. Print.

Mann, Thomas. “Death in Venice.” The Norton Anthology, World Literature. n.p. 87- 114. Print.

Tagore, Rabindranath. “The Punishment.” The Norton Anthology, World Literature. n.p. 893-899. Print.

Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilych.” The Norton Anthology, World Literature. n.p. 735-778. Print.

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