Liberating Axe of Literature

This is a reflection essay I wrote for my Interpreting Literature class during my second year of college. The prompt was to explain Franz Kafka’s quote and relate it with what we’ve read from the book Sula by Toni Morrison. Also, we were to connect our interpretation of the quote with our own experiences.

Novelist and short story writer Franz Kafka believes that, ”A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us”. What he meant by this is that it is necessary for readers to only read books that deeply impact us and not those that will not wake us up with a blow. Inside each and every human being, there is a frozen sea and there are essential instruments that we need to discover in order to liberate this within each of us. To Kafka, reading a book that does not liberate its readers from this frozen sea is useless. What readers need to do is to read literature that will reveal to us something that can impact our outlook of life and change the way we live. A book that we have read in class that has been an axe for the frozen sea within me is Toni Morrison’s book, Sula. Sula has awakened me to the idea that the best kind of life is one in which I have control instead of one that is controlled by society.

Throughout the book, two characters named Sula and Nel seemed like two opposite people, yet bonded so well together as if they were one. Nel grew up in a conventional home, while Sula grew up in a promiscuous family. I feel more connected towards Nel in this story because I too grew up in a conventional home with expectations for almost every part of my life. Throughout the book, however, I was more attracted toward Sula’s character. Sula’s character, to me, is admiring because she did not let any person or circumstance get in the way of how she wanted to live.

Of course, I disagree with a lot of things that she had done such as sleeping around and watching her mother die without helping her, yet Sula’s attitude toward life is liberating. Certainly, I will not go around and do what ever I desire with the intention of harming people, but Sula’s character inspires me to not be too caught up on the type of life that I am and am not supposed to live according to others.
Growing up in a strict family, I am expected to focus only on my studies and nothing else. While I understand the importance of grades and GPA, there are so many opportunities available for me to partake in in order to grow as a person and make a change in the world. A few times during my college life, I volunteered in a refugee-befriending program and participated in rallies in support of the undocumented community. Not only was my family displeased with the extracurricular activities that I have done apart from studying, they also greatly dislike the social issues that I believe in and stand for. They actually forced me to stop what I was doing because, according to them, it was a waste of my time. To them, what I did was an act of rebellion, while in reality, I pursued what made me happy, knowing that I was able to support and make a difference my community. To my parents, I am not like my two sisters who completely focused only on their studies in order to graduate college and are now in the medical field. All of my family members spent a majority of their lives in the Philippines and I am the only one who is attaining an education here in America. The conventional belief in my culture is to focus only on studies in order obtain a good paying job, buy a house, and raise a family. Just as Nel eventually gave in to the conventional belief of just becoming a housewife at a young age, I gave in to what my family wanted and stopped fighting for what I truly desire. In the context of time in which Sula was written, marriage symbolizes the reduction of possibilities and as for my own life, attending college merely to earn good grades reduces possible real life learning experiences.

Reading Sula is such a liberating axe of literature because as I got to read more about Sula’s personality, I envied her and wanted that type of attitude towards life. When Eva asked her when she will be married so she can have children to settle her down, Sula replied, “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself” (39). Reading this line motivates me to say the similar thing to whoever forces me to follow conventions that I do not want to live. I own my own life and the decisions I make should be my own. Growing into the person I want to be is more important than growing into what my family or society wants me to be.

Yet another awakening aspect of this book is the fact that Sula reflected on her life without regret. As she was dying, Sula remembers when her mother burned to dead and reflected that Hanna left the world as a ball of fire after living her life to the fullest-the way she pleased. Sula did not regret dying because she felt that she had lived her life with the greatest experiences she could have gotten from life, just like her mother. In my life, I have plenty of regrets. Most of those are things that I did not do and things that I could have done better. I want to have the same way of thinking as Sula before she died, with no regrets and have lived her life with nothing she could have changed. The only way not to have regrets in life is to change one’s outlook of life. Sula’s believed that she never betrayed herself because she refused to conform to what society expected of her. I can learn from that and live in a way that does not betray my own self. People hated Sula for being different yet did not care and as for me, my family dislikes certain beliefs that I have, but as long as I do not harm anyone, I should not mind them either.

While Sula’s character mostly impacted my life in the way that Kafka described regarding the frozen sea symbolism, Nel also provoked certain emotions within me that caused me to really reflect on my life. As I have stated earlier, I feel like I am a lot like Nel because we share a similar family background. While reading the book and discussing it in class, I realized that I am a lot more like Nel than I initially thought. Nel believed that she was the ‘good’ half of the relationship between her and Sula. In the end, when Nel had a talk with Eva, she realized that she had been wrong with unfairly judging Sula. In reality, both of them, even though one of them is perceived as the good and the other as the bad, are actually incomparable. Before this realization, Nel felt better about herself because she seemed like the better person. In my own life, I realize that have a tendency to justify my wrongs by saying that at least I am not like others who do worse things. Towards the end of this book, I realized that I am a lot like Nel in this aspect. I personally believe that I have a great potential, but upon reading this, I feel disgusted that this is how I have been thinking. If I will become an exceptional person, why in the world will I justify my wrongs by comparing myself to other people’s wrongs? Instead, I should reflect on my wrong doings and compare those with the people who are successful, the type of people I want to be. By doing so, I will be motivated to not repeat the same mistakes in order to become a better person.

Toni Morrison’s Sula is definitely an axe for the frozen sea within me because it allowed me to realize the negative personalities that I posses that I did not know of and awakened me to the fact that I had been weak all along. I have not been strong enough to go against the conventions that I am forced to live, which means that, in a way, I gave up part of my life to the people who want me to live a certain way. Sula was not like this at all. Though she had her flaws and faults, she was completely in charge of her life.

I agree with Kakfa’s belief that we should be reading books that affect us and awaken something within us. Life is a lot shorter than we think it is and every chance we get, we should always strive to learn. Even from reading, whether it is a long novel or a short poem, it should produce a positive outcome because as human beings, we should always strive to be the best person we can be. I believe the people we surround ourselves with should also be the same. The people we are closest to should influence us in a beneficial way because life already throws us many inevitable, unfortunate battles. What is important for us to carry in our everyday lives is the axe that brings out the best in us in what ever we do.

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