FEAR: A GOOD OR BAD THING?
A whole new environment was thrown at the young boy all of a sudden. He had never seen such different people, or so many people altogether. He had reached high school. Before this, he had gone to a small public school, which only consisted of about the number of people in one class in high school, and some classes even surpassed the amount in the entire school. He wasn’t sure what to do, where to go; his mind was in a state of blankness. His palms were sweating, along with the rest of his body because of all the beautiful girls he had never seen before; in addition, to make all these matters worse, he was a shy guy.
This quiet young man decided to face the facts: he was going to be attending this school for four years, so he might as well make the best of the time being. He didn’t know where to start making a good impression, so he started in the classroom. He was intimidated because he had heard the classes were much more arduous compared to the ones in elementary and middle school, but he finally gave it a shot. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, “fear is the anxiety caused by real or possible danger, pain, etc.; fright.” There is a gargantuan amount of people who would like to avoid fear altogether, but it is a part of life and without it, life would be extremely boring. The fear people endure can be perceived positively because it can help people do things they never thought of doing; on the other hand, it can deter them from achieving the goals they have set for themselves. This notion is shown in the following pieces of work: The Great
Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, and Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
Since the beginning of time, fear has been accompanying everybody that has walked on this planet and maybe even on other ones. As H.P. Lovecraft puts it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear” (www.phobialist.com/fears). This quote reveals how everything people do is based on how strong the fear in somebody actually is, this determines if they are able to go out and achieve their goal, or just pay attention to the fear and “chicken out.” Fear can and should be conquered because it is the only thing hampering anybody from doing what he or she wants. Without fear, people would be able to do anything they want, which would allow people to achieve their goals.
There are times that seem too impossible, too difficult to overcome, but all it is is fear holding people back in order to make one not achieve the objectives one has. As time flies by, everybody experiences these types of situations, even simultaneously. For example, in the dark trenches of the Great Depression, the nation as a whole, along with the president, was going through rough times. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his inaugural presidential speech relating to fear. It states, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” (www.phobialist.com/fears). Everything F.D.R. states in his speech, is absolutely true because in order to do something, all someone has to do is conquer their fear; therefore, the
only thing one has to try not having is fear because without it, whomever wants to do something could.
As in the lives of any human, the characters of books also go through situations that contain fear. These fears in them will either make them do something, or it can stop them from taking any action at all. In The Great Gatsby, many of the characters take part in many situations where their fear is brought out. One of the main examples of this, is when Daisy Fay gets “as drunk as a monkey” (Fitzgerald, 74) the day before her wedding with Tom Buchanan. She gets drunk because she had just received a letter from her former lover, Jay Gatsby, and she fears the marriage taking place the following day will be the biggest mistake of her life. Daisy’s fear shows how someone’s fear can stop one from doing something. Later Daisy overcame the fact that she has certain feelings for Jay, and is now ready to commit to someone else. This example also reveals how fear can change from being an obstruction in the way to a clear passage without anything in sight.
Throughout The Great Gatsby, one of the main characters that endure the mental strain of fear is Jay Gatsby. He has to go through the anxiety of not being able to see his “lover,” Daisy. Once Jay finds out where Daisy lives, he immediately buys a mansion across the bay from where Daisy lives. From his front yard he sees a green light on the dock of Daisy’s house. Every time Jay sees this light it reminds him of Daisy, which just makes him take more actions to get Daisy back. This green light is like a traffic signal
because it tells Jay that his fear is still proceeding in him, and as long as Jay lets it symbolize this, he will never achieve his dream. Once Jay has “conquered” his fear, this green light will not symbolize anything anymore because it will mean he has “destroyed” his fear and can continue with his life.
After some time, Jay becomes acquainted with Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway. Nick is Jay’s one way ticket to meet her. Jay finally has the guts to ask Jordan Baker, Nick’s lady friend, to ask Nick to invite Daisy to his house for some tea. The day finally comes when Jay is going to meet Daisy, but he is so scared he doesn’t know how to act. She arrives on a rainy day, and Nick goes outside to greet her, while Jay stayed inside the house. Once Nick and Daisy enter the house, Jay is not there, he has disappeared in fright through the back door. All of a sudden, he appears at the front door
“pale as death, with his hands plunged in his coat pockets, standing in a puddle of water” (Fitzgerald, 82). The ugly weather and his paleness show his fear. Jay Gatsby being soaked in rain symbolizes how he is drenched with fear, and cannot dry himself from it any time soon. This example supports how fear can hold one from attaining the things they crave but yet are afraid of doing.
When Jay finally decides to confront his long lost lover, he is scared stiff and really doesn’t know what to do. He pulls Nick to the side and tells him, “This is a terrible mistake, a terrible, terrible mistake” (Fitzgerald, 84). All of Jay’s fear is displayed in this single quotation because he is not ready to confront it; consequently, the fear in him has
stopped him from trying to get Daisy back, which is what he yearns for, at least momentarily. The fear of being wrong has made Jay cease what he was striving for (Daisy) and just pay attention to the fear itself.
Deciding to face his fears, Jay goes into the room where Daisy was, and just gives the relationship another chance. After a small while of reacquainting themselves,
everything was going swell. Gatsby “literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room” (Fitzgerald, 85).
Another notable thing is the weather had changed suddenly; it was now sunny like if no rain had taken place. The change in weather symbolizes how Jay had conquered his fears and was no longer haunted by them. Gatsby’s change of thought shows once again how fear can hold someone back and then suddenly push one forward.
The fears that took place in The Great Gatsby, only slowed down the dreams the people had. They never really hindered the people in achieving what they wanted. Both Daisy’s fear of change and Jay’s fear of being wrong were overcome throughout their own personal lives; consequently, leading to their reunion after so many years. In both cases, the fears each person possessed motivated them to finally make the decision they feared would change their lives forever. These decisions did lead to a dramatic change, but both would say it was worth it.
Fear takes place everywhere, in a person’s life, novels, and it even takes place in plays, such as The Tragedy of Macbeth. In this play, Macbeth is overcome by fear when he hears, from three witches, that he is the Thane of Glamis, going to be Thane of
Cawdor, and later king of Scotland. They also tell his friend, Banquo, that his children are going to be the heirs of the throne for a long time. He is in amazement at what these three evil doers promise him; therefore, he is not afraid of something bad happening, but whether the statements will happen at all. Macbeth thinks to himself about being king, but decides he is not going to do anything in
order to help him become king. The purpose is to show his fearlessness towards the things the witches said. Another thing that can be interpreted from this section is that Macbeth’s fears have made him slow his actions and wait to see what comes up.
After arriving in Forres, where the palace is, and finding out that instead of the king giving Macbeth land for being a war hero, Duncan gave a patch of land to his son, Malcolm, who had done nothing throughout the war. Macbeth became irate because he feared his future of king wouldn’t come true. He announced to himself:
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.
This quote shows how Macbeth is finally fearful of the witches’ predictions not coming true, and he wants to take action to make sure they do. What this is saying is that he feels he might have to kill the heir to the throne, Malcolm, in order to get what he wants. Now Macbeth’s fears have made him take action.
Debating whether he should kill to become the king, Macbeth sends a letter to his wife about the three witches telling him about his future. When his wife receives the letter and finds out what it contains, she says she is going to make sure that Macbeth
becomes king. Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth, also finds out that King Duncan, the king of Scotland, is going to be visiting them. She decides they are going to kill Duncan, once
and for all. When Macbeth is informed of her plans and questions if they are going to succeed, she responds, “We fail?” (Shakespeare, 20). She disputes his authority in the plan, and it shows her fearlessness. Lady Macbeth has disparity when juxtaposed with Macbeth; thus, she is the brain behind the whole murder scenario. If Macbeth would’ve been behind the situation, the murder would’ve never taken place because he has more fear trapped inside of him compared to that of his wife does.
Taking advice from the following quote “Unless you acknowledge your fear, you’ll be powerless” (Ilardo, 41), Macbeth finds the fear of failing and decides to overcome it for the moment. “No longer able to gain a crown without stirring, Macbeth is forced to confront the contingency of immediate and direct action” (Rosen, 69). He accomplishes the task of killing the king. He not only does this and become king, but also decides to kill Banquo and his son because his “fears in Banquo stick deep, and, in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared” (Shakespeare, 39). Macbeth feels Banquo knows too much, and is the only person who can compete with him. Macbeth also feels he has done too much work for Banquo’s children to inherit the throne. He sends two assassins to kill Banquo and Fleance, Banquo’s son. Unfortunately
for Macbeth, the killers only kill Banquo, while Fleance flees the scene. When Macbeth makes decisions, fear does not play a role because he doesn’t care what is going to happen. This example conveys how strong fear is, and how it can propel people to do things that seemed unimaginable before.
Some of these fears make Macbeth act in a crazy manner, literally. After he finds out about Fleance not being killed, he sees Banquo’s ghost appear out of nowhere. He begins talking to the ghost, and his guests think he has gone out of his mind because they
can’t see the ghost. The decisions one makes might not incorporate fear, but these major phobias will hold anybody from accomplishing their goals because they are too great to just be avoided. One must conquer these dominant fears in order to procure what they desire. This shows how fear will make people crazy, if there are too many of them, and also make one do things which were never in mind.
The hopes of Macbeth are heightened when he sends out to kill Macduff’s family, another arch-nemesis. He had been fearing Macduff because he knew Macduff was one of the persons that could impede his progress of total control of Scotland. When
Macduff found out about his family, he became rampageous. His fears were all put aside because he knew he had to do something to Macbeth about his family. Macduff showed he was fearless because he didn’t care who the person that killed his family was, he just went after him as if he were nobody. Not too many people would think of attacking a king before this situation.
Macbeth boasts that he does not fear the invaders because of the assurances of the apparitions of the witches. It is ironic because their “supernatural powers seem certain to help him though in fact they bring him to his doom” (Boyce, 386). Once Macbeth is informed of the truth behind Macduff, he is in shock, and his fears come into play once again. He doesn’t believe it, but he had to fight until his death came in order find out. The fear Macbeth possessed at this instance was the type that makes people do something
they don’t really want, or want to get something over with once and for all. It is showed when he goes off to fight Macduff even though he might get killed, he wants to find out if there is truth behind what Macduff has said.
The fear of failing Macbeth had during his life made him act instantaneously. The other characters in The Tragedy of Macbeth, also retained the same sort of fear that makes people do something they feared at first, but then realized it wasn’t going to help if they just stood around and do nothing; consequently, they decided to act and see what develops from the situation. If it turns out to be either a positive or a negative, there was at least the mentality to do something.
After reading the other novel and play, the book with the most fear was Cry, the Beloved Country, where the protagonist, Stephen Kumalo, goes to look for his family in a completely different environment from where his family originated. Stephen’s fear of not having his family by his side makes him act quickly, so he can find his missing family. He doesn’t really care what is out there waiting for him in the foreign setting, as long as he gets his family back. Stephen never dreamed of leaving his small village.
Even though there is crime, violence, and hate where Stephen is going, he puts all that aside and concentrates on what his goal is. This reveals how the fear for someone’s health and lives can make people do something they’ve never done before because the love inside for a person is too strong to ignore; therefore, it makes people act on their instincts and beliefs.
Stephen is not the only person who has fear imbedded in him, but all the people who live in the small village of Ndotsheni, Stephen’s home, also carry this fear. Their fear is of being trapped in the village without anything to eat, since the farmlands are not
producing what they have before; therefore, they seek another place that will provide the necessary materials to live happily. The place most people find is Johannesburg, which is
a metropolis containing everything (jobs, crime, violence, money, corruption, etc.). Unfortunately for the people of the small villages, they only see the good things. When they arrive, they finally notice the other side of these colossal cities, and their fear of not achieving anything grows once again. This fear makes them do actions that are inappropriate to anybody in the world. Once again, fear makes people do things that they are unsure of, and just want something to happen for them.
Another example of fear in this book is one of the actions taken by Absalom Kumalo, son of Stephen. The action taken by this young man is one that shouldn’t be committed by anybody; he unfortunately killed a man. Absalom tells his father when they meet for the first time in many years, “I told them I was frightened when the white man came. So I shot him. I did not mean to kill him” (Paton, 98). This action was
brought on by the fear implanted in him. His fear made him do something he didn’t really want to do, which was to shoot the revolver in his hands. The fear that makes you do something will be considered wrong depending on the result of the situation. In Absalom’s case, it will be considered wrong because the outcome was the death of a person.
One of the major fears pointed out by the author is the “fear of bondage and the bondage of fear” (Paton, 277). The author is saying that the people are scared of being trapped for so long, but yet when they receive their freedom, they will not know what to do because they are scared of what could happen if they do anything at all. This type of fear is the one that holds people back from doing things they really want. If all people would have this fear, the world would be an extremely dull place to live in because the
people would never like to do anything exciting, which would also mean the people would never achieve their purpose in life.
As mentioned above, the fear inserted in a person can be considered positive or negative depending on the situation. If the situation is for the better of the person and
his/her life, then fear will be considered good. If the situation does something that is wrong and the result is negative, fear is considered bad. Fear will sometimes make one do things that will help them, but sometimes they’ll hold the people back. As long as there is fear, there will be situations considered good and others considered bad. Fear should be destroyed or at least controlled for certain moments in order to get what they want or have been striving for (as long as the decision is a morally correct one; no killing,
violence, etc.). As in the examples above, the boy reaching high school has now known how to control his fears. The fear he once had of being publicly exposed has now diminished. Along with the characters mentioned, his fears have led to more action than holding back, which can turn out good or bad, but as long as one conquers their fears slowly but surely, then it’s all good.
Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Dell Publishing, 1990. Pgs. 386-394
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1925
Ilardo, Joseph. Risk-Taking for Personal Growth. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications Inc. 1992. Pgs. 41-42
Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987
Rosen, William. Shakespeare and the Craft of Tragedy. Cambridge, Massachsetts: President and Fellows of Harvard College Publication. 1960. Pgs. 52-103
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. New York: Washington Square Press Publication. 1959
Webster’s New World Dictionary. Warner Books, 1990