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Throughout our world today, there is a handful of concepts upon which our lives are concretely built upon. Unfortunately, not all of these concepts are ones that are pleasant. Our lives are saturated with these concepts, whether it be within our daily lives, the books we read, the media we are exposed to.
For this essay, I will be tackling a concept, which I’ve found extremely important and recurring throughout the readings that we’ve read through during class. The concept under study takes the name of unhappiness. Throughout all of the texts we’ve familiarized ourselves with this semester, it immediately became apparent that unhappiness was present and imminent as a concept; whether it was the unhappiness of characters, unhappy atmospheres and situations, or combinations of both.
For my analysis, I’ve chosen to study 2 of the texts which we’ve completed during our course; ‘Wild Thorns’ by Sahar Khalifa, and ‘Chicken with Plums’ by Marjane Satrapi. The reason behind my choice for both these texts is that within their characters I was able to unlock a deep resonant well of emotions, conflict, revelations, and events, in which the concept of unhappiness has weaved itself.
To begin with, we have a series of interesting events and occurrences in Wild Thorns, which clearly demonstrate my analysis. I’ve found both arguable protagonists Adil and Usama to be applicable to the theme I’ve chosen. First and foremost, Usama, right off the bat, is a whole concoction of emotion and passion, which later are a large part of the motivating reasons for his actions and the climax events of the story. Usama, from the beginning of his adventure, has extremely high expectations of everything; his people, his family and friends, the situation under the occupation, and ultimately, himself. Throughout the novel, we are subject to a number of times where Usama explicitly expresses his disgust and disappointment in those things whether it is mental thought, verbal speech, or actions. In one-way or another, I believe this to be Usama’s largest source of unhappiness; the fact that he comes back to his home to find so many things have changed in ways in which he never would have expected. He comes back to Palestine after a long period of living abroad and such, to find the occupation has taken stronger grips than before. While perhaps this is not what disappointed him, he was shocked, disgusted, angry, and disappointed by the state in which his ‘people’ had accepted the occupation and given up. The first example we get of Usama’s intense range of emotions is while he is in the taxi, taking him to his town from the border (p.23). In this scene, Usama gets into a heated argument with one of the men in the taxi. He voices his feelings of disappointment and distaste at the state in which the situation is.
The second, and perhaps more important passage within the book resides when Usama and Adil are in a café where they have to deal with a childhood friend by the name of Shehadeh. He has worked in the Israeli factories and has therefore self-proclaimed himself better than the others. The third passage I chose in the novel to portray his unhappiness is the climax (in my opinion) resides throughout pages 180-185, where Usama and Zuhdi both are killed during the bombing of the busses. Here, Usama perhaps realizes that his emotions were blinding him from the true beauties and truths of life, and he perhaps wakes up from his coma of unhappiness and disappointment.
As I am subject to limitations for this essay, I found it best to move on from Usama and delve into his counterpart, and cousin, Adil. Adil is Usama’s cousin, and he has a long, painful history of unhappiness and discontent. To begin with, Adil has been in Palestine ever since the occupation began, he never left; unlike Usama. Upon inspection I’ve found it worthwhile to compare both cousins to each other using different aspects for different purposes. While intersecting their comparisons with the purpose of this essay, I’ve found that they are extremely similar, yet extremely different at the same time. They are the same in the sense that both Adil and Usama share a deep, emotion-driven, and strong feeling of unhappiness, which can be interpreted as other emotions as well, such as disappointment, or dissatisfaction. They both have a sense of duty; they both hate the state of the occupation in which their beloved home country resides. However, this is where their differences matter.
The one, main, big difference I’ve found between them is their level of conviction, which in turn affects their level of willingness and motivation for doing what they believe is right. Adil’s unhappiness is more or less similar in nature to Usama’s, however, he is more verbal about it, rather than expressive through his actions. Life under the situation has certainly made his existence an unhappy and dreary one. This can be seen very clearly throughout the novel, especially in a few select passages. One of the clearest in which we see Adil’s unhappiness lies on page 61 of the novel, where Adil has ‘had a few drinks’. It is a pretty logical concept that when a person drinks alone, said person is usually trying to escape from something. While under the influence, Adil begins to monologue, dissing life and speaking of its horrible conditions until an equally unhappy Usama confronts him, where they later have another argument. Personally, I found it extremely hard not to expand into Adil’s nature of unhappiness, as it extremely complicated and intricate. He has so much pain and emotion within him, yet throughout most of the novel, he hides them and pretends to be almost careless. For this particular reason, I’ve decided not to include any more particular passages, rather comment on his overall persona and character.
The third and final form of unhappiness comes in the form of Nasser Ali Khan, the main protagonist from Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Chicken with Plums’. I’ve decided to base my analysis, however, off of the movie adaptation of Satrapi’s picture novel, which we watched in class. This is because I felt Nasser Ali’s character was better presented and more efficiently built than in the drawings. As well as, his unhappiness portrayed in a clearer manner.
The entire story revolves around Nasser Ali looking to replace his instrument, which was broken by his wife. Upon finding that no one other instrument is doing the job sufficiently, he decides to die. And in the next 7 days, we are subject to emotions, visits from relatives and old friends, and flashbacks into the past. In the end, it turns out that Nasser Ali had been in love with a girl names Iran, a girl whom he could not have. And throughout his entire life as a musician, he was (in my opinion) playing his music with so much passion, emotion, and feeling as a kind of dedication for his love to her, despite being married. At the beginning of the movie, a scene is played where he bumps into her, and she does not recognize her. At the end, it shows the full scene, where she only pretends not to know him and then collapses behind a wall after parting ways with him. It is then made clearer that upon meeting her, he was expecting her to remember him, and when she did not, he, in one way or another, lost the will to live. This absence of the will to live was beautifully portrayed in his slow decline in health and his dissatisfaction with playing music anymore, as his music was his sole reminder of her, and she was his reason to keep going. Nasser Ali’s unhappiness is similar to both Adil’s and Usama’s in Wild Thorns, while maybe not in circumstance, but in nature. He, like both other characters, based their decisions off of their unrealistically high expectations, and therefore, they were let down, causing them to act rashly and unconventionally. Nasser Ali’s coping mechanism (so it seems to me) came to him in the form of his music. He was able to play the most beautiful tunes so naturally because –the way I see it- he was merely showing the world a reflection of what resided within him. His music, his coping mechanism, was also in a way a way of suppressing his sadness. It felt like he was almost denying his emotions in order not to feel them. As if had he not denied his emotions, he wouldn’t have been able to deal with the strain and pressure of his sadness and pain, and he might’ve been in too much pain to go on.
As mentioned before, I am subject to limitations throughout this essay, which is why I cannot expand as much as I would like and delve into each and every character in depth. However, just by briefly studying these three protagonists, I have managed to extract not only a pattern, but also perhaps a main point within this pattern that can also be interpreted as causation for the pattern. The pattern is obviously unhappiness, and the main point that causes this pattern is the unreasonably high expectations set by those who are unhappy. Whether they are of themselves, of others, or even of universal concepts such as love, these high expectations were ultimately the main contributing reason behind all three of our characters’ unhappiness. And while their unhappiness wasn’t identical, it all revolved around unachieved, dissatisfied expectations.
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