Straying from Reality
Imagine the worst things that could ever happen to you have become a reality. Theres no way out of it, theres no way around it, and you cant handle it. You mentally begin to deteriorate, and in the festering process, you develop an illusion world. In essence, youre lying to yourself, so extensively that you completely not only believe, but also live, your lies as the truth. This scenario sounds unreal, but is as much of a reality as it gets for many characters we find in American literature. This is not abnormal because all human beings inclined to escape from reality any way they can through self-delusion. In the early to mid-twentieth century, as readers, we begin to encounter literary figures that deny their realities and in the process, face severe consequences that alter all of their lives.
First we come across Dorothy Parkers unnamed female character in The Waltz. From the first few lines, I dont want to dance with him. I dont want to dance with anybody. And even if I did, it wouldnt be him, (1462) to the close I didnt know what trouble was, before I got drawn into this danse macabre, (1465) the womans thoughts of how she hates dancing eat away at her throughout the song. She analyzes every little nitpicky detail, contribution to her own irrationality and possibly even craziness. In reality, dancing with someone is not usually a big deal. It is typically a mindless action that people generally enjoy. However, Parkers character overanalyzes the situation to the point that she contemplates killing her dancing partner (1463).
Next James Thurbers character Walter Mitty is presented to us in the story of the title character. Mitty is your typical husband like in every sitcomshrinking, oblivious and without a clue as to what is going on. Only difference is Mitty is unhappy with his current lifestyle and escapes into the memory of his days in the service. Thinking he is in his old Navy craft, he speeds down the highway at 55 mph until his wife cries out at his, then ridiculous, speed (1474). Mittys nagging wife and stressful life as a physician cause him to escape to this world that only still exsists in the halls of Mittys mind.
The next two characters we look at are perhaps the most severe in supporting our thesis. Willy Loman from Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman is maybe one of the best candidates from convincing himself that the truth is untrue and his thought up falsehoods hold great validity. Willy even goes as far as convincing his own two sons that Willys truths, and not actual reality, are what they should believe to be true. Biff, Willys son, goes to ask Bill Oliver for money to start his business. Biff goes into Olivers office convinced that he himself was once a salesman for Oliver, when, in reality, he was just a shipping clerk. When Biff realized the decaying status of Willys mental state, he lashes out, You fake! You phony little fake! You fake! (1975).
Finally we encounter John Cheevers Swimmer, Neddy Merril. It is not even until the middle of the story that we see there is more to it than just a man wanting to swim across the county through everyones pools. We are under the impression that Merril is a wealthy and successful family man, with a wife and four beautiful daughters. Later we learn that Merril has convinced himself that he is still welcome everywhere, before the fall of his financial status, and that he still is just a wealthy, just as popular and just as welcomed. We see otherwise. Grace Biswanger says, as Merril lets himself into her backyard, Why this party has everything, including a gate crasher (1868). This signifies that he was not wanted. Also, he visits his old mistress, Shirley Adams, and immediately she tells him she will not give him any more money, and then asks him to leave (1867).
Not only do many of these characters use past memories to escape reality, but also they are the cause of their own ruins. Parkers dancer drives herself crazy over one little dance, Mitty escapes into his old glory days, which he is convinced is his present, Willys self-delusion causes his suicide, and Merrils lying to himself brings him home to just an empty house. All these characters share the common link of dodging reality into their own, individual versions of blatant craziness, all of which eventually cause each respective character to mentally decline.