Short story The Blow by a prominent Australian author J.M. Coetzee presents a broad philosophical perspective to the reader. Intertextuality is a permanent characteristic of the narrative and it finds its reflection in relating to a range of works by great thinkers and lyric poets, like Plato, Descartes and Dickinson.
The protagonist of the short story, Paul Rayment, loses his leg in an accident and cannot take care of himself anymore, which is a terrible burden both physically and especially mentally. Due to it he grows to understanding that he is not even afraid of death; he is indifferent to his future. It is the view of death that unites this modern short story with Apology by Plato. Besides, the ancient Greek philosopher and the contemporary Australian writer have a person linking them together – a great thinker Socrates. Thus, in the text of The Blow there are direct references, for example, mentioning of Socrates and his views on life which have parallels with the situation of the main character. Apology is, actually, Plato’s variant of Socrates’ speech at the court in his own defense. Socrates tried to explain the phenomenon of his wisdom and remained convinced that his partly hedonistic, partly truly reasonable approach to life is the right one even after censuring. The same thing cannot be told about Rayment, who was rather an uncertain man devoid of any illusions of youth, for his beliefs formed only after the crucial turn of his destiny. If Socrates was wise from the very beginning (although denying this fact), Paul became a thinker only after the accident. The latter formed new life priorities in his mind: love, caring and selflessness must prevail in the happy life. However, one should conclude that in the case of The Blow protagonist this new understanding of things is occasional and personal, while the beliefs of Socrates set in Plato’s Apology are universal.
Rayment’s life situation gave him time and opportunity to reassess his being. Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes deal with human perception and cognition. In this work the great French thinker also tries to provide proofs for the existence of God. The latter is connected with the notion of truth, which finds its reflection in the Fourth Meditation. Contemplating about truth and error applicable to the way of life is inevitable when a turning point of existence arrives, as it happened to the short story protagonist. Descartes, as well as Plato, proves the importance of self-perfection in his Fourth Meditation. This work on the inner world is crucial for Rayment, for the injury opens his eyes to the life he used to lead as a healthy person. Physical frames built by the amputation really make the man pay more attention to the soul captured in these limitations. Transcending Rayments experience on the mind set of Descartes, one might state that he has an injured will, he is an atheist, and nevertheless, he wants to know how to distinguish truth from error, for his peculiar situation urges him to do so. It only takes place at a more mundane and practical level than the philosopher suggests. Thus, two texts have a kind of a common layer.
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Accident is always a belief-turning experience. If prior to it Rayment was afraid to die – as well as any normal person does – after it, having accustomed himself to the thought that a physical injury is not the end of the world, the personage starts to search for reasons to stay alive, and in the end decides that love can be one of such things. Thus, death in solitude becomes his fear. Regarding this, parallels with Plato’s dialogue Phaedo can be traced. The Greek philosopher argues that true understanding of things can be achieved only after death, for body is sinful, and the ultimate truth relies on soul. This view is rather idealistic. The protagonist of The Blow is more down-to-earth in his judgments. At first his personal tragedy leaves him desperate, but later, unlike Plato, he does not want to retreat to the convenient persuasion that physical life is not worth living altogether, thus should be disregarded.
However, it should be said that the fictional character and the prominent figure, who actually lived, share several things in common. One of them is persuasion that people should strive for becoming better. Only the ways of coming to this understanding differ in the two cases. It is the accident that showed Paul that his life and actions were not the embodiment of perfection, and the tragic experience gave him strength to improve his being. Plato does not resemble Rayment because he came to this understanding on his own; it was only the result of his reflection. Attitude to beauty is also similar for both men: it is understood as something unconditional and self-sufficient, something that makes the soul better. Newfound beauty of life, embodied in taking care of another person, once again proves the fear of Rayment to die alone.
Master of a word Emily Dickinson reveals her interpretation of some crucial feelings in her poetry. The secondary interpretation – the one performed by the reader – allows discovering new aspects, especially what concerns poetry. Exultation Is the Going, with all its specific references, reflects Rayment’s situation in a better way than “Hope” Is the Thing with Feathers does. Paul does not seem a very hopeful person at the beginning, this “bird” begins to “flutter in his chest” only in dénouement. The first mentioned poem is connected to the situation of Rayment by the hardly discernible element of novelty, of a certain change in the flow of things. Dickinson argues that it might be hard to perceive certain new things when the previous life dealt with something opposite to them. No doubt, it is hard for Paul to change his assessment of his deeds and thoughts, however, time and people surrounding him become of help.
Simple and one-lateral as it may seem, The Blow by J.M. Coetzee is much more than just a short story. The plot of it is very personal; nevertheless, it ascends to universal understandings of the world and emotions, proved by the connection with other works of literature.
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