The metaphorical tree of choice diverges into selfishness and selfness, two opposing adjectives representing the range of morality. Many individuals strive to embody righteousness, yet their own desires and self-interest often hinder their progress towards this goal. It is crucial to make selfless decisions, as they not only impact ourselves but also those around us. Unfortunately, people are only willing to make small sacrifices for others, resulting in the domination of the selfish side of the spectrum over the selfless side. The complexity of human beings makes it challenging to comprehend the entirety of our race’s nature. Nevertheless, through reading, we can enter the imaginative worlds of others, gaining a better understanding of different perspectives and views. To truly grasp the intricacies of humanity, it is beneficial to read multiple short stories that offer varying viewpoints. These diverse narratives can intersect, revealing certain themes and imparting valuable lessons. The characters in the short stories “A Retrieved Reformation” and “Button, Button” both face difficult decisions despite their contrasting backgrounds. While Jimmy Valentine’s choice is selfless, Norma’s decision leans towards selfishness. By lying on opposite ends of the spectrum of morality, their choices yield different outcomes.Both stories depict the theme that selfless choices lead to more positivity than selfish ones, despite their different outcomes. Additionally, these characters’ decisions emphasize that their pasts do not have to dictate their futures.
Despite his criminal past as a crook and his expertise in stealing from safes, Jimmy Valentine’s selfless act of saving Agatha reveals a transformation in his morals, as he no longer harbors the evil that once consumed him. This act of selflessness has a positive outcome. His love for Annabel plays a pivotal role in changing his seemingly unchangeable ways. Furthermore, Jimmy’s proficiency in manufacturing his own tools highlights his dedication to his illicit activities, showcasing his skillfulness. However, his love for Annabel triumphs over his past misdeeds. By rescuing Agatha, Jimmy demonstrates the disappearance of his deceitful nature. Although this decision does not directly benefit him, he chooses to act for the betterment of others. Such a decision requires not only sacrificing his newly acquired identity but also the love of his life, Annabel. Jimmy makes this decision without hesitation, but asks Annabel to provide him with her rose as a keepsake.
Jimmy’s unconditional love for Annabel is symbolized by this memento, but the rose will soon wilt away. After Jimmy puts it in his vest pocket, takes off his coat, and rolls up his shirt sleeves, Ralph D. Spencer passes away, as does Jimmy’s connection with Annabel (Henry 36). All of Jimmy’s sacrifices cause damage to his own life. His willingness to endure pain for others shows his selfless character. These sacrifices prove that Jimmy’s transformation was genuine, and even Ben Price believes that Jimmy’s wrong life has turned right and stayed that way (“A Retrieved Reformation”). Ben gives Jimmy a second chance, which turns out to be a positive outcome in hindsight. This also presents new opportunities for Jimmy, which is better than the everlasting guilt of allowing a young child to die.
Despite Norma’s average lifestyle, she makes a selfish decision that leads to a devastating outcome: the death of her innocent husband. Norma’s attempt to justify the death of another human being fails because every human life is equally valuable, whether it’s an “old Chinese peasant ten thousand miles away … [or a] diseased native in the Congo” (Matheson 592). By considering pushing the button and ultimately killing her husband, Norma reveals her true egotistic personality. Her lack of morals and corrupt thoughts demonstrate a lack of respectable character. Norma’s unethical behavior and excessive greed result in the selfish choice to end another human’s life for money. The death of Arthur is a horrifying consequence of Norma’s actions. Every day, Norma will have to live with the fact that she killed her husband, causing emotional turmoil. Her insanity takes over as she frantically smashes the box “on the sink edge” and injures herself in the process (Matheson 594). Not only does Norma harm her own husband, but her selfish actions also negatively impact her own well-being. In other words, her selfish decision harms herself as well. If she can somehow endure this intense mental strain, she may regain clear judgment free from greed.
The day Norma’s delusion vanishes, it will signify the end of her past’s influence on her future. Only after recovering from this ordeal will she be able to grow as a person and make selfless choices. Despite Jimmy Valentine’s criminal background and Norma being an ordinary person, the “criminal” opts for selflessness while the “normal” individual chooses selfishness; this decision not only teaches us the superiority of selfless decisions but also demonstrates that our history doesn’t have to dictate our present. Terrifyingly, “Button, Button” portrays a typical family, aligning with most fantasy fiction stories where ordinary individuals discover underlying terror within reality’s familiar and comfortable facade; this strengthens the reader’s connection with Norma, as common people like her are easily relatable (Matheson). Jimmy previously engaged in bank robberies, law evasion, and various other misdeeds. Despite his morally wayward past, he still makes a more humanitarian choice than Norma, an average person. Instead of letting our past control us, we should employ previous experiences to enhance our character and improve decision-making abilities. Yesterday’s darkness does not dictate tomorrow’s brightness.
Although history is unchangeable, our individual personalities and beliefs have the ability to evolve, as demonstrated by Jimmy in the story. This transformation becomes evident when Jimmy writes a letter to an old friend stating that he no longer engages in dishonest behavior (Henry 35). We have the power to shape our own destinies, much like molding clay into any desired form. Both “A Retrieved Reformation” and “Button, Button” are entertaining tales; however, upon closer examination, they offer valuable lessons and themes. Humans have a natural inclination towards selfishness, as seen in the character of Norma, but this inherent quality can be overcome. Change is essential for living a healthy life and developing better character. The transformation of Jimmy from a mischievous person to a loving fiancée exemplifies this idea. While Jimmy and Norma are fictional characters from the past, their stories still resonate in our lives today and help us understand the complexity of human nature. Making poor choices does not define one’s character entirely; rather, becoming a better person requires reflecting on past decisions and being open to change. By doing so, we can move away from the selfish side of morality and bring about positive change for humanity.