The Myth of Perfection

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The Myth of PerfectionAdam BenzanBlock HPerfection is a much sought-after quality, yet is completely impossible toobtain. Because we do not have a clear definition of what perfection truly is,when a person attempts to become “perfect”, they are usually transforming intowhat seems to be perfect to . In both “A Doll’s House” and “The Metamorphosis”,we see that human beings cannot achieve a state of total perfection. WhenGregor Samsa, from “the Metamorphosis”, attempts to be the perfect provider thathis family expects him to be, he inadvertently turns his life into an insectoidexistence. Likewise, when Nora from “A Doll’s House” tries to live up to herhusband’s expectations of a perfect wife, she builds up enough self-hate toleave everything that she loves and start an entirely new life. Striving to bethis ideal person, like attempting to acquire any other impossible goal, isdamaging to the characters in both cases. The fortunes of these charactersillustrate the harm in attempting to achieve these impossible objectives.

As human beings, we have no conception of any absolute values, such asperfection and imperfection or hot and cold. We can only perceive changes orcomparisons based on what we already know. Through experience, we can tell whatis hotter or colder, but never actually tell what the absolutes are. This is acentral aspect of what makes perfection impossible to achieve. What exactly isperfection? Seeing as we have no inherent knowledge of what is perfect orimperfect, these ideals are usually set by the expectations of others who are inpositions of control over us. Therein lies one of the fundamental dangers inattempting to achieve perfection. When the aims and goals of our lives aregoverned by an outside force, we are transferring a great amount of power overourselves to someone else who may not have the best intentions.

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Those who have power over us, in most circumstances, will use it to their ownbenefit. This is Gregor Samsa’s main problem. He transfers control of his lifeover to his family, who hardly had the best intentions for Gregor’s well-being.

They merely wanted a way to get money and food to support themselves. WithGregor working, his father has an excuse to continue doing nothing, and allowsthe family to remain stagnant at the level that they are at. Directly andindirectly, his family enforces the view that a son should work to support hisfamily and not himself. They did this by showing love and commending Gregorwhen he brought them food and money, showing him that this was their idea ofwhat a perfect son was.

“He (Gregor) felt a certain pride that he had managed to provide his parents andhis sister with such a life in such a beautiful apartment. What now if all calm,all prosperity, all contentment should come to a horrifying end?” p.142At this point, Gregor shows how much working for his family has come to mean toGregor. Needing a source of love in his life, took this opportunity and becamea working man in order to help his family. Gregor obsessively sacrifices hissocial and professional life for a group of people who take his sacrifices as ifthey were due to them. In his pursuit of perfection, Gregor turns what isusually an admirable quality into a self-destructive one.

In the same way, Nora allows too much power to Helmer, and finds herself in theuncomfortable position of having her life governed by a man whose ideas offemale perfection were completely different than what her character was like.

“HELMER: There, there! My little singing bird mustn’t go drooping herwings, eh? Has it got the sulks, that little squirrel of mine? Nora, what doyou think I’ve got here? NORA: Money!” p.3Helmer uses his control over Nora in order to get the adulation that he needs tosupport his ego. He enforces the ideas of submission on Nora so that she willfit into his view of what women should be like. In very much the same way asGregor, Nora is controlled by the flow of money. In an attempt to fit into aview of perfection, she sacrifices herself to become what another perceives asgood.

When one attempts to become perfect often they must sacrifice vital parts ofourselves to fit into the image that they desire. Nora is, at heart, a strongcharacter. Nora first demonstrates this when we learn of the hardships that shehad to endure because of the IOU. A truly subservient woman would not riskherself in this way, or presume to be able to help a man in his area ofexpertise. However, this is not the only place in which Nora’s strength ofcharacter shines through.

“NORA : You speak disrespectfully of my husband and I’ll show you tothe door.

KROGSTAD: So the lady’s got courage.” p.25Nora shows her resilience in this passage. After Helmer has enforced his ideasof female submission into Nora, she retains a some of her original strength inresisting Krogstad. This, unfortunately, does not last long. While in Helmer’spresence, Nora does everything that she can to fit into his narrow vision ofwhat a woman should be. She performs as a circus animal would, jumping fortreats and always being obedient, merely for Helmer’s praise. Her strength isfully exposed in the last scene of the novel, when Nora renounces her family,her social status, and her husband, an action which would undoubtably give herintense emotional pain for years. As we can clearly see from Nora’s actions inthe play, it is not at all in her true character to be either submissive orobedient.

Mirroring Nora’s self-sacrifice, Gregor sacrifices his own personal whims anddesires.

“If I weren’t holding back because of my parents, I would have given notice longago. I would have marched straight up to the boss and told him off from thebottom of my heart.” p. 119Obviously Gregor does not enjoy the job in which he works, but is trapped intostaying at it by his “obligations” to his family.

Through the picture of Gregor on the table, we can see that he was not alwaysthe subservient vermin that he is for the duration of the novel. In the picture,Gregor was a strong, handsome military man. Like Nora, we can see that at onetime he had potential to be a strong character. However, he contrasts Nora inthe way that he did not live up to his potential. Gregor was too worried withkeeping his job and supporting his family to consider ways of escaping the rutin which he had dug for himself. Instead of fighting back and becoming stronger,Gregor becomes addicted to the “love” he recieves from his family, and slowlydegenerates until his untimely demise. Ironically, near the time of Gregor’sdeath, they preferred the image of Gregor from the photo as opposed to what hehad become to help them.

If we wish to become better people, we must learn to percieve our imperfectionsand accept them. Perfection is a concept which is far too abstract for anyoneto strive for. Because of this abstraction, we are forced to look to others tohelp us understand what being perfect is. Upon observation of the characters inthese books, it becomes clear that attempting to become “perfect” will onlyresult in emotional pain and distress. Thus, both Kafka and Ibsen illustrate anegative attitude to the concept of perfection.


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