The Effects of Environment on One's Happiness in the Novels A Hunger Artist, The Boy who Drew Cats and The Standard of Living
Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, contentment and satisfaction. It is a kind of feeling. Happiness is subjective and difficult to measure. The definition of happiness varies from person to person. There are many factors that can affect one’s happiness. For example, our thoughts, health, environment and living conditions, family harmony, social relationship etc.
This paper aims to explore whether the environment and living conditions are the major factors to affect one’s happiness. From the three selected stories (a. ‘A Hunger Artist’ by Franz Kafka b. ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ (A Japanese folktale) c. ‘The Standard of Living’ by Dorothy Parker), it illustrates that money can’t buy happiness as happiness comes from the satisfaction of our ability to be content with life. Therefore, we should stay persistent and keep moving towards our dreams even though we are in poor environment and living conditions. Achievement and success can bring us happiness and satisfaction than materialistic conditions.
The theme of the story of ‘The Standard of Living’ is the conflicts between illusion and reality. Through the two young girls in the story, Annabel and Midge, it demonstrates the lifestyles of materialism and hedonism. Annabel and Midge were close friends. They worked in the same office in America as a stenographer. Annabel had invented a new game. The game provided them a million dollars and they wanted to buy a string of pearls which costs two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They tended to do something like what the rich people do. The two girls were obsessed with money. Their dream was not only to be a millionaire but also to climb up to upper level of social classes. Unfortunately, it was only a dream.
The story of ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ talked about a boy, who was the son of a poor farmer. His parents decided to send him to the village temple to be trained for the priesthood. The boy learned quickly and was very obedient in most things except one – drawing cats whenever and wherever he can. The old priest finally sent the boy away with the advice to encourage him to become an artist instead of a priest. The boy, instead of going back home, went to the next village where there was a big temple. He did not know that the temple was closed up due to a goblin-rat appeared there. He saw a large white screen and started to draw cats. Finally, his cats killed the goblin-rat. Afterwards, the boy became a famous artist.
Although the story of ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ is a folktale which is fictitious, it illustrates a concept that poor environment and living conditions cannot stop one’s dream. The little boy kept pursuing his dream even under poor environment. His dream came true. He became a famous artist. Happiness comes from the satisfaction of his ability to become an artist. On the contrary, the two young girls in the story of ‘The Standard of Living’ lived in imagination only and they believe that materialism will bring them happiness.
The girls could not achieve what they want if they kept imagining and without putting efforts in changing their lives. In the contemporary world, some students, who come from vulnerable families, do not have extra money or resources to learn or to attend the tutorial classes. Despite poor environment and living conditions, they stay persistent and study hard, they finally get good result in public examination. They endeavor to change their fate. It reflects that accomplishment can bring them happiness and satisfaction than materialistic conditions.
Another story ‘A Hunger Artist’ talked about an artist who regard fasting as an art. He sat in a cage from day to night and ate nothing. He got fame and glory through this marathon fasting exhibition. But he was not happy as his manager restricted his fasting to forty days only. However, people are not as interested as they were in watching the hunger artist in the past. He decided to join a circus and planned to set a fasting record beyond forty days. Although the hunger artist continued to fast, no one showed interest on him and kept track of the days. At the end, the hunger artist died. But he was proud that he never gave up his fast. He kept pursuing his dream. He persisted and struggled for recognition. However, people may not understand his art. Different from the story of ‘The Standard of Living’, this story illustrates that an adverse environment cannot stop one’s dream. The hunger artist got satisfaction and wish-fulfillment through fasting.
As I mentioned before, happiness is subjective and difficult to measure. Some people believe that good environment and good quality of life can bring us happiness.
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