Identity Defined Through Happiness
Happiness defined results from the possession of or attainment of what one considers good. It does not come from a set of circumstances that have occurred in our lives; instead it results from a set of attitudes and emotions that we feel. In today’s world, how many of us can actually admit to having found true happiness? Not many. In George Saunder’s book, “Civil War Land in Bad Decline,” specifically his story, “Bounty,” two groups of individuals, the Normals and the Flaweds, struggle in the pursuit for happiness.
In their effort to achieving this, their personal identity is greatly compromised and therefore defined by their income or economical class. Satisfaction/happiness today, seems like a never-ending journey filled with false motivations to achieving it, such as freedom, money, love, or materialistic needs, and justified by futile hope and the degrading of others. As a result, we forget what we truly want and what truly makes us happy, and redefine our identities through what we think will make us happy.
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Hope is often futile when searching for happiness because we constantly expect more and want more therefore forgetting what truly makes us satisfied. The one and only thing that the Flaweds used as motivation for their struggles was hope. Saunders describes this hope when the father throws his children over the castle wall in hope for a better life for them. He states, “He threw us over to save us from death. He believed in people. He believed in the people on the other side of the wall” (p. 137).
Because the father “believed in the people” his children ended up searching for happiness in all the wrong places and degraded themselves in order to survive. They were better off starving to death than living a life of slavery and humiliation. In this example, the father forgot that family was more important; even if it meant watching your children starve. Another source of justification used by us when searching for happiness is the technique of putting others down. The Normals had no other choice but to use the Flaweds as a means of achieving satisfaction.
Such cruel treatment is portrayed to us by a slave buyer who states, “This regimen of daytime beatings and lonely nights will continue until such time as there is nothing remaining of you free will… I will sell you and others of your ilk at tremendous markup” (p. 155-156). The slave buyer’s position in society justifies to him that it is okay to give daily beatings to others in order to use them for your benefit which was the money and eventually in impressing a woman named Carlotta.
Therefore, the slave buyer’s false justification compromised his actions and redefined what happiness should be. What we assume will bring us happiness defines who we are. What the Normals thought would bring them satisfaction greatly varied from what the Flaweds described as happiness thus validating the great gap in such classes. The Flaweds wanted to escape their slavery; therefore happiness to them was freedom, which in their world could only be attained if one was a Normal.
Saunders reveals Connie’s struggle for happiness when he states, .. She fell for a Client, the Normal son of a transportation mogul… then while touring with his parents, he saw her hunched over… and that was that… Connie’s flaw is a slight, very slight, vestigial tail… she went through a bad depression and tried to sand it off… When she came out she was humiliated and refused to speak” (p. 96-97). To Connie, happiness meant falling in love with a Normal and being considered a Normal, and because she failed in doing so, she tried cutting her flaw off and ended up depressed and humiliated.
What made her happy defined who she was, a person who couldn’t appreciate or wear her flaw proudly. The Normals, however, defined their happiness in several different ways because they had the option available for them in doing so. To some Normals, happiness came from money, to some from love, and to a lot of others, materialistic matters. A perfect example of happiness through materialistic needs is the Normal family who make a living out of potatoes. The husband states, “If you want something nice, you’ve got to get it for yourself.
I want a generator for my family. Lights at night. A fan in the summer. And I’m getting them! ” (p. 133). The guy had nine kids and a wife and just kept himself busy and working to find his happiness in buying those things. The parents fail to take care of their children and value their family and put all that aside to buy nice things for themselves. Here, their identity is compromised and based on their materialistic needs. Happiness today is described by society as having a great job a nice car and an amazing wardrobe.
However we fail to realize that this is not true happiness. The more we have does not equal the more happiness. At the end of “Bounty,” after Cole finds his sister and makes sure that she is okay, he continues to find something else to do in keeping him busy by joining the rebel group at the end. This is the scary truth that we face in our daily lives. We need to go to college, find a career that will grant us great money, and settle down. At the end we call this happiness. The more we have going for us in our lives, the more content we are.
Think about plastic surgery. After fixing one flaw, we discover another, and until we fix all of them, we end up feeling “happy. ” We fail to hold on to what is more important, such as health, family, and security, and cling to what society portrays to us should be happiness. In “Bounty,” Cole fails to realize from the very start that he was better off in Bountyland with his daily meals and sense of security. We must redefine what happiness is and by doing this, we create a new and better identity for ourselves.