English 1011 3 December 2009 “A Journey through Life” Life is all about choices. Even the simplest choice could turn a situation around and further affect the future of an individual forever. I found Willa Cather’s short story “A Wagner Matinee” very interesting.
It deals with different levels of choices, some which might affect the character’s life slightly, while other choices may affect their entire lifetime. The way the story is written makes the reader think a lot about the events that occur along the way.
It leaves the reader wondering how the situation the characters are to encounter is widely affected by the choice of decision that is made. Many psychologists have tried and still try to research and explain the way humans think and make their own decisions by theories, views, and models. There are many psychologists who contribute their lives in order to examine the similarity between decisions and their consequences. It is found that most of the decisions are through experiences, stereotypes and personal views.
The story starts with the narrator, Clark, receiving a letter from his uncle, Howard. In the letter there is a notice stating that his aunt, Georgiana, is coming to Boston for the settling of her relative’s estate. However, when he reads the letter he notices that Uncle Howard postponed sending the letter until the last moment possible, because the date that is noted for his aunt’s arrival to town is the very next day. Clark describes the letter as “worn and rubbed, looking as If it had been carried for some days in a coat pocket that was non too clean” (Cather 201).
It shows how his uncle’s poor decision could have turned out if he had delayed sending the letter for one extra day or if Clark was not at home that day to receive it. When Clark expresses his feelings toward his aunt he states how important and affective she was on his childhood. She was the one who taught him about music, Shakespeare, mythology, and Latin. If not for her, he would have been just an ordinary farmer boy who knows nothing about education.
Thus, it is clear how upset he would have gotten with himself and his uncle if he would have received the letter late and missed his aunt’s arrival. Decision avoidance is a tendency of avoiding making a choice by postponing it or by seeking an easy way out that involves neither action nor change. It usually results from reason and emotion. As mentioned in the “Psychological Bulletin” by Christopher J. Anderson: “Under conditions of high stress, this avoidance can become extreme. Take, for example, the “old sergeant syndrome” described by Janis and Mann (1977b).
Infantry on the front lines of battle for long periods, witnessing the death of comrades and having no hope of transfer, have been known to ignore decisions required to protect themselves under fire or from routine safety hazards. For them, decision avoidance costs lives”. There are four occurrences that had been discussed by researches: “Status quo”, “omission”, “Inaction inertia”, and “Deferral”. There is no need for the discussion of all four phenomena, since they all are all related to previous outcomes and feedback.
Decision avoidance is made when facing a decision concerning a valuable thing to the decision maker. For a person there is usually only one chance to make the right decision, but sometimes when the person thinks about the options of the possible consequences it draws him or her back, especially if there is a possibility of discrepancy, loss, or regret. In the decision made by Uncle Howard, the reason for postponing the letter until the last moment might have been for various reasons.
Some of the reasons could be that he might have knew how puzzled she will be when she goes back to her home town, he might have thought how much he would miss her when she will be away, thought of their kids, or was afraid of her staying for a much longer time at her family’s house. Although Clark got upset with his uncle for the fact that he sent the letter so late, Uncle Howard probably did not think of it the way Clark did and he definitely did not mean to do that so Clark would not have the chance of seeing his aunt. The second choice is made by Clark.
After his aunt arrives to town he decides to take her to an opera the next day, since she used to be a music teacher and admires classical music, “to repay her for some of the glorious moments she had given [him]” (Cather 202). Although, when he talks with her, he becomes worried that she would not enjoy it. She has not seen an opera ever since she moved to Nebraska, which was thirty years ago. Also, she seems to be interested more in the changes of the city, and keeps on talking about the small unimportant worries that she has about the house she just left for a couple of days, than in watching a concert. Once they enter the pera hall, it is the first time Clark notices her observing her surroundings. However, he feels unease that she might become embarrassed of her clothing. She is wearing a black, country, dress, while all the other city-women where dressed in shiny colorful dresses. For her, it felt as if she stepped back into the reality she has longed for over the years she was in Nebraska. Although she does not seem to show any feelings, which makes Clark even more disappointed in the bad decision he had made. Egon Brunswik, who was a successful psychologist in the mid twentieth century, visualized a model of social perception.
It was named “The Lens Model”. The aspect of it is how the way individuals think they see in others usually determines the way they treat and respond to them. The lens in this model represents the way the person sees the environment which is affected by his or her opinions, ideas, and previous experiences. Therefore, this is the main reason Clark was concerned for his aunt. Since every person is aware that he or she has a different prospect through his or her own lens; Clark did not want his aunt to be uncomfortable if somebody looks at her in an improper way.
Clark is also very concerned that it is too much for his aunt to take in, since he recalls and says to the reader: “I could feel how all those details sank into her soul, for I had not forgotten how they had sunk into mine when I came fresh from ploughing forever and forever between green aisles of corn, where, as in a treadmill, one might walk from daybreak to dusk without perceiving a shadow of change” (Cather 203). However, the moment the first tune is heard in the air is when Aunt Georgiana first displays emotions.
She grasps on Clark’s sleeve, and he realizes “that for her [,] this broke a silence of thirty years” (Cather 203). Then he assures himself that, certainly, the concert might have been a good choice after all. Although she keeps silent throughout the concert, Clark observes her and the way she reacts to the different melodies. Lastly, the third choice that is made by Aunt Georgiana was made thirty years earlier, when she was in her younger years. She spent her childhood in Boston and was used to the city life.
However, when she grew up, she fell in love with Uncle Howard while visiting a village in the Green Mountains where her relatives had settled in the past. Her family and friends opposed her decision, but she followed her heart and married him anyhow. Then she moved with him to the Nebraska frontier, where they lived since. Blinded by love, she was not aware of the consequences of her decision and the dramatic change and affect it was to cause to her life. She moved from everything she knew, even from her sophisticated and educated self, to a place she was not expecting. She gave up all she had for the sake of love.
Her life changed her from being a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory, to being in the field and living a country life. It is most evident that she was not very happy with the decision she made when Clark was studying from some of her music books in his young years and she came up to him and told him not to love music so well, “or it may be taken away. ”(Cather 202) This shows how depressed she got after she realized the mistake she made and the big sacrifice she gave for something that might have faded away after a while, and it is obvious that she would take it back if she could, for any price.
Also when she arrives to Boston she seems as if she tries not to get attached to the city too much, for she will have to leave it again in a matter of days. When Clark tells her about the concert and suggests visiting the Conservatory, he might have not realized at first the real reason that made her avoid the plan, but the reason she did it was because she did not want to visit these places so the memories would not come back to her and make her even more depressed than she will be. She was trying to avoid reality.
However, when Clark took her to the opera she starts to notice the differences between the life she could have stayed in and the life she chose to take. Instead of being in the colorful and happy life, teaching what she is most passionate about to future generations, she chose to move to the county side, do labor work every single day, and live a dull routine that she had no interest in. Yet, once the “Prize Song” is played Clark notices that tears start falling from her eyes. Soon he learns from her that she heard it times before by a German boy who sang in a chorus of his town in his youth.
She had told him to join the country church, but he disappeared shortly after he got himself drunk, lost his money, and a bet, which left him with a fractured collar-bone. The reason that this song shook her emotions might have been because when the young boy came to town he reminded her of herself when she made the same decision when she was younger. Although he lost everything, the German boy was able to manage and leave town, in contrast to her. Sigmund Freud gave the belief that decision making is irrational a very popular voice in the early twentieth century.
The early work of the psychologist J. R. Simon in the mid-twentieth century also argued against classical rationality in decisional processes. It led to the “Bounded Rationality View”, which says that people are thought to seeking or achieving a satisfactory outcome, rather than the best possible outcome when making decisions. An equivalent and famous example for this view, which was also made by Aunt Georgiana, is the marriage of two individuals who fall in love but have completely different backgrounds and interests.
In some situations, the need for a decision arises from the realization that an earlier decision was wrong and that it is not producing the desired results. For example, when the concert is over, while every one in the audience stands up and gets ready to leave the opera hall, Clark’s “kinswoman make[s] no effort to rise” (Cather 205). Even after the men of the orchestra leave the stage, she keeps sitting in her place. Once Clark speaks with his aunt, tears start rolling on her cheeks and she weeps, telling him, “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go! ”(Cather 205).
Finally, her real emotions come out; she is not able to hold them in any longer. She knows that once she will step out of that building she will have to go back to the reality she put herself into, and she does not want to face it once again. During her short visit to Boston she found out that everything she longed for during this thirty-years period was indeed the life she wanted and dreamt of in her youth, and she knows that this time she will have to make the ultimate decision in which she will have to give up on a big part of her, either her country life and her family, or the one thing she is most passionate about, which is music.
In this part of the story, it is very clear to the reader that the experiences and the events that happened in Aunt Georgiana’s past could affect her decision for bad or good. Although sometimes people recognize the right decision they have to make, but a bad experience or an outcome from such a decision in the past would trigger them to decide otherwise. She will have to think if she will be happier with finally redeeming the wrong choice she made when she was young and in-love, or if she will go back to the place in which she finds no interest or excitement.
This short story without a doubt contains and shows different choices and their diverse consequences and effects on a person’s life. First, if Uncle Howard had not sent the letter on time, Aunt Georgiana might not have went to visit her nephew, and in return, she would have went back home without having to go through an emotional journey that left her with an even larger decision to make.
Secondly, if Clark would have gave up on taking her to the concert they would have probably done something else to spend the time, and it might had or had not been easier for Aunt Georgiana to go back home. Also, the most affective decision that was made by the characters is a choice that most people have to make during their lifetime; whether to get married to the person they are in love with or follow a greater passion which is of a greater importance to them.
Despite the situation however, a person should always make the decision with what their mind tells them, not their heart, because the mind thinks about the consequences faster and more accurately than the heart does. Meaning, when a person is blinded by the goal he or she wants to achieve and have in his or her life, they usually tend to want it without thinking about the wide range of consequences and changes it will make to his or her life. A person might think a decision is easy.
However, simplest choices can have far reaching consequences. Abelson, Robert P. , Schank, Roger C. , and Langer, Ellen J. Beliefs, reasoning, and decision making: psycho-logic in honor of Bob Abelson. New Jersey, 1994. Anderson, Christopher J. ” The Psychology of Doing Nothing: Forms of Decision Avoidance Result From Reason and Emotion. ” Phsycological Bulliten Vol. 129, (2003): 139–167. Wolf, Bernhard. “University of Landau, Germany”. 2005. University of Landau, Germany. 27 Nov. 2009. .