In the 11th grade English, Ron Paul Curriculum online class, I have been assigned a 2,500 word essay with the following topic: “How important has the theme of optimism been in the development of Western literature since 1493?” In this essay, I will answer this question, and hopefully give you a little more about the English I am doing.
First of all, I have to break this paper down into smaller pieces, so that I can answer this question more effectively. First, what is optimism? According to the Dictionary, optimism is the “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.” In my opinion, I think optimism just means to be cheerful, and positive, no matter what. If you said “I am super optimistic today” (you may not say that though) you may be feeling happy and positive. Remember the glass is half-empty half-full scenario? If you are optimistic, you would say that that glass is half-full, but if not, you would sat that that same glass is half-empty.
In western literature published from the year 1493 up until now, optimism has been an extremely important theme in those years. In this essay, I will take you through some important works of western literature, and describe how and where the theme of optimism is in those works. I will also explain why the theme of optimism is so important in those works.
The first of the works I will explain is the book Candide, written by Voltaire. Basically, this book talks about a person going through very improbable (not likely to ever happen) events. Optimism is everywhere in this book! According to LitCharts, “Candide pits the optimistic doctrine of Pangloss—that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”—against the long and senseless series of misfortunes endured by Candide and the other characters. Candide begins the novel as a faithful student of Pangloss, but painful experience prompts him to reconsider his views….Candide suggests that the struggle of human life—an endless cycle of optimism and disillusionment—might in fact be preferable to a static faith in the “best of all possible worlds.” In the end of the book, Candide realizes that the New World is filled with the same war and evil as the Old World, and good is not always rewarded with good. During this time, people began to wonder, “if there was a God, why would he let awful things happen?”. A man named Gottfried Leibniz (the real philosopher and mathematician whose teachings modeled Pangloss, a philosopher in the book) argued that evil existed because God was using it to bring about an ultimate good.
Another good work of optimism happened in 1517, Martin Luther’s 95 theses. According to Wikipedia, “The Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences was a list of propositions for an academic disputation written in 1517 by Martin Luther, then a professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, which was controlled by the Electorate of Saxony.” It was originally published on October 31, 1517 and was written in Latin. Now, some of you readers may be wondering “What does Luther’s 95 theses have to do with optimism?”. Basically, in his 95 theses, he teaches what be believes to be the righteous and Godly way to live your life on Earth. He says that if you follow these standards that he gives in his theses, then you will have eternal life in heaven, therefore having the theme of optimism.
The next work of Western Literature with the theme optimism is one you have most likely heard about. Its name is Robinson Crusoe, written by Daniel Defoe (if you want to know more about Robinson Crusoe, I have other papers specifically on this novel). Let me give you a quick summary of the book just in case you have not heard of it. In the beginning of the book, Robinson Crusoe leaves his home in search of adventure. Later, he is on a ship, sailing to a place where he can build a life, and a storm rolls in, and damages the ship, but does not sink it. Later, another storm comes in and sinks the ship, but Crusoe and some other people escape in lifeboats. Eventually they get rescued by another ship and this ship takes Crusoe and the crew to Brazil. Later into the book, Crusoe builds a plantation in Brazil and becomes very wealthy. Eventually, he listens to some people to go to Africa and get some slaves to bring back, and he says he would. On the course to Africa, another storm rolls in and maroons the ship a ways back from the shore of an island. Crusoe himself survives, everyone else dies. Crusoe then tries to empty the ship of everything useful so he can survive on the island, but he is worried when another storm comes and sinks the ship, along with everything on it. Crusoe then tries to empty the ship of everything useful before the next storm hits. About a little under a month later, he finally empties the ship of anything useful, and a storm comes that night, sinking the ship. He then built for himself a home on the island, on which he stayed for years, 28 years to be precise. He eventually gets off the island and returns to civilization. This novel has the idea of optimism in many parts of the book. For example, for a time before he was shipwrecked, he was a slave, but he escaped and sailed to South America, where he became a very wealthy man. And when he was shipwrecked, he was the only survivor, and he looted the ship of anything of importance that he needed for survival on the island. He also found a pleasant place to live on the island, and he had a way of harvesting food on the island, so he never starved. And at the end of the book, Crusoe gets onto an English ship, and the captain takes him back to Europe. Also, in the middle of the book, there are four different storms which could have killed him, but they did not. In fact, when he was shipwrecked, the storm that shipwrecked him and the ships crew killed everyone on the ship, except for him. Earlier in the book, he was traveling on a ship with other people, and a storm came and damaged the ship, but did not sink it. Later another storm came and sank the damaged ship, but the crew and Crusoe escaped in lifeboats, where they were later picked up and rescued by a passing ship. The ship took Crusoe to Brazil, where he built a plantation, and became very wealthy. As you can see, this man has a lot to be grateful for. This novel is just teeming with optimism!
Yet, another author who preforms optimism in his works is William Shakespeare. There are themes of optimism in most if not all of his works. Here are a few examples: In his play Romeo and Juliet, if you read it you would know that it has a sad ending, right? You could be thinking ‘How can there be any optimism in this?’. Well, first I will give you a recap of the play. To begin, Romeo meets Juliet at a party. Now, they are each on different sides of a family rival. But they love each other, so they get married in secret. Now, Romeo goes on a trip, and while he is on the trip, Juliet’s father arranges a marriage for Juliet with a different man, not knowing about her marriage to Romeo. Now, the pope that married Romeo and Juliet did not tell anyone of the marriage. So he gives Juliet something that will make her seem as if she is dead even when she is not. Then the pope told one of his servants to tell Romeo to come at once. Well, the news of Juliet’s “death” reached Romeo first, and he was devastated. So he bought poison, went to her grave, and killed himself. When Juliet woke up, she found Romeo dead, so she stabbed herself. Well, now the families were really angry, so the pope tells the families about the marriage, and even the prince of the region came and rebuked the families. Then the two families finally unionize together after years of rivalry. So where is the optimism in this? Well, in the end, the two rival families agree to unionize together after the death of Romeo and Juliet because they never saw hope for their future together. In another one of his works, The Taming of the Shrew, the ‘Shrew’ has a harsh tongue. Then she gets married to a man whom, without her knowing, teaches her to be a better wife, and he also teaches her to control her tongue. He even challenged other husbands to see whose wife was more obedient, and he won the bet. These plays do not have a lot of optimism, but at least they have a little bit of optimism. Most of his plays have the theme optimism, maybe even all of them (I would not know because I did not read all of them, I only read a few).
Another of these optimism-themed books is called Utopia, written by Thomas More. This book tells of a perfect society living together in perfect peace and harmony. In this book, it tells that there are six thousand houses in each city, and sixteen adults in each house, so that each city has a limit of ninety-six thousand people. He also factors in slavery as a means of everyone getting served, and everyone is taught about agriculture, and the list goes on and on with principles like these. Also, he mentions that this society builds a military and army for war, but they never start a war. They only build up a military so that they can either prevent a war, or fight in a war if the time comes, but the never start a war. There are many principles like these that More gives throughout his book that he believes is necessary for a perfect society. Now, we probably do not think that some of these principles are necessary for a perfect society today, like slavery for example, but this is what More thought, that these principles are absolutely necessary in every society in order to obtain an absolutely perfect society.
Another book in Western literature with optimism is Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. If you have not read this book, I will give you a swift recap. Basically, a man named Gulliver is shipwrecked on an island inhabited by tiny people. He wakes up only to find out that he is tied up with tiny threads and taken to the kingdom of Lilliput. There he is greeted by royalty and treated hospitably. They feed him, by he consumes more food in one day than a thousand of the tiny people can. They even risked famine by feeding him so much of their food, but it was all worth it. Eventually he is used as a military weapon against the kingdom of Blefuscu, because these two kingdoms hate each other. However, despite all the good he has done, Gulliver is accused of treason because he put out a fire in the royal palace. The people said that they should poke his eyes out and starve him to death. Well, Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu where he finds broken down boat. He eventually fixes the boat, and escapes. So, where is the optimism in this book? Well, he is treated hospitably by his captors, he he is able to learn their language in two months. They also feed him enough food, despite his size, and he helps out in the war between the two kingdoms. It all starts to go downhill when he is accused of treason, but he escapes to Blefuscu, and discovers a broken down boat. He then fixes it and sails away.
Another book with the theme optimism is H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. Here is a brief overview of the book: Basically, a scientist invites some people to his house to tell them of a breakthrough in science: his time machine. He shows them a model of his time machine, and sends it into time, forward in time or backward in time, he does not tell us. A week later he invites new people to his house to tell them his breakthrough. He is late. He finally shows up, all dirty and raggedy. He tells them his story: Last Friday, he tested his real time machine. He went 800,000 years into the future, and there was tiny people living in a completely perfect society, there was no death, no work, no anger, no sadness, it was paradise, except for one minor detail. They were afraid of the dark. Why? Because of the Morlocks, subterranean creatures that hate light. They terrorized the tiny people for years. Now, the time traveler (we are never told his name) wants to escape, but he lost his time machine. He finally finds it in a giant statue of a Sphynx, and narrowly escapes the Morlocks. He went further into the future, and giant crabs almost had him, so he escapes that. Then he went three million years into the future, and when he got there, everything was gone. There was no life, nothing. Death was everywhere he looked. So he went back to his house in modern time just in time to tell the guests his story. The next day he packs up and leaves into “time”, and he takes a camera with him for him to take evidence and show people back home. Again, we do not know if he went forward or backward into time. And this time, he never returns. So where is the optimism in this? Well, he built the world’s first time machine, and it works, so that is definitely good. Also he makes friends with the tiny people, and saves one from drowning. And he escapes the Morlocks and the giant crabs, and he returned to his guests alive to tell the tale.
How important has the theme of optimism been in the development of Western literature since 1493? I do not know if most of you will agree with this, but this is my opinion. I think that the theme optimism is in so many books is because people like optimism. They like happy endings. These books I just gave a survey over have a lot more optimism than what I covered, these books and hundreds of thousands of others. Everybody likes optimism. Some books that rarely have any optimism in it, or maybe no optimism at all, I do not like to read in my opinion. I bet that books with more optimism are more widely sold than those books with less optimism. I just think that optimism is a vital theme in most literature and even some movies.