Discovery is the process of experiencing something for the first time or rediscovering something that has been lost; it can allow new understandings and renewed perspectives to occur. Through Sean Penn’s film Into the Wild and Robert Gray’s poems Diptych and The Meatworks, the audience experiences how the personas’ perspectives in each scenario goes through a process of discovery that reshapes their understandings of the environment and of the individual.
Diptych is a free verse poem in which the persona, who is a representation of Robert Gray reflects on his experience with his parents as a child and how their lives shaped up his upbringing.
Throughout the poem the audience goes through moments of revelation with Gray as he reminisces about his mother, Gray’s interpretation of his mother is conveyed in this verse “It was as if there were two of her, a harassed person, and a calm” this juxtaposition redirects not only the thematic focus of duality in the poem but also reinforcing through the use of past tense that Gray has since had a changed perspective of his mother.
Gray follow-ups the statement of his mother’s seemingly dualistic personality by affirming that her “care you could watch reappear like the edge of tidal water” Gray uses a simile to compare his mother’s care to tidal water, as it is known from previous poems he uses water to convey rejuvenation, cleanliness and purity, overall portraying his mother in a positive image and reiterating the fact that perspectives can be reshaped due to a process of rediscovery.
On the other hand, Gray’s portrayal of his father is anything but positive, a man who he described as “hopelessly melancholic”. The negative connotations to the word “melancholic” depicts the strained relationship and the unfamiliarity between the two. In the following quotes “small eyes, and thin lips, on the long-boned face” and “his frighteningly high-domed skull” we see Gray use negative imagery of death to emphasise the feelings or lack thereof Gray had towards his father as a child.
Despite this we, as the audience notice the shift of gray’s viewpoint of his father, from the negative, condescending tone to a more neutral and resigned voice, it can be seen in the following quote “I scattered him there, utterly reduced at last/ I had long accepted him” by using the soft verb “scatter” it shows that Gray does hold a respect and almost a fondness to his father and the term “utterly reduced” further evokes a sense of finality and peace. Here we understand that Gray had come to accept his father’s shortcomings as human flaws.
Furthermore, it is in the following metaphor that Gray cements his changed perspective “my pocket-knife slid sideways and pierced my hand- I dug with that one into his ashes, which I found were like a mauvish-grey marble dust” this quote signifies the reformed bond between himself and his father. The simile to “like a mauvish-grey marble dust” restates not only the father’s dull personality in “mauvish-grey” yet also his value for him by describing him as a valuable stone, that even its dust is important.
Similarly, the film Into the Wild shows likewise how a character’s perspective is affected by relationships in their environment. The protagonist, Christopher Mccandless had become deeply affected by his parents attitudes to their materialistic lifestyle and their facades masking their apathetic personalities. Sick of the societal lifestyle he embarks in a journey to solely survive in the Alaskan wild and discover what it means to truly be human, his distaste for society and all that it represents is exemplified when he burns all of his remaining money.
Through this journey Chris, with the alias “Alexander Supertramp” encounters many people along his journey, each character leaves an impact on “Alex” yet each time he rejects their suggestions on how to live his chosen lifestyle and takes off during the night, reliving the moment he leaves behind his family and also showing his increasing detachment to society, disregarding his own emotions.
By reiterating his principles, “You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships./We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.” as he uses direct high modality in “you are” he separates himself from others, and by using the word “wrong” he emphasises the negative connotations that he believes society leaves, but at the same time uses inclusive language in “we” where he believes that it is possible for others to change into his perspective.
He later comes to realise his unwillingness to stay with others is due to his fear of intimacy because of his parent’s history with domestic violence, and secrets they kept from him growing up. The big moment of self discovery is towards the end, where he lays dying of starvation and reflecting on how his life had been. He comes to realise the importance of relationships as he writes “happiness is only real, when shared” the emotive language is used to achieve a concluding atmosphere, and uses high modality in the word “only” to affirm his complete change of perspective.
The final moment of self-discovery is portrayed as he pictures himself running into his parent’s arms and thinks “What if I were smiling and running into your arms? Would you see then what I see now?” as Chris uses rhetorical questions to demonstrate his final acceptance to the love that he has for his parents and willingness to forgive.
Going back to Gray’s poems, The Meatworks deals with the guilt and moral corruption of working in the industrialised slaughterhouse to financially sustain his idyllic lifestyle. The poem is written in a past tense form so while the persona is remembering his past, the audience is discovering the horrors for the first time, the persona quotes “Most of them worked around the slaughtering out the back” by using exclusive language in “most of them” he distances himself from the rest of the workers and shows his unwillingness to accept his reality.
The whole poem uses emotive language and vulgar imagery to depict what the persona is experiencing and viewing such as quoting “the furthest end from those bellowing, sloppy yards”.
The poem cuts to the scene of the end of a work shift where the persona would go wash his hands but “You found, around the nails, there was still blood” alluding to the fact that they can’t absolve themself from the guilt. The persona walks down to the beach, described as a “Shiny, white bruising beach, in mauve light” Gray uses synesthesia to properly capture the feelings of the assault on the senses, the beach is blinding and almost too pure for the persona, yet also cleansing. The poem concludes with the persona conflicted on what he’s doing and how that clashes with his morals yet “There was a flaw to the analogy you felt, but one not looked at then” this quote reflects on the persona’s discontented resignation to the situation, leaving a somber tone.
Discovery fundamentally shapes a character and highlights how a character’s perspectives about their situations and environment can create an inner conflict that leads to moments of self-discovery. Robert Gray’s poems Diptych and The Meatworks tie together with Into the Wild in different aspects. Diptych is a poem about the discovery of Gray’s feelings towards his parents, this can also be seen in the final moments of Into the Wild and how the finality of death can change a person’s feelings and perspective towards those that are closer to them. Through Into the wild we can also see Chris separating himself from the financial ties that hold him in society while the persona in the Meatworks ties himself more to money even though he expresses utter discontent at his choices.
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