Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Your Satisfaction Guaranteed

If ever there were an emblematic taunt, suitable for framing by the story writer, "I hope you're satisfied," or one of its relative variants, such as "Satisfied?" argues for acknowledgment.

Satisfaction dances forth as a condition, a goal, and an integral factor in the final phases of story related to closure.  When you think about it, satisfaction equates to closure, is, in fact closure.  A significant aspect of closure is how much satisfaction the main character has achieved, and/or the degree of satisfaction other characters in the story may have achieved in comparison to the satisfaction or its lack realized by the protagonist.

In this instance, four of Shakespeare's plays draw your focus.  Romeo and Juliet,King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth.  Where is the satisfaction?  How could a writer of his magnitude missed leaving us with a sense of which character or social force or even which human trait was on the receiving end of satisfaction.  

Only Fortinbras and Horatio left in Hamlet.  Although Fortinbras gets the satisfaction of ascending to the top of the leadership pyramid, what are we to think?  Who is left in Macbeth and Lear?  The two we rooted for in Romeo and Juliet are gone, their fates seemingly doomed from the start.

There are, of course, answers within the plays themselves; Shakespeare was telling us, by withholding the satisfactions sought by the characters, of a kind of closure with the equivalent of a Chinese fortune cookie tucked inside, reminding us about the precious and multifarious natures of satisfaction, and how important it is for us to keep our end games well in mind as we pursue our approaches to secure it.

At quite a difference in time, place, and format, another work, Dashiell Hammett's novel of suspense, murder, and intrigue,The Maltese Falcon, also leaves the matter of satisfaction for our consideration.  Given all the intrigues, plots, counter-plots, betrayal, and at least one murder (remember Spade's partner, Miles Archer) to consider, it becomes possible for us to read the jewel-encrusted bird as a Macguffin, a distraction that has begun to lose, then does lose its relevance until time arrives for closure.  

A that point, the bird is given the narrative and thematic valedictory of "The stuff dreams are made of," which in its neat way takes us back to Shakespeare, who first brought that trope to our attention, along with the reminder that he was not the sort to let the concept of satisfaction elude him.

Closure, denouement, and end game are not the only places where satisfaction defines character and, indeed, influences how we feel about a particular individual.  Much of the foregoing came to you as a result of your recent revisit with Beth Harmon, the protagonist of Walter Tevis' riveting Queen's Gambit.  

You first see Beth when she is eight years old, a single child, presented to us first scant moments after she has become an orphan, is remanded to an orphanage, where she is promptly given tranquilizers to numb the feelings of aloneness and vulnerability.  

How could you not care about her when, before you, in terse paragraphs, you are presented with this achingly profound change in what might have been the normal happy life that precludes fictional inventions?  Within these beautifully wrought opening paragraphs, we are made to see the purpose of story.  Part of that purpose is the withholding of what appears to be normal satisfaction.

In Queen's Gambit, and another of Walter Tevis' novels, The Hustler, satisfaction is offered as the manner in which the protagonist seeks to effect the kind of balance most of us can relate to, the satisfaction of being good, truly good, at something. Doesn't much matter what the thing is.

Not until you were well along in your reading of Kazuo Ishiguro's memorable The Remains of the Day, did you realize a) you were rooting for a man who wished to be the best butler in the world, this goal of satisfaction in spite of you having the equivalent of no functional experience with butlers or persons who employ them, b) you realized that while chess is not by any means your game, it is Beth Harmon's game, and because it matters so much to her, it begins to matter to you, c) both Walter Tevis and Kazuo Ishiguro remind you, through their characters and their awareness of their goals, that you have been made aware of your own goals and, thus, have transferred some of your internal quests to those of characters.

 As well, Mr. Stevens, Ishiguro's protagonist, is not only a naive narrator, his naivete is severe.  You see him on a sort of quest, pursuing a visit with Miss Kenton, with whom he might have caused some form of satisfaction to emerge, but his very refusal to see and act increases his vulnerability, which you not only endure, you assume.

What may you take from this?

For starters, you take the awareness of how important the pursuit of satisfaction is within the landscape of story.  Satisfaction is an abstraction until you can see it being tied to a specific.  At that point, the specificity resonates for you, causes you to review your own quests) for the thing/things that will bring you to satisfaction and satisfaction to you.

The opening quotes, "I hope you're satisfied," or "Satisfied?" open the door for an inspection of another importance in story, that Germanic word, schadenfreude, sounding like a dish served up in a Viennese restaurant along with the schnitzel.  Taking satisfaction at the discomfort, comeuppance, or frustration of others.  There can well be closure in this schadenfreude version of satisfaction.  That has a dramatic effect and purpose as well--to make us do the thing we must do if we are to experience true satisfaction--self-examination.

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