Saturday, June 6, 2015

Boundary Line

The concept of a boundary has within it a fine set of standards for individuals who try to live in observation of the Social Contract.  Such individuals tend to a kind of politeness, consideration,  and regard for others that can, if left unchecked, lead to empathy and compassion.

Thus, the beginnings of your approach to defining boundary and, by doing so, defining yourself and, even in the face of frequent, maddening, frustrating causes for pessimism, your own glass-half-full vision of the human condition.

Boundaries contain those standards for writers, particularly for those at the onset of their careers.  But rules change as ability changes.  Increases in ability inform different ways of looking at boundaries.  Although this progression may suggest a certain underlying cynicism, your intent is to argue for the growing complexities of social conventions becoming apt landscape for a writer's investigations.  

You note within your own personal history a time when you were wholehearted in your embrace of idealism.  As you aged, you did in fact begin to regard idealism with cynicism in direct proportion to your recognition of ways in which idealism for its own sake rarely had a firm foundation.  

Idealism required, you felt, enough awareness of process and technique to allow setting boundaries for the sake of a work or issue at hand rather than the abstraction of Platonic ideal.  You have over the years accommodated for democratic principles or more pragmatic, self-serving ones.  You have as well set and observed boundaries based on experience and principle-related standards.

In general terms, a boundary line separates one territory from another, in the process defining different personalities, terms, conditions.  Boundaries may well be used to set property lines on standards or behavior--even both, in the process becoming ways of defining individuals.  This last process is where the writer's relationship with boundary begins, then acquires momentum.

Of the many boundaries readers are acquainted with, the most basic is the "with us or against us" demarcation.  A strand of stories carry the reader, via protagonist characters, into the landscape where the gauntlet of choice is flung with some deliberation.  "You're either with us, or--"  Now the character has to chose, often appears to pick the least healthy option, then suffers the consequences of dealing with the outcome.  

Your favorite author wrote with typical self-deprecation about the choice of becoming a military associate of The Confederate States of America.  This condition did not last long, and from it, you like to think, seeds were sewn for what would become his most honest and probing piece of fiction, Huckleberry Finn.

Twain did, indeed, come to the terms of which you speak about boundaries in that remarkable novel.  He caused at least one of his front-rank characters to step over his self-imposed boundary for one of the most memorable moments of all in that novel so filled with memorable moments.  "All right then"  Huck said, speaking ever so much more to himself than to us, "I'll go to hell."  He was in the act of a major life change at that moment of speaking.

To be successful, a story needs to provide either tangible evidence or strong implication of the internal codes and boundaries of its major players.  To be believable, the issues and pressures within the story must drive the characters to the boundary of their internal landscape, and do so while giving the reader the impression that being on the verge has raised a considerable sweat within the character's internal workings.

So far, so good; we've got successful and we've got believable.  Now, we go for the throat.  To be memorable, the story must have within it the momentum and acceleration to push those characters over their boundary, into the expanse on the other side, the no-person's land of conscience and consequence.

The story becomes a record of what those characters do, having trespassed.  We know what Macbeth did.  We know what Michael Henchard did; he became the eponymous Mayor of Casterbridge. We know what Bathsheba Everdine did in Thomas Hardy's earlier novel, Far from the Madding Crowd.  Come to think of it, Hardy had a way of pushing his people over some edge or another.  We know also what Michael Corleone did in The Godfather, and we know what Antigone did way back when, in a story named after her.

Being pushed over the edge or beyond one's set boundary does not always result in negativity, but it does help illustrate a common humanity that has been with us as long as there has been story.

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