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The desire to escape reality often stems from the distress of one’s current situation. This misery may be due to a lack of contentment, loss of family values, or living in a false reality. More often, it is suggested to be a simple wish for the masses to miraculously vanish (Krishna 2327). This unhappiness can lead to the desire to be somewhere else or do something different, such as moving for a change of scenery, embracing a new lifestyle, or denying certain truths. Many examples of such melancholy and its effects can be found throughout various texts.
In “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, Sonny escapes his reality through music, drugs, and the physical distance from his family. It is mentioned that Sonny’s brother escapes through education: “Some escaped the trap, most didn’t. Those who made it out always left something of themselves behind…It might be said, perhaps, that I had fled, in any case, I was a college teacher; or that Sonny had, for he hadn’t lived in Harlem for years.” (Baldwin). While the primary character distances himself from drug use and focuses on his studies, Sonny, despite his drug abuse, also finds an escape – by leaving the city. Baldwin suggests Sonny’s migration when he writes, “Do you mind,” he asked, “if we have the driver ride by the park? On the west side – I haven’t seen the city in a long time. Sonny insinuates that they take a detour around the city, having been absent for so long. He escapes his reality and drug addiction through a physical move to a new location, hoping to start anew.
How it works
In “No Speak English” by Sandra Cisneros, the concept of escape manifests in the wife’s refusal to assimilate and adjust to a new life. She resists leaving the house and learning English, opting instead to listen to Mexican music and argue with her husband about returning home. Her resistance is illustrated when the author writes, “She sits all day by the window and plays the Spanish radio show and sings all the longing songs about her country in a voice that sounds like a seagull.” (Cisneros). She escapes her husband’s imposed new lifestyle through music and daydreams of returning home – where she believes she belongs.
A loss of family values is the reason for a mother’s need to leave in “The Lotto” by Shirley Jackson. Tessa tries to escape her fate when her family is selected for the annual stoning by the community. She attempts to decrease her chances of being picked by abandoning her family values, asking if her daughter can draw with them — thereby jeopardizing the safety of her family. Tessa also intentionally forgets things she knows to be true, living in a false reality at the time her family is chosen. The author illustrates this, writing, “There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson shouts. “Make them take their chance!” “Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers says gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.” While putting her family at risk, Tessa tries to escape the situation, but she stops trying when she is finally chosen. This is made clear when Jackson writes, “Tessie Hutchinson was in the centre of a cleared space now, and she held her hand out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn’t fair,’ she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. ‘It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,’ Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.” Tessa does not fight back or attempt to run or escape once she is alone and separated from her family. Even though she is unhappy and wishes to escape her current situation, Tessa embraces reality and accepts her fate. Tessa’s desire to escape evaporates throughout the story and finally disappears at the end when the stoning begins.
The next depiction of living in a false reality can be seen in “Night Woman” by Edwidge Danticat. The prostitute’s son escapes the reality of how his mother sustains them, by resorting to various distractions. Firstly, the mother gives her son her scarf that she wears during the day to comfort him while she works through the night. Danticat hints at this when she writes, “He wraps my long, blood-red scarf around his neck, the one I wear during the day to attract my customers. I let him have it at night, so he always has a piece of me when I’m out of sight.” The mother yearns to offer comfort to her son even while she works at night. One of the night woman’s customers gives the boy a radio to distract him during the night. The mother remarks, “I hear the hum of his transistor radio. It’s shaped like a soda can. One of my customers gave it to him to plug into his ears, so he can stay asleep while Mommy works.” The mother provides her little boy an escape from the reality of her work and the fact that she is absent most of the night. She tries to compensate for it with gifts, such as the scarf and radio, in an attempt to comfort him even when she is away.
The following instance of wanting to leave is in “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros. The main character tries to escape her truth by changing her name. Esperanza does not want to duplicate her grandmother’s past because, “She kept an eye out the window her whole life, the method so many women rest their despair on a joint.” [San] Esperanza does not want to experience what her grandmother has endured, and, in an effort to avoid this fate, she desires to change her name. Later in the text, she states, “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.” [San] In changing her name to something more ‘modern American’,
Esperanza is determined to positively change the future she is bound to inherit. In the last text, “Bums in the Attic” by Sandra Cisneros, the main character attempts to escape through dreams of having things she knows she cannot have. Cisneros suggests this when she writes, “I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works … I am tired of looking at what we cannot have.” [San1] The main character’s family longs for a house and, ultimately, a life they cannot attain. The family escapes their current situation by daydreaming and house hunting, even though they know they will never live in places anything like the ones they imagine, thus living a false reality to escape their actual circumstances.
The concept of escaping and the desire to escape can be seen in many literary compositions. While some characters’ attempts to escape are successful in some texts, others are not, as seen in “The Lottery”. In many works of literature, a false reality is on display, creating a surreal world in which certain characters reside, while others come to accept the true reality depicted in the story, such as in “Bums in the Attic”, “No Speak English” and “Night Lady”. However, there are a few instances where characters are so determined to escape that they succeed, as seen in “Sonny’s Blues”, where their desire to escape proves beneficial. The one commonality all these texts share is the heartache the characters experience, leading them to desire an escape from their current reality.
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