Freedom in Paradox
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EXPOS-UA03-001 Professor Michelle WilsonReinhard Yin 10/16/2017Freedom in Paradox People usually see freedom as the ability to do whatever they want, and being free means to have the ability to chose. Annie Dillard challenges this idea in her essay by suggesting that sometimes having too many choices will not necessarily bring people freedom; however, “sticking with single necessity”(Dillard, 2) will set people’s mind free. Dillard well illustrates such claim through several opposing concepts including life and death, natural and unnatural, simplicity and complexity. Although Dillard talks many opposing concepts in her essay, it is not hard to find out that some of these concepts are not opposing each other at all—but in some way they are the similar or even complementary to the other. And sometimes the truth just happens to come from those paradox, like the meaning of freedom. Starting with the story of how a weasel died in defending himself from an eagle, the essay talks about Dillard’s visit to Hollins pond in order to learn how to live. As Dillard crossed the city, she exchanged a long glance at the suburbia with a weasel who crossed the woods. Insisting that had exchanged soul with the weasel, Dillard realizes that sometimes living a simple life, which drove by instincts, just like weasels will set people’s minds free from having too many complex choices. Among all opposing ideas in Dillard’s essay, there are two of them stands out the first: life and death. The whole essay starts with the story of how a weasel died under a preying eagle’s claw, and ends with Dillard’s self-consciousness reborn. By structuring her essay in such way, Dillard is trying to present a philosophy of that life goes a full circle and sometimes things will change into opposite direction just like the meaning of freedom. Moreover, in first paragraph, as Dillard writes down, “he bites his prey at the neck, either splitting the jugular vein at the throat or crunching the brain at the base of the skull,”(1) she describes the weasel as an violent creature, who kills others for living. Ironically, she learns the meaning of life from this violent creature as living at the moment and following the instincts without overthinking too many other choices. Such ironic scenario reveals that two contradictory concepts sometimes may also be complementary to each other. People see things just based on their stereotype and covers, but the truth might sometimes be opposite to what it seems to be or people see. By presenting such message, Dillard sows the seed for readers to understand her opinion of freedom: the true freedom comes from insisting one necessity instead of changing around from different possibilities.
Speaking of the concepts of natural and unnatural, Dillard is mainly talking the interaction of human and wild life. When Dillard describes the weasel which bites on the neutralist as “like a stubborn label,”(1) she is also drawing a connection with her own reaction when seeing the weasel at the first time—she just can’t get rid of the weasel in her mind like the neutralist, and the process of writing this essay is the process of “soaking it off.”(1) By making a connection with the neutralist, the message Dillard is trying to deliver here is that there must be some universal understandings in this world; no matter whom can always feel this understanding, for example, the admiration and astonishment of the weasel’s determination and insistence on the “single necessity”. The connection between unnatural and natural is everywhere, especially in the repeating uses of reflexive structures in Dillard’s essay. As Dillard says, “I startled a weasel who startled me, and we exchanged a long glance,”(1) and “I was looking down at a weasel, who was looking up at me,”(2) she is drawing a picture of both characters looking at each other and the subtle atmosphere between them is growing more and more intense. This syntactical repetition creates a sense that Dillard and the weasel simultaneously look at each other, suggesting that there might be some sort of connections between her and the weasel. Basically what Dillard is trying to say here is that sometimes human and wild life are not as different as the public thought, and in some way, they are similar to or can even communicate with each other. When she is connected with the weasel, and the weasel is connected with her, the only thing existing in their minds are each others. By glancing at each other, Dillard and the weasel are “grasping the single necessity”(2) at this moment.