A Struggle of Good and Evil in Good Country People
Response to Evil
Due to the variance of regulations imposed by both fundamental and radical religious norms, people are unable to conform to a unanimous agreement of good and evil people. In this case person under a certain belief can find the ideals of someone under another to be wrong and vice-versa. Although Nietzsche argues that a triumph of religion is our “spiritualization of hostility”, we manifest this abstract concept in our actions when we speak against those we see as evil. Our proclivity to this often binds us to a side and blinds us with making a correct choice for our beliefs regardless of good or evil. In Sophie’s Choice both the doctor and Sophie commit acts of good and evil in each other’s’ eyes for giving life and taking it. Likewise, the bible selling in Good Country People is able to sexually violate women as long as the woman admits she loves him because the bible says so. Since the bounds of religion influence the moral compass of a person, they are limited when speaking of evil since it only exists in their beliefs. In this way, the existence of an evil person and their resultant action is perceived as so only by the existence of a good person who sees the other as an evil being.
Our perception of good and evil resides in the roots of our beliefs. We instinctively seek adversity, to find a reason to profess our ideals. This adversity is a hunger that drives us to act and speak against evil and overcome it. Nietzsche attributes this hunger to be satiated by religion, Christianity in particular. This is “our spiritualization of hostility. It consists in a profound appreciation of the value of having enemies . . . The church always wanted the destruction of its enemies; we immoralists and Antichristians, find our advantage in this, that the church exists” (Nietzsche 348). The church, however, preaches only the concept of destroying its enemies. Nietzsche, in this way, does not take the next step needed to profess how we speak for good and evil. Since the church only creates the definition of evil, it does not call us to arms and commit evil. Due to this “advantage, we essentially remain good by accepting the existence of evil. The irony in this exists as we are taught to renounce evil with good, but as soon as we do we must commit evil. We “appreciate our enemies” thus respect them for helping us define what is good. However, our moral compass is easily misguided by religious notions and we overstep our bounds of good and cross over to evil by taking action against it. In this way both good and evil finds a mean to exist when one crosses into the other.
The decision to cross sides is often outside of the decision maker’s authority. When Sophie had to choose between her elder son and younger daughter for death in the chambers, she responded to the evil that existed with evil in order to uphold the remaining shred of good. “She heard herself plead in a whisper, “I can’t choose.” Send them both over there, then,” the doctor said to the aide . . . “Take the baby!” She called out. “Take my little girl!” (Styron 75). Sophie made the evil decision of favoritism by sacrificing her daughter for her son. She maintained her belief of good when she admitted that she “Can’t choose”. However, in doing so evil would have manifested in the doctor sending both her children to death. Thus, in order to create a manifestation of good by saving the life of at least one of her children, Sophie had to commit evil by making a choice. In this way that she surpasses the Nietzschian teaching of the church’s want for “destruction of its enemies” by destroying her enemy’s original notion to kill both her children. Despite this, the doctor has traits of a good person providing life where there is death. He, however would be considered evil if he never gave Sophie the choice of life for her one of her children. In this way in order for both parties to be good, they had to accept an evil choice. The alignment of Christianity for both the doctor and Sophie caused the opportunity for choice in the first place, but it was differences in radical norms that allowed good and evil to coexist.
The crossover of both good and evil is often intertwined in the lore of religion. As the similarity of faith allowed good and evil to prosper in Sophie’s Choice, the interpretation of religious texts can allow the legitimacy of a good act within evil context. In Good Country People, the bible seller discovered a way to justify his lust, the evil action, by convincing Hulga to agree to the good action that would almost negate the effect of his. Persuading Hulga to make a good choice so he could make an evil one, the bible seller asked, “I just want to know if you love me or don’tcher?” and he caught her to him and wildly planted her face with kisses until she said, Yes, yes.” “Okay then,” he said, letting her go. “Prove it” (O’Connor 289). Through this instance, like Sophie, an evil decision would have happened regardless even if she chose not to love the bible seller. Nevertheless, the presence of this evil allowed an opportunity for good to occur as Hulga confessed her love for the bible seller. Just as Sophie made an evil decision in her favoritism, Hulga makes the evil decision of going against her beliefs, thus making herself the evil one while allowing the bible seller to turn his lust into good. After her decision is made, the bible seller knows he is no longer held accountable for any evil so he does not have to pressure her when he asks her to “Prove it”. From the manipulation of Hulga, the bible seller is able to protect himself from evil by joining the religious requirements with his beliefs for his sadistic desires to be fulfilled.
Although religion dictates an alignment of good and evil the idea of virtuous good and evil is blurred. In the case of Sophie, she was able to save a child instead of sending on to their death. Virtuously she protect her child to the best of her ability. Likewise when Hulga agreed to love the bible seller, she desired affection for her own good. She did not harm anyone nor did she infringe upon the rights of others. Hulga acted for her own pleasure in unison consent with the bible seller. Both intentions were good. Due to this occurrence, the idea of what is virtuously good and evil and what is religiously good and evil differs as the latter acts as a limiting factor. Nietzsche establishes this truth as “The error of free will . . . it is usually the instinct of wanting to judge and punish which is at work” (Nietzsche 355). In other words the religious views on morality are viewpoints from a restrictive perspective whereas virtuous views are intrinsic in nature. Resultantly, the alignment of someone’s actions depends on the religious or virtuous viewpoint of the observer. Ultimately the virtuous view of good and evil and its religious counterparts are two sides of the same coin existing as responses to each other. Consequently, this makes it difficult for people to speak of good and evil as separate entities.
Although it is possible for evil to exist by itself, it can coexist with the presence of good. This only occurs when a person decides to take up evil in order to bring out good. In this way Nietzsche lays out a framework that good is possible only as a response to evil. The actualization of evil, however, results from a person’s acceptance of evil. Ultimately Sophie and Hulga made decisions of evil in order to bring out a good. Evil acts as a catalyst for good empowering a person to surpass the limits of their religion that instructs them to “spiritualize” our hostility to manifest hostility perform evil and resolve conflict with good.
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