Adversity In Night Essay

Racing their way down the ramshackle streets of an allAmerican slum, two young boys hurry home. Next-doorneighbors on the seedy side of town, the two children share fears, sorrows, and joys. Yet while one boy will attend a prestigious medical school, his friend will join the gang down the street. In their diverging paths, these boys challenge common beliefs about adversity. One such belief belongs to Roman poet Horace. Says the philosopher, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.

In the case of the first boy, Horace’s assertion holds true, but his friend’s case reveals its falsehood. Adversity, then, is a fickle matter; one cannot predict whether an adverse experience will raise a man or send him crashing down. Thus, Horace’s statement is not correct, or at least not wholly so. But if adversity is not always a talent scout, what is its role in human character? Given its temperamental nature, one must consider adversity an opportunity. Rather than eliciting talents, as Horace claims, or repressing them, adversity presents options.

From these choices, the unfortunate determine how their misfortune will affect them. Therefore, adversity may provide the possibility for a man’s prosperity or privation, but ultimately it is he who decides his fate. There exists no example in which adversity does not present options to those it afflicts. Even in the most horrifying circumstances, people make choices about how to behave. For example, in his memoir Night, Elie Wiesel faces countless choices as he endures the vilest adversity: genocide.

For example, as his ailing father approaches his end, Elie may either abandon him or help him. For a moment Elie considers the former option, but he brushes the thought aside. In Night, Elie writes that “It [the thought] was only a fraction of a second, but it left me feeling guilty” (Wiesel 111). Atrocity attempts to persuade Elie to the dark of night, but he decides to stay in the light. Instead of giving in to his own animal need to survive, Elie exhibits elevated ethics and supports his father until his death. For this, Elie’s character develops.

Elie realizes his strength, his perseverance, and his heart. However, it is not, as Horace asserts, the adversity in itself that summons these traits. To even suggest that the Holocaust might have produced something constructive is heinous. Rather, Elie makes a choice that rouses these talents of will from their slumber in his unconscious and draws them to the forefront of his mind. Adversity opens the door to character growth, and Elie elicits his own talents. Survival stories feature the heart of humanity as often as they do its hamartia.

For this, experiences like Elie Wiesel’s and others are perhaps the best representatives of adversity as opportunity. Life and death stakes create life or death choices. The 2004 flooding of New Orleans, for example, weighed crucial choices on its victims. New Orleanians might have given up their will and drowned in floodwaters or sorrows, or they might have found the resolve within them to survive. Even those in the latter group made variant choices. Some fought for their own lives, while some put strangers before themselves.

All who made the choice for life benefited, and the selfless more so. The selfless, too, appeared to be among the majority, as countless people banded together to revive their drowned city. Recognizing this spectacular showcase of altruism, author Rebecca Solnit writes that “In some ways, people behave better than in ordinary life and in some disasters people find [out about] the meaningful role of deep social connections and see their absence in everyday life” (qtd. in Szalavitz). Horace might argue that the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina elicited this character growth.

Yet again, however, it is clear that adversity served as opportunity. Those who gained such valuable perspective on life chose to endure their adve Those who resisted the currents of the flood’s emotional destruction reaped the benefits of its character construction. Survivors seized the hurricane’s power and crafted their own strength. The opportunity of adversity does not always result in beneficial behavior. Literature provides a case in which people exploit the choices adversity presents.

In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, characters make choices that lead them astray from human conscience. Bestial cruelty replaces the selflessness one expects from survivors. The characters in Lord of the Flies relinquish their humanity while, as Golding describes, “The world, that understandable and lawful world, [is] slipping away” (122). Still, the adversity itself is not to blame. Rather, the boys of Lord of the Flies make conscious decisions regarding their behavior. In making these choices, the characters allow adversity to amplify the barbarism lurking within humanity.

Adversity itself is only as barbaric as those it affects. Real-world and literary evidence show that adversity may not be the central variable in determining whether one’s character will develop or regress. Adversity promotes growth as often as it does not. Thus, Horace cannot be correct in his assertion that adversity elicits talent, for it does not do so consistently. Even when adversity promotes character growth, another, more significant factor is present: choice. Adversity provides the opportunity for people to make significant decisions.

Those decisions – not the adversity itself-determine whether underlying talents and character traits will be elicited or repressed. What fails to kill a man may make him stronger, or it may cripple him. Through his actions, he decides what will happen. He makes a choice, and that choice determines how his adversity will affect him. That choice determines any dormant talents he may find within himself. That choice, made under the stresses of adversity, determines how he will lead his life from that moment onward.