The theory of art allows for meaning to be extracted from works of literature. This theory allows us to understand and analyze works, and explain how they are made, and for what purpose. The origin of these works comes from the fact that all people experience the world, and from their experiences, the information taken in since birth, develop a worldview, i. e. a set of beliefs based on personal experience of how the world works. A subset of all the people are artists, such as authors.
The works of art generated by artists are expressions of their worldview, brought to light by their art, as a way to communicate their worldview to others. This art includes authors’ literary works, which can be analyzed through tools, such as characters, which are a physical person, or personified nonperson that reveals something; symbols, which are physical objects, places, or ideas that represent something other than themselves; and themes, a central concept or idea in a text. These tools allow meaning to be extracted from literary work. There are some important issues with the theory of art, however.
It is reductive, as art is inherently unique to both cultures and persons, and has abstract elements. Thus, attempts to define art, such as through the theory of art, are criticized for lack of accuracy and usefulness. Nevertheless, art needs to be able to be analyzed and understood in order to be viewed critically, and having a standard theory that analyzes how art comes to be and what art is made of helps facilitate that. Through analysis with this theory of art, the theme of sin in D. H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is apparent through the adults’ corruption by greed, ausing the death of a child in their pursuit of financial gain. Additionally, Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” demonstrates that sinful and non-spiritualistic beliefs will result in a loss of both ability and moral character, while “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” shows ignoring one’s sin will always lead to loss. The adults in “The Rocking-Horse Winner” become consumed with greed for money obtained through the exploitation of a clairvoyant child named Paul. Though Paul’s mother is greedy, his Uncle Oscar’s greed trumps hers, as is apparent after Paul’s final episode.
After Paul’s final prediction, and “in spite of himself, Oscar Cresswell spoke to Bassett[,the gardener and original partner], and himself put a thousand on Malabar: at fourteen to one” (109). Uncle Oscar’s greed and moral corruption is apparent, as he is now weighing humanity and money as equals. By betting in spite of himself, he is demonstrating a conflict of interests. Morally, he should stay with a sick child who has just collapsed, but if he gives into greed, he could bet and be certain he would win.
By choosing to bet, and betting the large amount of ? ,000, he demonstrates that he has been wholly corrupted by greed. So much so, that he chooses to bet on the horse Malabar at odds of fourteen to one. This gives further weight to his choice, as he is not only is he valuing his material wealth over a child’s life, but he is also using this child as a crutch to obtain the wealth he craves. Paul’s mother also uses Paul as a crutch, but does so unknowingly. Paul’s mother’s greed is personified by the house, a needy entity with an ever-growing appetite. Even when she was guaranteed ? 1,000 a year, she wanted all ? 5,000 at once.
When she “touched the whole five thousand… something very curious happened. The voices in the house suddenly went mad. … ‘There must be more money! ” (107). As soon as the mother is able to confirm she will indeed receive all the money she can, the house goes mad. Her appetite for wealth only increases when she receives the wealth, not before. It is also telling that the house going mad after she received the money was curious. The expectation of Paul was that giving his mother the money she wanted would satisfy her. Instead, it causes the house to go mad, demanding there must be more money.
Through Lawrence’s depiction of the sin, he concedes that sin will indeed lead to material benefits, but at the cost of a moral corruption and obsession with the sin and material goods it brings. This is an important commentary when applied to the world of wants, where status symbols are material objects, and each economic class attempts to mimic the higher class in terms of material goods, a parallel of the material obsession apparent in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” shows that being spiritual does not mean one is immune to sin.
The grandmother, despite being religious, is guilty of the cardinal sin of hubris, regarding herself and her worldview. This is especially clear in her conversation with Red Sam, her pride becomes blatantly obvious. As he is talking about how “[Y]ou don’t know who to trust, … [a]in’t that the truth? ‘ [she responds] ‘People are certainly not nice like they used to be” (189). In her response, she is extremely quick to transform Red Sam’s observation that some people are untrustworthy into a fact about how people were nicer in the past.
By stating that people were nicer, she is alluding to moral character. She chose not to use the word trustworthy, as that is limited to only trust, and to use the word nice, a reflection of moral character as a whole. She also chose to use the phrase “like they used to be,” alluding to a past time and past group of people who were morally superior and nicer. By alluding to an older generation, she is able to pridefully include herself in with the nicer and superior people.
Given that Red Sam only asked a rhetorical question, it becomes clear that she does have a sinful amount of pride, yet, surprisingly, is simultaneously unaware of her sinful worldview, viewing it instead as incontrovertible fact. The Misfit, however, is not so indirect. The Misfit does not pretend to not have committed sin. Instead, he states he is just the result of an unfair and unjust system that does not punish him for the crimes he actually committed, and that if he “had been there [when Jesus raised the dead, he] would have known [if Jesus truly did raise the dead] and [he] wouldn’t be like [he is] now” (195).
The Misfit, despite believing in Jesus as a spiritual figure, views the world as meaningless, as everyone will be punished no matter what. He believes that if he had seen Jesus raise the dead, then he would know for sure to give up everything and follow Jesus. However, as The Misfit does not know for sure if Jesus raised the dead, he states that there is nothing to do but enjoy the few moments of life you have in the best way one can, which he defines as meanness directed to others.
He reached this conclusion use he believes his first incarceration was unlawful, and based on false charges, and is able to justify his conclusion by distancing himself from his religious beliefs. He calls himself The Misfit “because [he] can’t make what all [he’s] done wrong fit what she’s] gone through in punishment” (195). This means that he views his convictions as punishments he did not deserve, but he would receive no matter what he did. His reaction to the comment that there was some fun in killing the family, from Bobby Lee, an accomplice, is telling of this worldview.
He retorts that there is no real pleasure in life. His lack of pleasure in life arises from his worldview that nothing matters and life is only a few fleeting moments, and the distance he purposefully creates between his beliefs and actions. O’Connor’s story depicts two people who have distanced themselves so far from their sin that they can no longer recognize it’s moral consequences. The grandmother, so intent on being superior, cannot even recognize her pride as hubris.
She failed to recognize that each person has their own worldview, and has instead adopted her’s as the one and only truth. The Misfit did much the same, insisting his view of the world explains why he was punished unfairly and why he is the way he is. The inability to recognize or notice sin reflects upon society as a critique of not only those who choose not to recognize their own sin and it’s corruption, but society itself, from the elderly family members, which we are taught to respect, to convicted criminals. Thus he demonstrates no one is sinless by status, only by action or inaction.