Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

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Lynette Abel


Part 1, How Can Men and Women Be Sure of Themselves?

Part 2, Is It Smart to Look At Our Self-Doubt?

Part 3, Good Will Is What Will Have3 a Woman Truly Confident


Is It Smart to Look At Our Self-Doubt?

A short story that comments on this question is "The Second Choice," by the 20th century American writer, Theodore Dreiser.   Shirley, the central character, has just received a farewell letter from a young man, Arthur Bristow, whom she had been seeing for several months.  He had flirted with her and flattered her, and she had idealized him, telling herself "everything which was worth happening in love had happened" with Arthur.  Now she had to face once more what she saw as the same dull neighborhood, with women making the same breakfast every morning, and the men sitting on porches in the evenings, reading the newspapers in the same, expected, dreary way. 

       Dreiser tells us that before Arthur, Shirley had cared for Barton Williams, described as "good-natured [and] well meaning, ...all that she desired in a pleasant, companionable way," whom she had led to believe she would marry.  But when she meets Arthur at a party, Dreiser writes: 

How the scales fell from her eyes!...there was a new heaven and a new earth.  Arthur had arrived, and with him a sense of something different.
That "something different," is what women think will make them confident: praise from a man.  Arthur, described as "energetic, good-looking, ambitious" told her she had beautiful eyes...and such a delicately rounded chin, and that he thought she danced gracefully and was sweet...."Do you like me?" he had asked....[F]rom that moment she was almost mad over him. 

     Meanwhile Shirley, who feels in meeting Arthur a spell had come over her, is not interested in really knowing who Arthur is; she's more interested in imagining a comfortable life with him, "far, far away from all commonplace things and life!" and in this way she'll feel sure of herself.  In TRO 892 Ellen Reiss explains: "We will have real self-esteem when our desire is to know--not to see people and things as existing to praise us and make us comfortable."   But because Shirley does not have this purpose, she feels more and more uncertain.  Thinking back, she recalls that while Arthur seemed to like her, when he had talked about the future it never included her.  Dreiser writes "A dreadful sense of helplessness and of impending disaster came over her at these times."  In the past, I had this feeling often.  In issue 1175 of the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss explains: 

 Aesthetic Realism shows this fact, at once the greatest criticism and the greatest praise of a human being:...your discomfort with yourself, is always an organic, deep saying ...from the center of yourself"The way I have thought about things and people is not just, is not beautiful, is unfair, unkind." 
 For a while Shirley, thinking this is smart, sees both Arthur and Barton without either of them being aware of each other.  Dreiser writes: 
How she had lied to Barton to make evenings for Arthur...She had not even mentioned Barton to Arthur because...Arthur was so much better, and somehow...she had not been sure that Arthur would care for her long, if at all, and then--well, and then, to be quite frank, Barton might be good enough.
One evening having previously made a date with Barton, she then goes out with Arthur, and when Barton questions her she gets angry and breaks off with him.  Then, some days later Arthur fails to come when he said he would, and Shirley feels this is the end.  Dreiser describes her thoughts: 
    It seemed for the moment as if the whole world had suddenly been reduced to ashes, that there was nothing but black charred cinders anywhere--she felt that about all life.
This is the result of being political, going after approval as a substitute for liking the world.  Many woman are doing this right now with a man--and this contempt for both the man and the world he comes from always results in tremendous self-doubt. 

      Shirley then begins to reconsider Barton Williams, feeling that his approval, though he is her "second choice," will salvage her low opinion of herself.  Dreiser writes: 

...always there was Barton, the humble or faithful, to whom she had been so unkind and whom she had used and whom she still really liked.  So often self-reproaching thoughts in connection with him crept over her..."I'm a bad girl," she kept telling herself.  "I'm all wrong.  What right have I to offer Barton what is left?"
     Aesthetic Realism shows that the self-doubt we have is the best thing in us.  It is, as Ellen Reiss says in TRO "the force of ethics in us, objecting to our contempt."  Shirley, however tries to put aside her self-questioning, and she swings from uncertainty to false confidence: 
But still, somehow, she realized that Barton, if she chose to favor him, would only be too grateful for even the leavings of others where she was concerned, and that even yet, if she but deigned to crook a finger, she could have him.  He was so simple, so good-natured, so stolid and matter of fact...
Feeling she has no other recourse than to marry Barton, Shirley decides to go to where he works.  Dreiser describes her thoughts: 
Barton...offered sufficient of a future....He had enough money, she knew, to build a cottage for the two of them...He would do his best always to make her happy, she was sure of that....Then going to the mirror she looked at her face and smoothed her hair...."But what's the use?" she asked herself wearily and resignedly after a time.  "Why should I cry?  Why shouldn't I marry Barton? I don't amount to anything, anyhow.  Arthur wouldn't have me.  I wanted him, and I am compelled to take someone else--or no onewhat difference does it really make who....I'm a failure, that's what's the matter with me." 
1998, 2002 Lynette Abel