Perfection Is How You See it
In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel
Hawthorne, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the performance by Odds Bodkin we see different examples of perfection. Every person in the world sees things a little differently. Each person has their own preferences and has different opinions on what is ugly and what is beautiful; what is perfect and what is imperfect. There is no exact answer or definition to beauty and perfection and that leaves it open to interpretation. In these three literary works and one performance, the author or performer presents us with their own definition of perfect, ranging from the material world to the natural.
In “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth, the speaker talks about his encounter with and affection towards nature. As he wanders through the natural world around him, he describes the beauty that he sees. In the first stanza, he sees “A host, of golden daffodils…fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. He then goes on the describe them as, “continuous as the stars that shine and twinkle in the Milky Way”. At this point in the poem it is clear that the speaker is enamored with the vastness of the world around him. He claims that he is wandering alone yet; there are “crowds” of daffodils surrounding him. He then describes the waves in a nearby bay as “sparkling waves in glee” and “dancing”. Towards the end of the poem, is becomes clear that this nature that the speaker sees is his “perfection”. He says that what he saw in nature was “the bliss of solitude” and because of that his “heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils. It is clear that the speaker’s idea of perfection is nature.
“The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne also deals with the idea of perfection. In this short story, a man by the name of Aylmer wants to take a birthmark off the cheek of his wife named Georgiana. Describing his rational, on the second page he says, “No dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection”. Aylmer struggles with the fact that his wife does not fit his definition of perfect. He has come to the conclusion that nature itself is incapable of reaching this lofty expectation and decides that he is the only one capable of creating such perfection. In trying to reach his idea of perfection, Aylmer gives his wife a potion that does end up removing the birthmark but unfortunately also kills her. This short-story shows us that there is not one “perfect” human body, but the human body itself is something perfect that science cannot replicate.
In “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, we see another type of perfection. This perfection is a material item, a room. In the story a woman and her husband move into a hereditary estate for the summer. The woman is suffering from some sort of hysteria and is ordered to rest and not work until she is better. Her husband, who is a doctor, wants to ensure her rest so he puts bars on her window and a gate on the stair, so she is locked in the upstairs of the house. The woman spends so much time in that one room that she begins to go crazy and becomes obsessed with the wallpaper. Eventually at the end of the summer, she refuses to leave the room. The room is “perfect” to the main character not because it is ideal or beautiful but because it is where she feels safest and most comfortable.
In the performance by Odds Bodkin the audience was given a unique view into the ancient Greek world that is presented to us in Homer’s The Iliad. Before his performance, Bodkin said that he sings and performs the Iliad to give a better and clearer image of the natural world and surroundings in the epic poem. To Odds Bodkin perfection is a certain time in history. He looks back on history and views this ancient Greek era as a much simpler time, a time when much of the world was still unexplored, untouched, and pure. Also in war, this wasn't a time of long range weapons and chemicals. It was an era of intimate, hand-to-hand combat in which you often knew the name of the man you were trying to kill. There was also a certain amount of glory and pride in a death during battle and that was often how men would prefer to go. To Odds, this all seems a bit romantic and this simpler time is a perfect world to him.
The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” applied perfectly to this idea of perfection. There are no parameters or guidelines to perfection and it really is a different thing to every person. These two short stories, the poem, and the performance provide evidence to support this idea.