Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Vast wealth is a snare"

In class, we mentioned the concept of “true happiness” in Twain’s The 30,000 Bequest, whether it was present or even possible in the story.  Aleck and Sally view money and riches as a route to happiness.  On this thought, I did a text search and traced the word “happy” through the reading.

The first instance in the first chapter describes Aleck and her position in life: “She had an independent income from safe investments of about a hundred dollars a year; her children were growing in years and grace; and she was a pleased and happy woman. Happy in her husband, happy in her children, and the husband and the children were happy in her.”  This sort of happiness centers around family bonds, around the security of her “safe investment”, but even more so the security she receives from having happy and healthy children.  Shortly after this exposition, Aleck praises Sally for a smart investment move and he is said to be “poignantly happy”.  However, this show of joy is based around the positive interaction with his wife, not necessarily for the money.

The next mention of happiness does not come until a few chapters later.  It is, interestingly enough, during another instance in which Aleck is especially proud of Sally, and expresses her satisfaction with his latest investment with “a prideful toss of her happy head”.  There is another instance of the word in a later interaction between the two, and then the mention of being “happy” thins out. 

When Sally learns that a recent move has given them an immense lot of disposable income, he is described as being “happy beyond the power of speech”, but in the following paragraph is noted to be “crumbling”.  This sort of “happiness” is crippling them.  And later, the description of Aleck as “flattered and happy” is bordered by depictions of a Sally that is “bleary”, “fervent”, and “dizzy”.  The couple does not sound truly content and stable-- they sound ill.

The final interesting cluster of the word comes when Sally and Aleck believe that they have secured marriages with their two daughters to wealthy men of royalty.  Sally is “profoundly happy”, but it is not because of any wealth that they marriages may add to their capital.  Her happiness stems from the security of her daughters, from the joy that a parent feels in providing for and protecting her children.

One of Sally’s last quotes really drives home the point of wealth as false happiness, as he muses “Vast wealth, acquired by sudden and unwholesome means, is a snare. It did us no good, transient were its feverish pleasures; yet for its sake we threw away our sweet and simple and happy life-let others take warning by us.”  He acknowledges wealth as a false and consuming happiness, and regrets the simple, happy life that he lost.

I guess all this has led me to question my own views on money and happiness.  Would I be satisfied with insane riches?  Would I know when to stop?  With all the pressure and potential that fortune offers, is true happiness even possible?

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