Sometimes it’s harder to know what you want, than it is to know what you don’t want.
Example: “I don’t know if I want ice cream, but I definitely know I don’t want olives.”
Desire stems from discontentment (knowing what you don’t want). Perhaps the desire is ambiguous and confusing, but the discontentment is clear and definitive. I’ve noticed this complicated theme in stories like Their Eyes, Mrs. Dalloway, Melanctha, and even in Heart of Darkness.
Despite the difference in story and narration, each protagonist portrayed within the novels mentioned carry a need and desire for something more… from their lives. This discontentment leads to a searching, in hopes to find what is fulfilling, adventurous, and satisfying. In the 1909 short story, Melanctha, for instance, she wanders. “ From the time that Melanctha was twelve until she was sixteen she wandered, always seeking but never more than very dimly seeing wisdom” (Stein 80) http://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html
It is unclear how wandering is defined; it is left up to the reader to decipher that. Perhaps it is wandering for a freedom from her dysfunctional family, perhaps it is wandering for a knowledge outside of her limited education, or perhaps it is wandering to fall in love. Nonetheless, Melanctha wanders to seek something more than what her life is offering.
Published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway shares a similar desire, but for raw connection with people as opposed to her empty and dull relationship with Mr. Dalloway. It isn’t until the end of the novel when Septimus commits suicide, does Mrs. Dalloway interestingly feels enlightened and even at peace, recognizing how she could relate to Septimus’s depression.
“She felt somehow very like him—the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 1925. Print.
In Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, (1899): ” I wouldn’t have believed it of myself; but then-you see- I felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook” (Conrad 109), Marlowe expresses his desire for adventure and exploration, to discover the unknown.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008. Print.
In Hurston’s Their Eyes, Janie Starks contemplates her resentment towards Nanny, feeling as if she has limited her from her desire to live outside of the traditionally “successful” norm for a black woman. “She hated her grandmother and had hidden it from herself all these years under a cloak of pity. She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people…But nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her. (89)”
Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Web.
The historical trajectory of these novels can be applied to the fact that this was during a time when people were embracing identity and defining what makes up culture. Naturally, one would want to discover and learn to see what life can offer outside of the traditional norm.