We humans tend to face a lot of dilemmas. What to eat for lunch? How to handle a difficult conversation? How to save money? When a friend comes to me with the desire to ‘talk to me about something’, the something is always a problem. Whether it’s anxiety about the future, a relationship snafu, or something of the like after their emotional explanation all hope seems to have evaporated from the room. But I have to wonder how life could possibly be so inescapably difficult?
In her novel Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton focuses on the topic of ‘dilemma’. She portrays a character, Ethan, trapped in an unfortunate marriage desperately wanting to run away with his new found love, Mattie, but without any means to do it. For lack of a better phrase, Ethan is ‘caught between a rock and a hard place.’ From his failing homestead to his tragic fate, Ethan embodies the ‘dilemma’. (Spoiler alert) the novel ends tragically as Ethan and Mattie in a Romeo and Juliet style attempt at suicide and eternal togetherness endure an accident which paralyzes Mattie and ensures Ethan will spend the rest of his life suffering.
Throughout the novel, Wharton alludes to Ethan’s fate indicating to readers that he has no control over his future. The concept of fate is a recurring theme in literature; however, I cannot subscribe to this school of thought. I believe that any problem can be surmounted, or at least minimized, with a little courage. In literature and in life, ‘fate’ is often used as an excuse for people to fearful to take control and make change.
I am reminded of a quote about courage which currently sits framed on my desk,
“It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
-Atticus Finch, How to Kill a Mockingbird
Rather than focusing on the dilemmas in life, focus on opportunities and solutions. Of course, the world is not perfect, nor should it be, but perhaps with a little courage we could all overcome some dilemmas.