By Brandon McGinley Columnist
Published: Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
Published: Tuesday, April 13th, 2010
He stands on the precipice, the One Ring dangling on a chain from his clenched fist. To release the ring is to destroy it in the molten river of Mount Doom, to fulfill the task for which he braved months of anguish, danger and temptation. To embrace the ring is madness: He is in the middle of Sauron’s kingdom; he will be destroyed. He turns to his companion, his pained and selfless determination replaced by a countenance of cold resolve to embrace the pleasure and the power of that which he had resisted for so long: “The ring is mine.” A wicked smile crosses his face. He places the ring on his finger and disappears. Ultimately, it is in a struggle between Frodo and the desperate creature Gollum — a struggle not to destroy the ring, but to claim it — that the ring is destroyed, as Gollum rapturously clutches it as he tumbles into the magma.
It’s easy to see this as unnecessary and unrealistic melodrama. On analysis, however, this scene from the end of the third installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy offers some important insights about human nature and the human condition.
Frodo’s internal struggle at the crucial moment is neither ridiculous nor contrived, but entirely human. (Yes, I know he was a hobbit, but work with me here.) Reflect for a moment on the actual nature of the decision he faces. Wearing the ring provides (potential) access to power of a form and magnitude inconceivable to our minds. Consider the pure and overwhelming sensation of exhilaration that must flood the senses as the ring is slipped onto one’s finger. All other concerns fade away as, at the present, one is (or has the potential to be) the most powerful being alive.
To destroy the ring is not only to deprive oneself of this transcendent pleasure, but to assure that no being (including, and especially, oneself) can never again access that sensation, that power. Throwing the ring into the magma does not just destroy an object, but an experience, for all time. During the arduous journey, eliminating the ring is merely a concept in Frodo’s mind; in Mount Doom, he is faced with the physical act of destroying power and pleasure themselves, inasmuch as the ring represents their most intense manifestations.
And he cannot do it. Claiming the ring is irrational, he will clearly be annihilated by Sauron’s minions. And yet he cannot resist its allure. We can condemn this decision; we can say it was unreasonable; we can say it was selfish; we can say it was immoral. But can we with confidence claim that we would have chosen differently? I think the answer is clearly “no,” and that is precisely why the choice and the internal turmoil it inspires are so compelling. Comprehending and agonizing over such a decision — between selfishness and selflessness, between indulgence and self-denial, between good and evil — are constitutive elements of the human experience. And to decide wrongly is altogether realistic, altogether human.
The modern tendency, however, is to deny that such choices of moral consequence exist at all. We say with flippant confidence that “the right decision is whatever’s right for you.” Wouldn’t that be delightful? There would be no moral touchstones — no right and wrong, no good and evil — other than our own subjective decision-making. And best of all, sensations such as guilt and shame would be nothing but meaningless constructions; the personal struggle and inner turmoil that accompany moral decisions, as one tries to bring one’s will and actions into accordance some greater moral truth, would be excised from the human experience.
To do so, I would argue, would be to deny an essential aspect of our humanity. The ability to consider competing moral reasons for action or inaction is a unique aspect of our humanity, and therefore so is the torment that accompanies particularly difficult decisions and the regret that follows deciding wrongly. In trying to sanitize the human experience and to insulate ourselves from the most disconcerting and troublesome aspects of being human, we dilute what it means to ‘be human.’ We reduce ourselves to beasts driven by instinct and appetite, rather than persons governed by reason and contemplation.
There is a haunting beauty to Frodo’s struggle with temptation as he wrestles with the moral imperative to destroy the ring and the competing, overwhelming desire to claim the power it holds in its limitless potentiality. This beauty, however, is not mitigated by his ultimately succumbing to temptation; it is located in the struggle itself. Frodo takes the moral dilemma with which he is faced seriously and chooses to wrestle with the decision on its own terms. It is this first choice — to willingly accept the struggle — that makes this scene so evocative, and Frodo a hero.
We cannot expect a world in which all choose rightly all the time, in which selflessness, self-denial and good reign permanently over selfishness, indulgence and evil. To err, after all, is human. But we can expect and demand a world in which moral choices are taken seriously, in which people choose to embrace moral conflict and thus their identity as human persons, rather than to deny the struggle, and thus themselves.
Brandon McGinley is a politics major from Pittsburgh, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fonte: The Daily Princetonian