retrieved reformation and button button analysis

The metaphoric tree of choice branches out into selfishness and selfness, which are two adjectives on opposite ends of the spectrum of morality. Most humans aspire to be the epitome of righteousness, but our own desires and self-interest often prevent us from reaching that goal. All the choices we make should be selfless, considering our choices affect not only us, but the people around us. However, people are only willing to make meager sacrifices for others which causes the selfish side of the spectrum to dominate selfless side. People are wired in such a complex way, which makes it challenging to understand the human race. However, by reading we can enter the imagination of other human beings. This allows us to better understand people, as it gives us a way to learn about different views. For this reason, reading multiple short stories gives us various views which we can combine to understand the complex human race. Different plots can connect, and certain themes teach us valuable lessons. The characters in the short stories “A Retrieved Reformation” and “Button, Button” are required to make tough decisions. Although these characters have contrasting pasts, both are faced with the same stressful factors involved with making tough decisions. Jimmy Valentine’s decision was selfless while Norma’s was selfish. Their choices lie on opposite ends of the spectrum of morality, which yields different outcomes. While these decisions have different outcomes, both stories portray the theme that selfless decisions result in more positivity than selfish ones; consequently, the different character’s decisions demonstrate that their pasts do not have to control their futures.

Although Jimmy Valentine is a crook in his past, the selfless decision he makes to save Agatha proves his morals are no longer contaminated with the evil that previously dominates his heart; this act of selflessness results positively. In the past, Jimmy gains an abundant amount of cash by stealing from safes. In addition, he manufactures his own tools, which not only shows his dedication to his criminal activities, but shows how skilled he was at it. Jimmy’s love for Annabel changes his seemingly unchangeable ways. In other words, Jimmy’s love for Annabel was so strong, that it prevails over his crooked past. When Jimmy saves Agatha, he shows that his old deceptive nature had vanished. Even though saving Agatha was not directly beneficial for Jimmy, he made the decision for the betterment of others. A decision of the caliber not only demands his new identity as a sacrifice, but the love of his life as well. Jimmy chooses this decision without hesitation, but requires Annabel to give him her rose as a memory.

This memento signifies the unconditional love Jimmy had for Annabel, but soon the rose will wither away; once he “[stuffs] it in his vest pocket, [throws] off his coat and [pulls] up his shirt sleeves … Ralph D. Spencer [passes] away,” as does Jimmy’s connection with Annabel (Henry 36). All of the sacrifices Jimmy makes inflict damage on his own life. His willingness to endure pain for others demonstrates selfless character. These incredible sacrifices prove that Jimmy’s revamp of character was authentic “and even Ben Price thinks … [Jimmy’s] wrong life has turned right and [has] stayed that way” (“A Retrieved Reformation”). Ben gives Jimmy a second chance, which in hindsight is a positive outcome. In addition, this opens up new opportunities for Jimmy which is better than the everlasting guilt of letting a young child die.

Despite Norma’s average lifestyle, she chooses a selfish decision which ultimately results in a devastating outcome; the death of her innocent husband. Norma’s attempt of justifying another human being’s death fails because no human life holds a greater value than another, no matter if it’s an “old Chinese peasant ten thousand miles away … [or a] diseased native in the Congo” (Matheson 592). This, along with even considering pushing the button reveals Norma’s true egotistic personality. Her lousy morals and corrupt thoughts show a lack of respectable character. Norma’s despicable ethics and covetous nature causes her to choose the selfish decision of killing another human being for money. Arthur’s death was the consequence of Norma’s excessive greed, which by all standards is considered an appalling outcome. Every day, Norma will have to live with the fact that she killed her husband, which will emotionally tear her apart. The insanity ignites inside of her once she frantically smashes the box “on the sink edge” and cuts “her fingers” while splitting the wood (Matheson 594). In addition to harming her own husband, Norma’s selfish actions place a toll on her own wellbeing. In other words, her selfish choice negatively affected her own self as well. If she can somehow endure this vicious mental strain, then her judgment will no longer be clouded with avarice.

The day her delusion disappears will mark the day her past no longer influences her future. Norma will be able to become a better individual and make selfless decisions after she recovers from this experience. Even though Jimmy Valentine was a criminal in his past and Norma was an average human being, the “criminal” makes the selfless decision while the “normal” human makes a selfish one; this decision not only teaches us that selfless decisions are always better, but shows us our history does not have to influence the present. Frighteningly, in “Button, Button” a typical family is portrayed, since “the protagonists in [most] fantasy fiction” stories, as the “main characters are ordinary people who discover that terror lurks beneath the familiar, comfortable veneer of reality”; this strengthens the connection between the reader and Norma, as common humans like her are easily relatable to (“Richard Matheson”). Jimmy previously robbed banks, deceived the law, and committed many other acts of misconduct. Although his history shows him deviating from the path of morality, he still chose a more humanitarian decision than Norma, a typical human being. Instead of our pasts controlling the present, we should use previous experiences to enhance our personalities and improve our decision making skills. Yesterday’s darkness does not determine tomorrow’s brightness.

Although history is set in stone, our individual personalities and beliefs can change, as Jimmy’s does. The reader becomes aware of his reconstruction of character when Jimmy writes in a letter to an old friend that he “wouldn’t do another crooked thing for the whole world,” which confirms Jimmy’s old ways are behind him (Henry 35). We have the ability to mold our futures, like clay, into any shape we desire. While “A Retrieved Reformation” and “Button, Button” are both entertaining stories, deep analysis provides the reader with valuable lessons and themes. Humans are inherently selfish as Norma was, but this innate quality does not have to stick forever. Change is crucial to a healthy lifestyle and the development of better character. Jimmy is a prominent example of this, as his mischievous life style transforms into the role of a loving fiancée. Although Jimmy and Norma are fictional characters created many years ago, they apply to our lives today and help break down the intricate nature of human beings. Poor choices do not necessarily equate to poor character. However, becoming a better individual requires reflection of past choices and willingness to change. Through this, the world will escape the selfish side of the spectrum of morality, which will renovate the human race.

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