Life Without Hope?

The question, because it is a question, came to mind when I was mulling over some reader comments about a character, and trying to suss out motivations and what drove him. Something motivates him, otherwise he’d be dead twice over. But I’m not sure he knows, which makes character development tricky. What is his reason for living? Well, his faith takes a dim view of suicide unless it is for very, very specific reasons, but “you’re not allowed to kill yourself” doesn’t fit his personality, at least not at the moment.

Pig-headed determination can be a heck of a motivator, especially when linked with, “I’ll show him/them!” People who live decades after doctors told them to go home and die, military personnel and other warriors who survive terrible odds out of pure spite (often tied in with getting even, or avenging someone else.) Those are both examples, as are the people who keep going out of duty. I’ve met one person like that, and she was . . . different. She could not let herself die, or even step back and rest, until she got four children raised and out into the world on their own feet. They were not her children, but she’d promised to take care of them no matter what, and so she was. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t a believer in any religion. it didn’t matter. She’d given her word, and had taken up the duty, and was raising the children as best she could. I was in awe, and somewhat uncomfortable. I suspect that when the last child became independent, she would follow her late husband and other family members to the grave.

This character, though . . . duty fits, duties that he’s been assigned by his culture, and those he’s taken upon himself. He has faith, strong faith, but that’s not his only motivator, nor will it keep him going through the years. He’s not called to be clergy. He lacks hope, other than hope for a better life in the next world. He plans for survival, but it’s just that – survival. Nothing more, not where he will be in X years, not looking for a wife or making close friends.

People can live without hope, perhaps, if they have a strong enough goal and personality. Some thinkers say that hope is the cruelest thing, because it raises expectations and leads to dreams of better times and happiness that are then destroyed, crushing the spirit. That’s true. We’ve all had hopes dashed, be they hopes for neat Christmas stuff, or hopes that the dream date will be as good as anticipated, or that the cute guy will accept an invitation to the dance, or that a scenario will turn out right and the world will improve. And it doesn’t happen. Prayers are not answered in the way we want, the cute guy turns out to be a cad (or has a family commitment that night), the band cancels the concert, the politician isn’t as advertised, the serpent lied about the taste of the fruit . . . Hopes collapse, leaving bitterness and ashes behind. Been there, felt that, and it hurts. Duty replaces hope, or wrath and the desire for revenge replace hope, and the person pushes through.

That doesn’t work in this instance. The character has to grow, to enjoy life and to look ahead to a future with hope and dreams in it. How to get him there . . . I’m still grappling with, in part because it means looking inside me and asking some questions.

I hate it when characters make me do that. 🙂

8 thoughts on “Life Without Hope?

  1. Yes — the character and outcomes seemed to come up a bit – flat? No: *bleak* was the word I wanted. He’s trammeled into a narrow field of view, with eternity ahead and nothing to widen it (yet). But … Corinthians keeps coming to mind; need to let some ideas mature first.

    And it’s good writing when your readers chime in with comments about enriching characters and expanding the universe.

  2. If it’s the character I suspect it is, my understanding (as always, personal opinions that may be completely wrong) is that he lives a life of duty. But there’s nothing in this life (currently) for him to look forwards to. His training and understanding of his duty means that he won’t recklessly put his life at risk, but I’m not so sure that he understands that there are people who will care if he doesn’t return. In his head he may grasp that, but it doesn’t seem to have reached to his heart.

    Yet at the end of the last story there are the first glimmerings of a future, in that he has/will have a permanent residence again for the first time in years. There were also possible foreshadowings of a future marriage, should he be able to grasp what’s in front of him. I hope the combination of the two will allow him to escape from his perspective that his life is ‘duty without future’.

    Just my tuppen’orth. Author’s opinions trump mine.

  3. There are times when only a sense of duty carries you forward. Then something small occurs (a rainbow, a puppy bounding over and licking your leg, a genuine smile) that makes you lift your head for a moment and think for a moment of something out there beyond duty. As you notice more and more, you begin to join the real world again.

  4. A strong sense of duty and dark humor will carry you through times without hope.
    The Army really lost something when they banned Jody calls like “Napalm sticks to kids” and “All the bleeding bodies”.

  5. Even if a person only has duty to sustain them in life they can still find simple joy in a bird’s song, a flowering tree, or the stars at night. That can carry a person on and as more good things happen to them they can slowly develop hope and then the sense of duty is available in the background for the rough spots in a gradually smoothing road.

  6. What does a person do when their duties are done?
    Of course, there is our duty to Mankind, but that is so impersonal.
    Some people can no longer physically carry out what was once their duty,,,now what?

    My personal answer is a simple one. Curiosity. What’s going to happen next? (I think my previous incarnation was a cat.)

  7. oooh, a philosophical question! Prepare to have your brain sprained. You Have Been Warned. 🙂

    I don’t think a normal, sane human being can live without hope. We always have hopes and dreams, even if we don’t admit them to anyone – not even ourselves. It’s part of being human. More than that, I don’t think it’s possible to give up on hope, even if it’s just the hope that somehow, somewhere, what we do will make a difference to someone. Because the only reason for a sane person to give up on hope is the subconscious hope that the act of giving up hope will itself somehow, some way, make things better.

Comments are closed.