In the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, Dory, says to Marlin, concerning his son Nemo – “If nothing happens to him, nothing will ever happen to him.” I think this quote goes for all life. No life starts in a box, or under a bell jar, or behind steel bars. Life starts as a fight and enters this world with a scream. It cannot be lived within the picture but has to be lived as a child’s crayon that spreads the colour all over the page, rather than staying inside the given lines. All lives are made of stories and all stories are made of life. Life cannot be without conflict. And stories cannot be without life.
It is perhaps fact then that, as Veronica Roth says, ‘without conflict there are no stories worth telling- or reading.’ But we must ask ourselves why that is. Is that because we are a sadistic race enjoying the pain of another? Or are we perhaps a masochistic group of people enjoying the feeling of pain? It could be that we place more value in adversity. Maybe it is all of the above, and maybe it is none of them. But mostly it may just be that we find conflicting areas in a story to become mirrors in which we see our problems. I have found that the most comforting feeling in the world is that we are not alone and maybe that feeling is the one we are looking for when we pick up a copy of Hamlet or Harry Potter. It has been found that loneliness lights up the same parts in our brain as physical pain. Maybe books ease that pain a little for us. Ernest Hemmingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” On some days, this quote is all that has kept me going. And perhaps another quote, by another author, in another book, or another story, has kept you going when everything else was pushing you back.
Our lives are never easy. They never have been. From the dawn of civilisation to now – we have struggled with a curse to never stay still for too long. To always grow and evolve and become better. The earliest stories that are known to man – cave paintings – capture the daily struggles of different people. These pictures were drawn perhaps to share a hardship or pass on information, and in doing so, they became stories. Maybe we can’t truly relate to being chased by a woolly mammoth – but we can definitely relate to the crazy adrenaline rush and the nerve-wracking fear that we may die under the hooves of a giant hairy beast. After surviving this chase, however, the person would be filled with a new respect for his life and a newfound love for his people, learning the lesson of never trying to attack a sleeping mammoth again. Without a woolly mammoth or two, our lives would start to feel meaningless. If life’s roller coaster had no highs and lows and was just a straight line, it wouldn’t be living. That would just be existing.
In her novel ‘The Bell Jar’ Sylvia Plath says, “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.” A story with no conflict is a story in a bell jar. But a story with struggles and relief, with hardships and ease – a story like that, is a story full of life. A story that takes your breath away and fills your lungs back with air at the same time. A story is one that lets both the writer and reader drown into its waters and then beaches them, entirely awake and alive.