Love & Attraction
Plato (427?-347 B.C.) was the student of Socrates in ancient Athens. He lived a long and productive life as a teacher and philosopher. He wrote The Symposium around 370 B.C when he was about 57 years old. The concern that he is exploring is love and what attracts us to one another. He invents a rather wild myth indicating that the gods originally created humans to have two hears, four arms, four legs and then decided to split us in half. Therefore, we go about life seeking the other half so that we are whole again. If you set the myth aside, the basics remain and are at the heart of how we have thought about attraction between the sexes for the intervening 2,370 plus years since Plato took on the subject.
Plato states: “I say that the way to happiness for our race lies in fulfilling the behests of Love, and in each finding for himself the mate who properly belongs to him.”
Our task is: “To find a sympathetic and congenial object for our affections.”
This gets back to the old adage regarding attractions: Opposites attract.
Plato would argue (and so would Frost) that: Opposites attract disaster.
So your task in life, should you decide to marry, is to find a mate that is the other half of you, your mirror image so to speak.
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of Plato’s theory?
One way of answering that question is to read the play Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. Beckett was born in 1906 and lived a long and successful life as a writer and was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969. He was also a courageous individual as he risked his life assisting the French Resistance during World War II. Although born in Dublin, after getting his college degree he spent most of his adult life in France and in 1961, at the age of 55, he married a French woman, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil. The marriage lasted and Beckett lived his life for the most part as a reclusive figure. The fact that he married late in life and was a recluse makes one wonder if Happy Days is semi-autobiographical. You be the judge.
The play has only two characters---Winnie, a woman about fifty and Willie, a man about sixty. Throughout the first act you see Winnie buried up to above her waist in a mound of earth at the beach with Willie laying behind her mostly out of sight. Winnie carries on a long monologue throughout this act with Willie only occasionally and briefly responding. Winnie is just chattering away as she sits trapped in the dirt all day long.
Winnie: “Ah yes, if only I could bear to be alone, I mean prattle away with not a soul to hear. Not that I flatter myself you hear much, no Willie, God forbid. Days perhaps when you hear nothing. But days too when you answer. So that I may say at all times, even when you do not answer and perhaps hear nothing, something of this is being heard, I am not merely talking to myself, that is in the wilderness, a thing I could never bear to do---for any length of time. That is what enables me to go on, go on talking that is. Whereas if you were to die---to speak in the old style---or go away and leave me, then what would I do, what could I do, all day long, I mean between the bell for waking and the bell for sleep? Simply gaze before me with compressed lips.”
Winnie goes on and on like this and her husband is rarely heard or seen, but BOTH of them go on and are largely content with their meaningless lives, she buried in the earth and he snuggled down in a hole behind her.
When Willie does say something, it makes Winnie’s day.
Winnie: “Oh you are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day! Another happy day…(she chatters on and on ant then)…That is what I find so wonderful, that not a day goes by---to speak in the old style---without some blessing in disguise. Go back into your hole now, Willie, you’ve exposed yourself enough.”
Winnie has a black bag within her reach and is regularly getting things out of it---a brush, a comb, a pistol………………although for the most part content, we do see that suicide is at least a possibility---or maybe even murder? This is never fully clarified. At one point Winnie states to Willie about the pistol: “Remember how you used to keep on at me to take it away form you? Take it away, Winnie, take it away, before I put myself out of my misery.” But that is from the past and now they have settled in to their life at the beach. At times Willie and Winnie “laugh quietly together” so that you see they have accommodated to the boredom of their very limited existence together.
Yes, we humans are wondrously skilled at adaptation. Winnie remarks that: “I used to perspire freely. Now hardly at all. The heat is much greater. The perspiration much less. That is what I find so wonderful. The way man adapts himself to changing conditions.”
In the second act of this two act play we find that Winnie is now buried up to her neck! But she is still complacent and chatters on and on. In the closing moments of the play we fully see Willie for the first time---before we only saw the top of his head or saw the edges of the newspaper he was reading. Now we see him crawling on all fours around to the front of the mound of earth in which his wife Winnie is buried to the neck. (Mind you, at no time does Winnie ask for help in getting unstuck---this is her life. She accepts it as it is.) When we finally see him, he is dressed to kill---top hat, morning coat, striped trousers, white gloves in hand. Winnie greets him: “Well this is an unexpected pleasure!”
She then babbles on for awhile. Then says: “Look at me again, Willie. Once more, Willie. (He looks up. Happily)” Then he starts crawling up the mound toward Winnie who at one point thinks he is coming to kiss her but then she becomes concerned about the expression on his face (the audience wonders if maybe he is heading toward the gun to use it on one or both of them???) but then he slithers back down the mound again before doing anything. Willie’s last lines in the play are: “Win.” Winnie responds to this gleefully: “Oh this is a hppy day, this will have bgeen another happy day! After all. So far.” The play ends with her singing a music box tune