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To What Extent do We Choose our Own Futures

playcity23's picture

Anne said in class today that Zadie Smith stated she intended this book to have existentialist facets to it. She wanted it to be a testimony to the agency within us to make something of lives, as well as the lack of it in some individuals (like Leah). I am so curious as to the extent to which we choose our own paths. Because things like biology, societal/cultural pressures, expectations of your family, and where you grew up might have a hand in the direction your path takes. In NW, societal/cultural pressures and the geography of your childhood did play a role in the main character's futures. For instance, Leah slacked off and became a pot-smoking hippie in her days. She didn't work hard and didn't want to work hard. Society viewed her as the pot-smoking hippie she was and expected her life to not amount to much. And it did, according to Leah herself. It did not help, I think, that the poverty of her upbringing layered in her subconscious and made her think that she was destined to stay in this class? 

I was listening to a Radiolab podcast called "Blame" over the break. They covered a story about a man who had epilepsy all throughout his life. A crucial surgery to stop the seizures damaged a part of his brain that controls the disgusting/nasty/inappropriate/fundamentally wrong thoughts. Without knowing what he was doing, he downloaded several videos of child porn and got caught. When his case came to trial, the judge let him somewhat off the hook because he wasn't fully in control of his actions that led him to download the child porn. He still knew it was morally wrong, though. 

All this to say, you are born with a uniquely flawed brain that makes you who you are. Could there be some tiny part of Leah's brain that makes her pathologically afraid of change? Could there be a part that is inhibiting her agency to make her life better? To what extent can we rise above our biology, and when do we succomb to it and become a victim?