Should Humans be Selfish or Selfless?

Nature gives out its resources without expecting anything in return. With its selfless act, the ecosystem flourishes with beauty. However, there are those who seem to usurp a bit of nature for their gains. Some might argue that its the way of developing a successful civilization while others may use the system of education to preserve the beauty of nature. From the story, ‘Sea Story,’ it brings up a discussion to what extent humans can use nature for their selfish motives.

We have a protagonist, Harold, who shows love and passion for the sea that he grew up in. His countless visits to the beach give us readers an illustration that the water was his friend and shared lots of memories. However, the memories seem to have dissolved when he experiences love for the first time- more like one-sided love. He writes many letters to Laura who seem to be unresponsive “for the address she had given him was Scottish and she was in the Caribbean. ” This shows that Laura does not truly feel the same way back for our protagonist. I believe AS Byatt creates this setting to have it all connect back to the sea.

To make sure he gets his way to Laura, he decides to drop a glass bottle. Here, his intention is selfish, not thinking of what would happen during its potential journey to the Caribbeans by sea. Also, I find a contrast between his past and present self. He grew up collecting bottles and ends up throwing one of his own. Because of his action, “…a green turtle which mistook it[bottle cap] for a glass eel. When this turtle choked and died, the cap was picked from its remains by another turtle, which also choked…a hagfish lunged at it[the ring], swallowed it and choked.” As readers, we see that many marine animals are starting to suffer one after the other. It shows that a small issue can create a huge impact. In this case, the story ends up losing baby birds, two turtles and eel etc.

When Harold seems to give up on Laura, the story concludes his marriage to another woman, and “…strode along Filey Beach collecting plastic bags and debris.” AS Byatt could have allowed the readers to portray Harold as the bad guy for the marines. She is recognising the reality that we, humans can give up on our selfish acts and give in to selfless acts. She also shows one should let go of their selfish act and allow life flow like the body of water.

10 thoughts on “Should Humans be Selfish or Selfless?

  1. While I acknowledge that Harold was being selfish in his act of attempting to send a message in a bottle to the girl he loves, I don’t believe he intended or even thought about the effect that it would cause. This a problem that is prevalent in today’s society. People continue to pollute the waters without giving a thought. In Harold’s case, he was blind by his mission of spreading his love. His idea was not rash or corrupt, but rather thoughtless and spontaneous. He could not have possibly known that a turtle, mollymawk, eel, hagfish, and squid would suffer as a result. Harold clearly finds a connection with the ocean, thinking of it has home and dedicating his career to write about it. Why would he deliberately try to hurt it? Having been educated before, I doubt he would have even considered sending the bottle. You contrast his past and present self, but I don’t think he became a different person and rather made a impromptu decision in the heat of a moment. Unfortunately, it is not just Harold making uneducated decisions when it comes to our oceans. As days go on, ocean pollution continues to get worse and worse, with no signs of being better. This is due to human ignorance. Awareness of the impact it causes is now more important than ever.

    I agree with your statement that AS Byatt seems to connect everything to the sea. “Sea Story” truly does encompass a oceanic theme and this helps him to portray his message of human impact and their one sided relationship with the oceans. I also liked how you stated, “There are those who seem to usurp a bit of nature for their gains,” indicating that it is not only the seas that are being manipulated with. I think it becomes a very significant statement when you relate to the world as a whole. I am not sure you did have a question or answer to this blog, but I enjoyed your different messages and ability to link them to the entire story. Perhaps you could add the central question from your title, “Should humans be selfish or selfless?” into your introductory paragraph to emphasize what you are trying to display so that it is clear to future readers.

  2. I agree with you that there is a very prevalent issue of anthropogenic pollution in today’s society that has raised many concern and wonder about the future of water and our oceans, among others. Often times many people act carelessly and do not thoroughly think about the consequences of their actions on nature. However, other times the issue may be that people do not want to believe the unpleasant side of the problem. Rather, they choose to solely look at the beauty and charm of it.

    When Harold was younger, he was enamored by the beauty of the sea and he felt as though he could not live without it. Perhaps all his hope and wonder lied in the depths of the ocean, as he decided to send Laura the bottle despite his previously failed attempts through mail and email: “He did not know whether casting his love away into the sea was an attempt to drive his love from his life, or a hope for some improbable luck” (Byatt, 4). A.S. Byatt emphasizes that the sea represents the solution to his problems, as he seems to find comfort in the sea. Thus, as he grew older and the issue of anthropogenic pollution in the sea became increasingly prevalent, he may have decided to refrain from looking at the sea in this light.

    However, eventually Harold is forced to accept the reality of Laura, as well as the sea. After sending many letters and emails and receiving no reply, he must rid himself of all hope he once had. Harold spent the latter part of his life “[striding] along Filey Beach collecting plastic bags and debris” (Byatt, 5). Thus, the issue of pollution has caused him to dedicate part of his life to helping clean the oceans after he wasn’t so conscious of it. Therefore, I would not necessarily say that humans need be either selfish or selfless, rather they should be aware of the consequences of their actions and willing to face reality.

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