The Karma of Being Loved

The love between Harold and Laura in AS Byatt’s A Sea Story becomes a classic “love at first sight” cliche— for Harold. He was in love with Laura. Yet, she didn’t reciprocate feelings. I began to question if she was really at fault for not giving in to what the man wants. Harold, the main character of the story, is a hopeless romantic, but why does Laura, whom he loves, receive the blame for the relationship falling apart? Is it really a crime to not love someone back? Sadly, Laura received the unfortunate death of being “caught in the micromeshes of her netting when her boat capsized.” (Byatt, 5). Byatt’s use of language forces the reader to believe that death was coming for her because she never wanted Harold. However, I don’t believe she deserved her demise.

Harold, our protagonist, is a devotee of the sea. He fell in love immediately when he saw Laura as he was fishing.  He follows her to the bar where he knew she was staying, and they talk until she tells him that she is leaving for her dream job in the Caribbean. His reply to this is, “I’ve only just got to know you,” indicating that he would like her to stay. Harold’s fault in this relationship is that he just assumes that if he loves someone, they would automatically reciprocate. Why should we expect Laura to drop everything she has worked for to get this dream job for some guy that followed her to a bar one summer day? She runs off, and this is where everything goes south. At some point, Harold seems to be infatuated— borderline obsessed— with the idea of loving someone. He sends Laura emails that never get answered, writes letters to an address she doesn’t live at, and he still never understands that she doesn’t want to communicate. Why would she want to at this point? Then he decides to send the detrimental message in a bottle that does more harm than good. He hurts marine life, a love of both of the characters. Harold moves on to live a nice life with a wife and children and Laura dies a horrible death. As a reader, it can feel sometimes as if you supposed to root for the protagonist in any way you can and ignore any other character’s views or thoughts. We get caught up in wanting this love for Harold that we become blind to how Laura feels. The only terrible thing she did was lie to a creepy man one summer day. She was loved by a man she did not care for, and in the end, earned a fate she did not deserve.


6 thoughts on “The Karma of Being Loved

  1. Hi Kat,
    I agree with what you argued about the karma of being love, which can be interpreted a macro-theme in A.S. Byatt’s Sea Story, because karma can be a natural emanation that influences the events that happens in one’s life. (Merriam-Webster, definition 2). However, I was wondering that is there a direct, natural reason that caused the death of Laura? In the sentence you mentioned, “Laura had died long ago, caught in the micromeshes of her netting when her boat capsized” (A.S.Byatt, page 5), it is clear that we see Laura died because her boat capsized. There is a possibility that once Laura met a storm or large raining, generated from the uncertain nature’s power, and Laura’s boat capsized, leading to Laura’s death. The event that Laura refused Harold’s love was happened before Laura’s boat capsized, and the two events are separated because they happened in different time periods. And, since an event’s influence decreases with the time’s progressing, one can believe that the reason leads to Laura’s death could be from nature, but not from her refusal to Harold. Then, it is not necessary that Laura need to have a crime because she did not love Harold back, and A.S. Byatt does not need to force readers to accept that the karma worked on Laura because of her “crime”.

    And your point inspires my thinking that karma works on Laura, and karma also shows the power on Harold. Why Harold should love someone without more rational reasons other than sharing a major’s similarity? But Harold turned his love into an obsession to Laura, which crosses the nature’s limit on human’s love that should have sufficient and reasonable supports, related to both people’s physical and mental status. So the karma punished Harold with Laura’s refusal and the misleading mailing address given by Laura in the love’s dimension. Besides, the end which mentions the result of Harold: “Harold married a fellow poet, had three daughters whom he loved, strode along Filey Beach collecting plastic bags and debris, retired and died” (A.S. Byatt, page 5). Would it be a power of karma that made a man that “from his Oxford days he kept a kind of anthology of the sea” to live in a life of “collecting plastic bags and debris” (A.S. Byatt, page 2 & 5)? Thus, Harold might think that this was not the life that he deserved as well because of his expressing naïve love and sending love letters to a woman that he did not know much about.

  2. Kat, you really enlightened me with your argument. I admire how you mention that it is “love at first sight” just for Harold in particular. As readers we get lost within this whole “love” story. We lose sight that it is absurd for Harold to fall sharply in love with a woman who he has barely known. We note Harold’s dedication to obtain his soulmate, but slowly realize his actions are of a mad man. From following her to the bar as you mentioned, to continuously composing letters, Harold was a crazed. I also agree with you that we can’t accuse Laura. It was pretty obvious Laura wasn’t interested in a relationship as much as he was. After Harold asked if he could write to her, the story said “”she looked startled and then smiled. “Of course.” She took out a notebook and scribbled an address. She added an email address. Then she said goodbye and walked away””(Byatt,3). Her facial expression of being startled then smiling shows that her saying, “Of course”, was insincere. The scribbling of her address shows that she was careless and didn’t care, compared to if she did it “carefully”. Finally, the fact that she said goodbye and just walked away shows how he didn’t matter to her at all. If she gave him a hug or a kiss it would show she had some kind of affection. As you said, even though as readers we usually side with the protagonist, we have to side with the fallen character in this story. My favorite part of your blog was your connection of Laura’s death, how she didnt deserves it. Why punish someone for not loving someone back? For a modern reference, singer Ariana Grande was under blame for breaking up with former rapper Mac Miller, after he passed away. Why should she be blamed when she didn’t love him back?

    Although I agree with all your statements, we do have to understand that love is the strongest drug. Being in love can cause anyone to do crazy things because everyone is looking for that warm comfort of attraction. Harold was a victim of love. While in this state of mind, we feel as if our actions are purposeful and logical, rather than wrong. Love is one of those things we can not quantify in a monetary value nor question why someone loves another particular person or thing. It’s all about what your heart is relaying to your mind.

  3. Hi Kat,
    You definitely opened up a new perspective. At first, I focused on Harold’s feelings over Laura. I also think many readers felt that since his feelings are more elaborated in the story and we got to know little from Laura’s side. It seems wrong to blame Laura for her own tragedy when she just wanted to keep herself safe. In general, this shows a woman is likely to be blamed for a man’s loss of love. Readers get taught that it is Laura’s fault for choosing her career over a potential relationship.
    From the movie, “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel has to give up on her voice so that she can be with a man whom she fell love at first sight. Spoiler alert: she chooses love over her mystical life as a mermaid. This leads to many other horrific events, one leading to the loss of her father’s power. To further this discussion, do you think Laura would have been happy if she chooses Harold over her career? Some may think this could have saved Laura’s and many other marine animals’ lives. I wonder what are the odds that there would be someone who would be polluting the sea with one bottle? Would Harold help Laura by cleaning up the sea or focus on his love more? I find it interesting that Harold is seen in the story to collect plastic bags, helping to fight against pollution after he moves on from Laura and marries someone else.

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