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Who knows true happiness? In Raney, a novel by Clyde Edgerton, a conflict between two cultures is recounted to the reader. Raney, a young white girl, represents a traditional, non-college educated, Protestant from the deep south. Charles, a young white man, embodies the intelligent, cultured, and refined character of an educated, rich southern city dweller. Raney and Charles, the main characters in the book, constantly demonstrate their different backgrounds. They question each other s positions on the issues, morals, family life, and friendships on a regular basis.
This dissimilarity between their beliefs is clearly shown during an argument about the dismissal of the Pastor of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church over his committing adultery. Charles supports his belief that the pastor should have been given a chance for forgiveness by saying, It s possible that Jesus would have forgiven him. After all, he forgave a prostitute. (Edgerton 43) Raney, after a lifetime of Bible study, does not recall that passage whatsoever, and saw no recourse but to dismiss the Pastor. (43) Each appears perplexed by the other s ability to live and be happy while confined to his or her respective culture. For instance, Raney believes that Charles wastes his time on useless endeavors, Sometimes I believe these hippies and college professors sit around and frown and complain about what s helping a community most. (72) This disparity between the characters leads to a deeper, more philosophical, conundrum; who is truly happy, Raney or Charles? While Charles may be better educated and more cultured than Raney, a deeper look at culture proves that it is, in fact, the less cultured, less knowledgeable Raney who seems to have found true happiness. Raney and Charles are both good people, and both strive for perfection in their own minds.
Raney demonstrates her relentless drive for what she considers perfection by saying to Charles, If it s not in the Bible I m not interested in it because if I have to stop believing in the Bible I might as well stop living here on earth. (71) Charles puts his efforts into the Thrifty Energy Alternatives (TEA) club. He wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper explaining what he and the TEA club had concluded, The sad fact is that the problems of nuclear waste disposal are not solved. This generation should not be making decisions that will cause future generations to suffer horrible consequences. (74) He is making his best attempt to save the beauty of the earth for generations to come. The pursuit of perfection is defined by Matthew Arnold as the moral and social passion for doing good. (Arnold 21) Both characters demonstrate that they are pursuing Arnold s perfection. Charles, however, considers culture and education to be a determining factor of social order. He looks down upon Raney s family s values, traditions, and beliefs.
Charles said, these people [his friends] think about something important, something beyond the confines of their own lives small people talk about themselves; mediocre people talk about other people; and thinking people talk about ideas. (Edgerton 74, 75). Charles feels that what he thinks about is important, while Raney s thoughts and ideas, along with her friends and family s, are only mediocre. It may seem from a surface glace at Raney that Charles is the happier one of the two. He comes from an upper-class family, has a higher level of education, is more cultured, and knows how to be aggressive. Raney lets the reader know the last fact by saying, Charles took a course at the college called Aggressiveness Training.
It teaches you what to say when you want to say it. (Edgerton 41) From a different standpoint, however, Aldous Huxley states, in his book Brave New World, that being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand. (Huxley 227) Happiness is not some spectacular state of mind that just anyone would desire for themselves. Raney works hard to resist the temptations that Charles has fallen victim to. She does not drink alcohol, she does not curse, and she follows the morals of the Bible as well as she knows how to. This extra effort may appear to cause distress, but it is, in fact, the path to true happiness.
Raney is most definitely on that path. Stronger efforts to follow what is right and a strong desire for perfection, nevertheless, do not necessarily guarantee continual happiness. Charles forces Raney to cry in several places throughout the novel, Charles, you can run down whoever and whatever you want to, but when you run down my experience with Jesus Christ you are putting yourself below the belly of a hog. I was tore up. I had to cry. (Edgerton 76) It is well explained by Shakespeare in Othello that continual happiness is never guaranteed. He says, If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.
He explains that every problem in life is not compensated for by blessings of the same magnitude. Raney s happiness may not be invariable, but according to Shakespeare, that is not possible in the first place. Raney is happy in the sense that she has done everything she can to be morally right and maintain her beliefs in the midst of temptation and opposition. Raney has led a life sheltered from reality. Her interests involve singing, church, and her family. She does not know about many of the real problems facing the world.
Her biggest concern is taking care of her family. She bases much of what she believes on what the pastors of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church have said. She tells Charles, All added together they ve [the pastors of the church] probably studied the Bible over a hundred years. I m not going to sit in my own kitchen and go against that. (Edgerton 70) She doesn t see the big picture of reality. Raney feels that she understands why we lost the Vietnam War, she says, Sometimes I believe these hippies and such were telling the people who knew the most about it how to run it.
So we lost. Now they re doing the same thing with this power plant. (72) She is content with this simple explanation and looks no further into it. She totally ignores all other factors, and is convinced that we lost the War because of the hippies. She has a simple explanation for problems and rarely does she think for herself.
She relies heavily on the so called wisdom of her mother and preachers. Raney is thus ignorant of society as a whole, and fosters a jaded view of the true problems that surround her. Her ignorance allows her to bypass the pitfalls of life that people like Charles experience on a regular basis. In essence, Raney has found what happiness means for her through the inadvertent exclusion of the real world in her life. It is a difficult task to prove that a person has found true happiness.
At first glance, it does seem that Charles should be happier. He comes from a high-class family, has a better education, and he is a better communicator. However, he does not respect Raney or her family. He swears and brings alcohol into the house despite his full knowledge that those two vices are highly offensive to Raney. Raney says it plain and simple for Charles, I d rather not have wine in this house. (Edgerton 65) He refuses to understand that Raney s family would like to visit them on a regular basis, saying, Raney, I think you ought to tell your mama and Aunt Naomi and Aunt Flossie to stay out of our house unless somebody s home. (Edgerton 27) Raney has worked hard to keep her beliefs and hold them true to her heart. Further evidence that this effort supplements the path to happiness is given by Shakespeare in Othello.
He says, Whether tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them He means that it is necessary for a person to suffer and put up opposition to attain happiness. Raney has stood her ground, in spite of Charles attempts to change her, and maintained her purity. Raney does not have a higher-level education, and has not learned about all of the scientific actualities of the world as Charles has. This lack of knowledge combined with her efforts to follow what she believes to be morally right indicate that Raney has found happiness. Charles, on the other hand, seems to still be searching for a deeper answer.
Raney is content with her simple explanations and conservative Baptist culture. Ignorance is bliss in this case, proving that Raney is happy in the confines of her own world.
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